Inside the Mind of a Tattoo Apprentice

Every artist starts somewhere and these days, IF you want to be a legitimate and respected practitioner in the field, that means earning your right to a tattoo machine through a tattoo apprenticeship.  For every apprentice out there trying to do it the right way, there are hoards of unethical & untrained hacks more interested in short cuts then they are in getting better, (or in the best interests of those they are scratching up, generally speaking.) You see, tattooing didn’t start with reality television. It’s a time-honored tradition. The art & craft of tattooing is something that has been passed down for hundreds of years from trained masters to eager young artists who can show they have what it takes to make an actual contribution to the industry.  For the professional tattoo artist, finding someone who brings this sort of grit and potentially something new to tattooing can be extremely exciting, as every great artist once began at the bottom of the tattoo totem pole. That being said, Ana Nasuro of House of Color Tattoo in Bay Shore, New York, is here to share her voice on the life of an aspiring tattoo artist.

“I knew that I wanted to tattoo since I was in high school. It was something I had always loved and been fascinated by. But it wasn’t until I got my first tattoo at 16 that I decided that it was what to do for the rest of my life!” 

Like many artists in the industry, Ana began her exploration in the art world through painting and drawing, and if her sketches are any indication, the world of tattooing is in for some serious talent. 

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As an apprentice, Ana is learning to transcribe her skills on paper to the skin of a customer and in order to be known as a true tattoo artist, she must prove that she has what it takes. To so many, this is the part they refuse to acknowledge. That somehow THEY aren’t ‘good enough’ to be a tattoo artist, respected by professionals and trusted by civilians, is an insult to their self-identity, their Egos. “Blah! I’ll just do it all on my own, then”, they complain, as they dismiss the expertise of the professional and off they go to order a kit and hack people up in the worst possible ways. So few make it through this first phase of learning – tattooing takes a determination most just simply lack. They take rejection as an insult, when what they’re really being told is “Work Harder.” – “Blow me away with your work”, the artists want to say. “Refine your drawing skills.” “Work on design and color theory.” Bring more to the table than just some scribbly sketches and so we can see what you’ve REALLY GOT to give, here. And EVERY apprentice / artist improves their art through practice, critique, refinement of their understanding, and working harder next time.

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So, for that smaller dedicated and (perhaps) more talented group of aspirants who wish to both RESPECT tattooing AND approach their career with the true essence of humility & appreciation, (since it is these very attributes which instills respect and an understanding of what the gift tattooing is and can be), what are some of the things involved in the learning process…?

“As an apprentice, a good portion of my day consists of tracing and drawing. I help out the other artists at the shop by setting up and breaking down stations. Practicing tattooing is also a big part of my day. I tattoo practice skin and recently I’ve started practicing on myself, which is a lot easier than plastic.” 

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 One of the biggest misconceptions around tattooing is that anyone can become a tattoo artist, yet in order to be taken as credible, it takes time, it takes training, it takes commitment and it takes real WORK. Professional level tattooing can’t be given, it is earned. And everyone knows we learn best when we are taught by another. It shaves off years of time, and tattooing does indeed take years to get competent at.  Sure, anyone can just obtain a tattoo machine and call themselves an artist, yet this is by no means how great artists in the industry achieve success, whether they started on the streets or not. The one thing connecting every TOP artist in the world is their decision to always excel! In every area. It STARTS with professionalism and legitimacy. Every artist from the ones you see on the pages of tattoo magazines to the shops that you see on your drive to work, started off knowing nothing and slowly learned piece by piece how to raise their game, ethically, technically and artistically, from being an apprentice or part time artist to earning a full time chair in a shop… they did it all to master the art AND the craft of tattooing. Make no mistake, going from pen to machine isn’t as easy as one might think, as Ana herself has come to realize.  apprentice art3

“One of greatest difficulties that I’ve experienced as an apprentice is beyond just the art aspects, but then the actual process of learning to tattoo. I’m used to being able to bang out decent work on paper, but when it comes to learning how to create those same effects on skin, it becomes heartbreaking when you can’t always meet the standard that you hold for yourself.”

This is why a teacher is so important to the process. The patience and practice that artists develop during their early years as tattoo apprentices proves to be the real indicator of their future as a successful tattoo artist. Becoming a great tattoo artist takes more than being able to create a design on paper, it means putting in the time to be able to master an utterly foreign way of creating art in order to make beautiful tattoos that people will carry for the rest of their lives. 

In a way, a tattoo apprentice like Ana is a glimpse into the future of what the world of tattooing will hold, and it’s always been the case. Her progression will be traceable and she will cherish each and every lesson she learns and works for. You think she’ll just give it away to someone else, after giving so much to acquire it? No. Exactly as every modern master once began as a rookie who knows nothing, one day these apprentices will become inspirations for other artists who hope to follow in their footsteps.

Tune in next time for some more on the minds of Tattoo Apprentices and their experiences. -Devon Preston [divider]

*If you want to learn about the VERY BEST artists in the world and their practices, check out the TAM digital store with $.99-$2.99 videos 

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Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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One thought on “Inside the Mind of a Tattoo Apprentice

  1. To whom ever may read, hopefully the writer of this article. I completely understand and agree with almost everything written. But I would like to give u a different point of view and would love to hear a response. I’ve listened to every “professional” tattoo artist rag on the scratchers. And that’s awesome that u were so fortunate to get in and fit in with people that have helped u get as far as u have. But me, I’m a loner artist. I barely know anyone that understands art. They love to see it. I started like everyone. With a pencil. Then chalks and water colors to put variety in after I excelled at black and grey shading. At 18, I was awesome everyone kept asking for years, when am I gettin a tat gun. So when I lived in chicago I went to a few good ones I knew. “Jade dragon” “rogers tattoo”. One wanted ten grand to apprentice the other fifteen. And a couple yrs with no pay while i clean up after them. What 18 yr old with dreams in his pockets has that. Cause I’m not wealthy, I’m not worthy I guess. It wasn’t about art to the professionals. MONEY. So kept moving on with what I had. 26 yrs old in phoenix I was makin $11 an hr jst survivin a buddy gave me wat u call a kit. I went to superior tattoo for good inks and needles etc. Practiced on my legs and then close buddys who saw that I wasn’t too bad but jst beginning. That was only 4 yrs ago. I have not charged one person for a tattoo. Everyone knows that each piece is jst to grow in talent. Every piece still teaches me. Never one disappointed face. Even fixed a few professional tattoos that were very expensive but not done very well. Probably cause he was trying to get the next appointment in. So I ask u writer, why should people go to the “professionals” if the professionals are only in it for the money, not art or satisfied customers? Scratchers shouldn’t be fixing the”professional” art work to make that person happy with their tattoo. So maybe u should step in the light. I dnt do it for business because I have the belief that if u love something, u shouldn’t do it all day everyday jst cause the money makes u happier than the art or the look on their face when they love what u jst made a part of them. I would rather have a real job and tattoo when I have the right timing for all involved. And the mentality of jst working on a perfect way of making the tattoo the best one on them. Would love your feedback. And yes I know of the people that should not be even attempting to tatttoo. But the world is full of idiots. But me being a scatcher feels a little offended by the way u say I can’t do it cause I didn’t pay to learn it. U professionals can probably figure out where to shove that! Reply dont mind proving my point if u don’t understand.

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