Brandon Collins: “So you wanna be a tattoo artist?”

By Brandon Collins

Reblogged from:


With the invention of tattoo “reality” shows, the average un-tattooed or mildly tattooed person is led to believe that tattoo artists are superheroes: they can draw an entire back piece in 15 minutes, go out to the clubs all night and still come to work on time, able to tattoo whatever you want, wherever you want it.

That sounds awfully appealing to some kids–but it couldn’t be any further from the truth. Anyone who has spent time in a tattoo shop knows that most tattooers are your average hardworking dads and moms with mortgages, car payments and phone bills,not prima donna rockstars that get VIP everywhere and drive Lamborghini’s. Those TV shows make a mockery of our profession and because of them, our trade has been diluted by half-ass, mediocre tattooers. Not only have these hacks not paid their dues, but they pump out crappy $20 tattoos that the average joes doesn’t even realize are shit.

Before deciding you want to be a tattooer, think about this: Say my appointment for the day doesn’t show up, so that $400 I needed to pay rent and put food on my table will just have to wait. If YOU go to work and no one shows up, YOU still get paid and so you can afford to sit home home and watch “TATTOO SCHOOL” and say to your stoned roommate “bro, I can totally do that shit!”. You get breaks and paid holidays, insurance and an guaranteed paycheck every week. We don’t. We work 50-60 hours a week tattooing, drawing and painting with no medical benefits and no retirement funds.

Don’t listen to your family. That skull with the lightning bolts and a joint in its mouth you drew in the 8th grade ISN’T amazing. Your parents, close family members and friends are always going to tell you that you are a natural artist. Their biased encouragement will only give you the false confidence to go into a tattoo shop and get your feelings hurt. Tattooing isn’t a hobby or something just to pass the time. It is a profession and a sole mean of income, so if you think we will welcome you and your “tat guns” into our trade with open arms, you are sorely mistaken. Apprenticeships are meant to be hard–to weed out the undeserving. If you are lucky enough to get one (and I do mean lucky) you will be taught a skill that can carry you for the rest of your life and you are forever indebted to the person who taught you. There are those dip-shits that don’t have the balls to go into a tattoo shop and try to get an apprenticeship – or they did and were tossed out, just order some “guns” online and “do tats” out of their house. Not only is this completely disgusting, unsanitary and unethical, but also illegal. Don’t even think about doing that. Those fucktards can do some real and irreversible damage to someone not to mention potentially spread disease.

Most tattoo artists don’t make a lot of money. Tattooers get paid by the hour but that money isn’t dumped right into our pockets. We have to give a percentage to the shop and pay for supplies and what-not. In reality we only get a fraction of what we charge for your tattoo. So when you tell me, “Dannnng $100?… Thats a lot, you must be rich!” and I want to run a steel spike through your head, you will understand why. As I mentioned before, if an appointment doesn’t show up or you don’t have anything scheduled, you don’t get paid. Imagine going to your job at Home Depot or where ever and working a full day without pay.

So next time you have the urge to be like Kat Von D or whatever rockstar tattooer is the flavor of the week… remember this: Countless hours of work for minimal pay and no benefits is the life that we have chosen and will defend with extreme prejudice. Do yourself a favor: keep your day job, and leave our profession alone.

Brandon owns and works at Nightmare Studios in Reno, NV.

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29 thoughts on “Brandon Collins: “So you wanna be a tattoo artist?”

  1. I agree with you, but I have a steady job and I love drawing and painting, I would love to tattoo. I do not see it as a profession, I see it as a hobby, because I can become so skilled as a professional (of course require much more time to practice and learn) and I would do it for the love and passion not for the money.

    1. Glad to know you ignored everything he wrote. Don’t begin a comment with “I agree” and then follow it by telling us how much you actually disagree… or, maybe you just didn’t understand. Read again. In fact, keep reading until you get it.

  2. I know this is true but not for all…I will not be discouraged with this…instead I will be more challenge to pursue my interest in tatooing…thank you for this…

  3. This is not only true for tattoo artists. Try being self employed at a LOCAL business (not one of the big corporations). 80 to 100 hours a week is not uncommon and if they do have health insurance it’s because they pay for it 100% which is not cheap. I have a boat load of respect for good tattoo artists, especially the ones who own their own shop. Being a tattoo artist is not easy but being a tattoo artist who owns their own shop is even harder!

