Many tattoo artist aspirants believe that purchasing a D.I.Y. tattoo kit from the advertisements of tattoo magazines is the starting point towards becoming a successful tattoo artist. Be aware that this equipment is of inferior quality and lacks precision. What next? Find a person to practice. And the result is dozens and dozens of people with awful tattoos and terrible scars and who will put you in their hate list forever. Furthermore, a true artist will be reluctant to take you under his wings because he is going to have a headache trying to guide you back on the right path.
The alternative is to pay a fee to a tattoo artist or shop to teach you the trade. So what is the type of fee to pay? As far as I know there are no reputable artists teaching you all he know for a fee. A true artist is not a true blooded businessman. If an artist is willing to teach you for a small fee, then consider this. Is he willing to part with all he knows for what you are paying? In one Asian country, the majority of tattoo shop websites advertise tattoo courses for a very small fee. But the problem is that after completing the course, you will have to come back for one refresher course then another and another. And I understand that after completion several such courses, you will not be able to tattoo properly. So the chances are you will be paying good money to some businessman who is just trying to make a fast buck.
So then, how to become a successful tattoo artist? For starters, you’ll need talent. You will never make it in the tattoo industry by tracing or stenciling, you will need to be able to draw great designs. To even get considered as a tattoo artist, a portfolio is needed. This will require you to draw lots of great designs to build up a portfolio. Your portfolio is proof that you have the skills that are needed to succeed in the industry. Without a portfolio, don’t even bother. I remember one South American guy asking me to train him to become a tattoo artist. And he said money is no problem. I told him that money is not an issue, just draw me a colored dragon and then a reaper. He came back after one week, and said he couldn’t draw a proper dragon or reaper. So end of story.
Once you have a portfolio to showcase your talents, you will need a mentor, someone who is willing to teach you the trade and share their secrets with you. Now this is the tricky thing, tattoo artists don’t like giving away their secrets. Simple reason is because many of them have been let down by their apprentices. Just take the case of my mentor. He has taken more than 20 people under his wings (all without any fee), but today only 3 of his graduates still "recognise" him as mentor. What happened to the rest? They have their own shops, but tell their customers that they can do the same quality of work as their mentor (also my mentor), but their prices are cheaper. So you know how much it hurts to be treated like my mentor? If you do find someone good, a real professional who is willing to tell you anything at all about the industry, then be grateful.
To train as a tattoo artist, you will need proper, high-quality equipment such as a precision tattoo machine, power supplies, shading equipment, needles, medical equipment and sanitation supplies. You will also need to know about cleanliness and what can and can’t be reused, as well as how to clean and sterilize your equipment. The popular professional tattoo artists are successful for a number of reasons, but mainly because they are clean and very talented.
You can succeed in the tattoo industry, but you will need to be talented, self-driven and dedicated. If you want to make lots of money as a tattoo artist, you are wasting your time. Become a tattoo artist because you love the art and love to create breath-taking pieces of body art. Be prepared to work for free and, most of all, if you get someone to stop and share a secret or two with you, take their advice. You will definitely need it.
What you do is you apprentice and work for a tattoo artist for very little pay. You do this so that he/she can take you under his/her wing and show you how to take your artistic skill and transfer it to the art that is called tattooing. If the master you're apprenticing for is good, then along the way you'll also learn about how to run a shop, what it takes to succeed, and what NOT to do...
How long does it take? Well...that depends on how fast you pick it up and how good your master is. It's not uncommon for tattoo artists to apprentice for more than one artist in their careers...and each apprenticeship can last for several years.
This is not to discourage you...but the guys on Miami Ink didn't just "decide" to become rock star tattoo artists one day. They scraped just to get by for many years before they became successful...and, chances are, you'll have to, too.