A career in tattoo artistry calls for a range of skills, from artistic ability to health knowledge and effective communication. The designs tattoo artists draw on their clients will last a lifetime, so it's vital to have excellent drawing skills as well as the people skills to understand the clients' artwork preferences. It is also important to have the health know-how to keep clients safe.
If you have artistic talent, you have the beginnings of what it takes to make it as a tattooist. Even with natural ability, consider refining your skills with courses in fine or visual arts. Clients often ask tattoo artists to create an original design or modify an existing tattoo, and body artists must understand how to visualize that art and make it work in practice. Competition is tight for apprenticeships in the field in the early 2000s, so create a portfolio of designs and artwork. Be patient: You may need to work as an apprentice for a while before you get to ink a client, and your apprenticeship could last a few years. Expect to start as an assistant in a shop.
The safety of customers is paramount for any tattoo shop, and tattoo artists must be skilled in the essentials of health and hygiene. Many states require tattoo artists to know CPR and basic first aid. They must know how to follow infection-control practices as established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state. Tattoo artists need to be able to identify skin structure and function, spot common skin diseases, know the effects of scarring on the body, and recognize the physiology of wound healing. Giving allergy skin tests is also part of the job. Tattooists have to be trained to examine clients for signs of intravenous drug use, open sores and lesions. They also have to know how to sterilize their hands, their equipment and clients’ skin. Some community colleges offer training in blood-borne pathogen and infection control, with classes that cover disease transmission and legal issues.
Tattoo artists must work well with people, including listening carefully and communicating effectively. They must be able to hear and understand client instructions for drawings. Tattooists also consult with clients on the equipment they use, as well as choices of needles. They have to be able to understand and take client medical histories, determine whether tattooing would harm a client, and get informed consent for the procedure. Tattoo artists also need to explain verbally and in writing how to care for a tattoo, including educating clients on signs of infection and when they might need to follow up with their doctor.
Tattoo artists need both mental and physical stamina. They need the physical endurance to sit still for long periods, and they must have the mental staying power to concentrate on a detailed drawing. They also must have good hand-eye coordination. Tattoo machines consist of powered steel instruments with needles that puncture the skin at up to 3,000 times a minute, so any loss of focus or an unsteady hand can lead to painful, costly mistakes for clients.