Getting That Foot in the Door- Advice for Aspiring Tattooists and Piercers

imageSo, you’d like to break into the business, eh? In that case, if you read one thing today, let it be this. Kim, a friend of mine also known as the Skin Seamstress, is a wonderful piercer, scarification artist and occasional tattooist, and has written some really useful advice which she’s let us use for the site. This is probably my favourite piece written for those who want to become tattoo artists and piercers, and I think most of you will agree! You can check out Kim’s amazing work on her facebook page here, or by clicking on any of the pictures in this post. Enjoy!

   >>Skin Seamstress<<

OK, so you want to be a body piercer? Firstly, this is not a job. It is not a career. It is a WAY OF LIFE. Unless you eat, sleep and breathe piercing, you’ll lose interest. You need to prove yourself to a piercer, who will then [hopefully] offer you an apprenticeship. It’s worth noting that we learn a lot about people in this ‘job’ and we can smell kiss-arses and time wasters a mile off. Piercing apprenticeships are tricky to find. But they are the safest and most hygienic way to learn. Most places will not take on an experienced piercer who has not got any studio experience (so buying your own stuff and piercing from home, then trying to get in at a studio is NOT a good way to start.)

Most studios will not take anyone on until the current craze of people wanting to do it dies down (its fashionable, but people get bored with it after 3 months of cleaning and coffee-making and not piercing) – in the next few years or so, people will find something new to obsess over and those who STILL want to pierce will be given a chance. Keep trying, if you want it bad enough, you will find a way – everyone has to start somewhere.image

Unless you are over 18 years of age, there’s no point in even trying. Tattoo and body piercing studios are adult environments and persons under 18 cannot by law have certain piercings (so it’s not very logical to let them pierce others). Similar kind of rule as Working in an Off-Licence – You have to be 18 or older. Anyone with a drink/drugs/attitude problem will not be taken on by me, nor will they be taken on at any reputable studio. Tattooing & Body Piercing has a hard enough time separating itself from the seedy underbelly of society (thanks to the media), without having drug/alcohol addicts, or people with a serious attitude problem tattooing or piercing and furthering the stereotype [read: misconception] that all tattooists are scary drug addled bikers with no social skills.

Most places simply do not take people on because they don’t need anyone else. Simple as that.

As mentioned, lots of people are trying to get into the industry because they’ve watched “Miami Ink” and think it’s a fast-track route to a rock star lifestyle. It isn’t. The hours are long and unsociable, the work is hard and the pay is low. And that’s when you get good. When you’re starting out, you get verbal abuse and NO pay. Not very “rock star” is it?

Try looking in Skin Deep Magazine or Total Tattoo Magazine (see link above), as studios will advertise in their classified sections for any available apprenticeships, but usually some experience is needed. DO NOT call studios who have specified that experience/references/portfolio is necessary UNLESS YOU ACTUALLY HAVE ONE! It is wasting their (and your) time. Most studios will ask to see a portfolio of ORIGINAL (not traced from magazines and coloured in) artwork from people wanting to be taught how to tattoo.

Doing a basic 1st aid/health and hygiene/sterilization course is always a plus. It imageshows that you are keen about the “serious” side of the profession. A customer’s safety is paramount and sterilization of equipment is required BY LAW. Same rules apply in a hospital. Want to be 2nd in line for an unsterilized rectal thermometer? Thought not.

DO NOT be tempted to buy some equipment from eBay or a “Starter Kit” and start piercing or tattooing people without any prior knowledge, you will lose a reputation as a piercer/tattooist (before you even make it as one) and probably a few friends as well. It is dangerous and you can cause serious and permanent damage to people unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing (again, proper sterilizing equipment is required by law for anyone tattooing and piercing, as is a licence). Using ear piercing guns is wrong – I’ve seen cases of people needing plastic surgery to repair “gun damage”. “Starter Kits” for tattooing and piercing are usually 2nd rate (cheap machines, poor quality ink and needles and the design sheets you get with them are awful). They come with ‘instructions’ (usually in the form of a DVD which is just laughable). The do not come with a clinical waste disposal contract (again, BY LAW you have to have a contract with a clinical waste/sharps disposal company). I won’t go into too much detail, but I have seen a lot of people trying out heavier and more extreme mods on themselves (and friends) with disastrous consequences. Soldering iron brands, strike-brands, having cheap body jewellery implanted under the skin, etc. It is people like myself and medical professionals (doctors, etc.) who has to fix these things when they go wrong. If I know you’ve done something like that, you will NEVER be my apprentice. Harsh, but sensible.