  4. I can relate to the frustration level of this post, but I’ve found that negative criticism only drives the herd. Tattoo TV aside, the crappy tattoo artist epidemic has its root in BAD SHOP OWNERS. You will only see a change when shop owners refuse to hire the unskilled and under qualified. Unfortunately, in my 21 years of tattooing I’ve seen more and more kids hired and handed machines with no training. It’s the quantity over quality mentality of these business owners that produced the next flock of suck ass tattoo artists. Not scratching at home mind you, in “legit” shops.
    The best thing you can offer a young artist is guidance and mentoring. You aren’t going to stop anyone from doing what they want. Let’s help them do it right.
    Keith Ciaramello

  5. I 100% agree with this as somebody who goes to an amazing artist and is happy to pay what some people would consider an unnecessary amount for “just a tattoo” (as they put it) – however – it would be nice if, instead of artists bitching about the dickheads who go to scratchers and cheap shops, they actually gave some thanks and recognition to the customers who DO choose to give them their trust and hard-earned money instead of the rest of the hundreds of astounding artists they have to choose from……. Tattoo snobbery is getting a bit much amongst some artists these days… That is all.

  6. Way to burst every aspiring tattoo artists’ bubble. But seriously, what do you expect from television and media playing up the extravagances of a particular job? I’m pretty sure everybody is and will be aware that becoming a tattoo artist requires hard work, determination, and the know-how to succeed – all of which are required in any profession.

    1. Sadly no, there are plenty of people who DON’T realize that it takes hard work and dedication. These are the same kind of people who think “i can play in the NBA/NFL/UFC!”, except it’s not themselves that they harm when they fail – it’s people that thought the person was a skilled tattooer who end up with, at best, a shitty piece of work, and at worst, really nasty infection or blood-borne disease

  7. You sir have just reached the heights of monumental douche bag, you bitch about a profession you yourself are not even that versed in. oh, I hate competition because I practice social networking way more then I do my actual art form.
    You don’t know how to manage your own finances, well that’s your fault buddy but those are some nice hipster glasses and a pretty expensive backpack ya got there guess those items where on that p&l sheet for the month (bet ya have to look that one up ) or where they ?
    The apprenticeship is a vital part of the profession of tattooing but did you know that some of the most influential artist out there never went though one ? so you inadvertently dissed on all of them , way to go again ya big fn d . yes you are right about the unsanitary conditions however most reports of communicable diseases are attributed to licensed reputable shops , not “scratchers “ (checked you out on the internet …that’s a nice unsanitary picture of you tattooing ) .so wait you don’t order “guns” on the internet ;guess you have a machine shop and you make all of your own pigment, needles , machines , and the like ? Cause if you don’t then you most likely doesn’t know how. …And if you don’t know how then well in my opinion you are a scratcher.
    I am so fucking tiered of this industry and people like you , you guys barely practice the craft and yet you (and others) feel like you can bitch about it . Maybe you and the others like you shouldn’t have listened to what your mamma said and stay the fuck out of “OUR” industry. But why don’t you keep up this disgusting rant and never really see what tattooing is about. I feel sorry for you.
    Yes, I will not give my real name because I know this industry is full of douche bag, shit talking asshole, fucktard hacks like yourself ….do us all a favor, quit now!

    1. I think you need to work on your reading comprehension skills a bit. Either something was lost in translation, or you are being willfully ignorant.

      Also, the way you justify remaining anonymous (“Yes, I will not give my real name because I know this industry is full of douche bag, shit talking asshole, fucktard hacks like yourself”) is both cowardly and hypocritical, and the simple fact that you felt the need to justify it shows you damn well know it. You just wrote several paragraphs insulting the writers appearance, ethics, professionalism, and skill. I’d most definitely call that shit talking and douchebaggery. You can dish it out but you can’t take it? Pure cowardice.

      You really need to direct your anger elsewhere. This is ridiculous.

