As the art of tattooing has gotten more and more popular, more options for how to learn the trade have popped up. Traditionally, a tattoo artist learned his or her trade from a master artist over the span of several years. Nowadays, however, an entirely new method of instruction has arrived: tattoo schools.
There is a great deal of mistrust of these schools among the established tattoo industry, and for some pretty good reasons: they’re not run by acknowledged masters of the craft; they make claims that on the surface are ridiculous (such as being able to teach someone to tattoo in only two weeks); and they offer ways to circumvent the traditional method of becoming an artist: namely, the apprenticeship.
The bottom line is, if you want to be a respected professional tattoo artist, then your work needs to be both inspired and impeccable. And it helps to come up through the ranks like most of the other professionals. So if you’re truly looking to gain the respect of the true artists, your best bet is to grind it out and find a reputable shop at which to apprentice.
However, if you’re simply interested in learning the fundamentals of tattooing, or of learning how to tattoo yourself (in other words, you’re not planning on tattooing professionally), then a tattoo school might be just the thing for you. However, before signing up for any school, here are some things you should really consider.
1. Will you be able to observe a live person practicing the art of tattooing? Watching a video online or on your DVD player can be instructive, but a lot of the artistry has to do with the angles taken and the amount of pressure applied: things that you simply can’t observe through a screen. If you’re not interested in those aspects of tattooing, and simply want to find out more about tattooing, then an online or remote course might be for you, but otherwise, try to find a school with live, in-the-flesh instructors.
2. Do they make pie-in-the-sky promises? If they sound too good to be true, they probably are, and if they’re misrepresenting themselves, then it’s difficult to trust any claims that they make. For example, any claims that you will be able to get a job in a tattoo shop after a 2- or 4- or even 10-week course of instruction should be heavily scrutinized. Chances are, when you start applying at tattoo shops, they’ll look at your certificate or diploma or whatever you’ve been handed and show you the door.
3. Are there former or current students that you can talk to? One of the best ways of finding out about a school—any school, be it an ivy league undergraduate, a law school, or a technical institute—is by speaking with alumni. If the school can’t get you in touch with someone and you can’t find anyone online who has gone there, then you might want to think again. If you can talk to someone, ask them why they went to the school and what they got out of it; if their answers match what you want, then you probably have a pretty good match.
While the tattoo profession may be changing, the reality is that right now, even studying in a tattoo training school where you learn technical fundamentals at the hands of a genuine artist (and there are schools like that out there) isn’t going to be enough to get you a job as a professional artist, unless you’re incredibly talented or incredibly lucky. So long as you start this process with your eyes wide open, happy hunting.