FOR GOD’S SAKE, stay away from “3-day-piercing courses”. They will charge you an obscene amount of money and show you how to pierce with cannula needles (the ones with the plastic straws) and sometimes even piercing guns. At the end of the course you will get a certificate which says that you ATTENDED the course. You will have no experience (nor any knowledge of health and hygiene laws/procedures), and nowhere reputable will take you on, (would you go to a dentist who attended a dentistry course but had never done a filling? Of course not).

There’s a lot more to piercing than picking up a needle. It requiresimage dedication, hard work, nerves of steel and an understanding bank balance. Most people (myself included) will work for a year or more (cleaning, sterilizing, tracing up designs, making coffee, dealing with customers, answering the phone – basically doing EVERYTHING EXCEPT piercing or tattooing) without pay. And when you start being shown bits and pieces, you’ll need a very understanding client base (usually close friends and your own body) to practice on. Until you have at least 3 years of experience piercing FULL TIME in a studio, you will find it hard to be taken on by anywhere else, so treat the person who has taken you under their wing with respect, don’t be tempted to start piercing people from your home, thus stealing their clients. As previously mentioned, it’s a long hard road. There are NO formal qualifications or exams you can sit to become a piercer (or tattooist – though the hairdressing community seem to thing that there should be). And as long as there are REAL tattooists (people who have learnt the “hard” – apprenticeship – way), any ‘qualified’ tattooist with 3 certificates on their wall but who has never tattooed anyone before, will be snubbed and their lack of experience will be their downfall. I can’t think of a good way to end this blog, so I will quote George Burchett, from his book “Memoirs of a Tattooist”

“Tattooing is easy to do badly, difficult to do well. The personal experience of the tattooist is of utmost importance, and so is the collective experience of other tattooists, past and present, from whom one learns habits and methods which are valuable, and tricks, short cuts and failures which must be avoided if the highest standards are to be maintained.”

I would like to take this opportunity to with you the very best of luck for the future.

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Comments
5 Responses to “Getting That Foot in the Door- Advice for Aspiring Tattooists and Piercers”
  1. Jemmy says:

    Another brilliant article, thank you Mel! :) This is just the sort of thing I need to be reading at the moment, as I am looking for a Piercing Apprenticeship myself. I don’t have any notions of landing one in quite a while though, being as how the industry is so jam-packed and all, and I’m mainly focused on finishing art school.

    I’ve loved piercings from the start, since I got my ears pierced for the first time at age 7. I thought it was the bee’s knees! And from age 14 onwards I collected more. The only thing stopping me from getting them at the moment is lack of funds!

    So I think I would thrive really well in this environment. Deep down I really want to be a Tattooist, Art is so deeply immersed in my blood it’s practically ink. But I also love piercings so much that I can even see myself taking it on professionally. There’s just such variety and imagination involved, like Tattooing, there’s never-ending experimentation! And combining tattoos with piercings, or piercings with scarification, and…. gahhh so many possibilities abound! :D

    Kim sounds like such an intelligent woman, and clearly obviously enjoys her craft. I can only hope that, when I finally earn my apprenticeship, I will have a mentor as knowledgeable as she is.

  2. Beautifully spoken. Being in the tattoo industry, this is most definitely true. Beautiful art goes a long ways. No shop wants to represent a drug addicted/alcoholic/dramatic/egotistic person. No business will ever prosper with those who think they are better than everyone else. Tattoo shop should be Professional and an environment that draws people in. Good attitude, Top quality art, and professional piercer goes a long ways.

    Las Vegas” The Tattoo Lounge” provides quality work and promotes $10 Tattoo and Piercing Specials!!

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  1. […] Getting That Foot in the Door- Advice for Aspiring Tattooists and Piercers […]

  2. […] Kim is awesome. That is all you need to know. Well, it’s not all really, so you should probably click on this link and check it out! Kim was kind enough to give us this awesome piece about how to actually become a tattoo artist or piercer, and it’s probably one of the best pieces I’ve seen as far as great information goes. Thanks, Kim! Read more >> […]



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