  8. I have been a tattoo artist for over 19 years. Everything this man said is true. Most of us live a lot closer to hand-to-mouth than we would like nowdays. It is due to many reasons, the largest being the mass appeal that in a few short years drove the amount of local tattoo shops to multiply exponentially. We can blame non-tattooer owners, shoddy “craftsmanship,” and lack of ethic, regardless the bottom line is that there are way too many people that are trying to cash in on what was to some, like myself, consider a sacred craft. Today that craft is being exploited to the point of nausea, which is appealing to some, so be it that is the American way. I now earn my living as an illustrator and a painter, which is surprisingly more steady than tattooing had been for me over the past couple of years. Anyone approaching this craft as a mere “hobby” has no business trying to tattoo in the first place by the way, this is an all-or-nothing deal, taking years of study and dedication. The folks that you end up tattooing deserve what they sign up for, which is a permanent mark worth having.

  9. Ha…its sooo hard to get in the business lol…I guess I am one of the easiest people to ask about apprenticeships…I have pretty much offered a free one to any semi serious inquiry…but when I say the terms I never hear back from them. Terms like have a solid portfolio of completed artwork…like ten flash sheets(not the corner of a notebook scribble), that it will be unpaid for a year(6 months minimum), that they would learn as much as possible in that time(as much of my limited knowledge of machines, shop operations ect that I can convey) before beginning to tattoo.

    They just walk away, go online and get a ‘kit’ 🙁

  10. I’ve looked at a few of the tattoo’s you’ve done, and they’re quite meh tbh. Nothing special. You talk like you’re the best in the business, when most of your work is pretty crappy, you go around as if you hate Kat Von D, and for what reason? Because she can tattoo a hell of a lot better than you can? Seriously, pull your self righteous head out of your arse. I’m quite sure you’re just mad because you’re not good enough to get on TV.

  11. funny contradiction how he is so passionate defending his profession by doing stress upon all the cons of it, trying to dissappoint people who aspires what he did one day

  12. Brandon, so true ! I built my first machine from a slot car motor at 13, 42 yrs. ago,knowing I had do this…(I thought I invented the rotary machine, that was really out there in the 20s). My 27 yr. old daughter has been inking since she was 12, before she knew it was what she could do at 20 ! The magazines advertise these kits for paper route money and kids think they can watch T.V. And tattoo along like winky dink and you cartoon in the sixties, you could draw along on the T.V. Screen…if your dad had one!
    Television , Ray Navaro and his band of Experts is a SHOW, that’s it, these kats didn’t wright the tattoo dictionary…and there judging skills are theirs, not ours ! Art is art, and new school tattoo art is something to be recond with ! Old school dudes like Lyle Tutle, Peter, Stanley and Walter from Long Island , had the aprentice cleaning toilets and soldering needle groups together for years before you got PAID to tattoo, if you paid attention and earned it !
    So you want to tattoo…EARN IT !
    Used-Tattoos, Long Beach, N.Y.

  13. I don’t even watch tattoo shows really, mostly because it’s a bunch of arrogant assholes like the dick who wrote this article. I’m glad I’ve found a few good artists out there who also have some humility. Who cares about how much you make, blah blah blah, or don’t make or what you had to go through. I am an artist and I know a lot of other artists in all sorts of mediums and I’ve never heard as much bullshit out of people’s mouths as some tattoo artists. It should be about the art, period. If your work is good and you like what your doing than enjoy it and quit crying about people trying to be tattoo artists for fuck sake.

  14. I get the same thing at my job, I am a clinical massage therapist, and while in an hr massage I make more than a lot of people in that time, most massage therapists dont work 40 hrs a week because it is so taxing on the practitioner’s body so I am by no means rich. I also massage for my own business as well, and charge half of what the clinic I work for does for the same service. There are also ebbs and flows financially that we have to be prepared for, certain times of the year are crazy busy and some times are much less so you have to budget super well to compensate I have no retirement, no health insurance provided for me by either one of those places. If someone doesnt show up, I dont get paid. I love my job and am thankful for it and the people who trust me with their bodies but there are people who go months, years without taking care of their body and expect it to be back to normal in an hr. or are surprised at how much it costs. I don’t think people are aware how dependent these kinds of jobs are on the practitioner/artists body, or that these kinds of jobs lack benefits that have to be made up for by the artist or practitioner.

  15. sry that you must bitch about the “profession” you CHOSE & because you consider yourself an actual tattoo artist already you must completely bash those who may think about doing the same.

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