Craftsman or Artist, Finding my Place as a Tattoo “Artist”

  I have crafted and created my whole life. I didn’t realize there was really a difference between painting with oils on canvas and deconstructing clothes that my parents had bought for me to add studs, pins, and patches. Both activities were a labor, but labors of love. That cliché shredded Ramones t – shirt was equally as precious to me as the landscape I had so tediously copied onto a stretched canvas. I slowly learned that to be a “fine artist,” I would have to focus on charcoal and oils, and put away the Bedazzler.

  But here’s the thing: I still hold my craft projects so close to my heart, that I find myself angry, sometimes, that I can spend thirty minutes on a sketch and receive so much praise, and then thirty hours on a “craft project,”  and actually lose respect from some artists. It is extremely scary to choose an apprenticeship over grad school, but this is what I am doing.

  So, here, I rant. Let us elevate the craft. Useable, wearable art is important. Long before wealthy patrons paid for a select few artists to “create,” all people were enjoying and supporting the “craft.” Ancient pottery, frozen mummies, and even manipulated landscapes prove this.

Becoming a tattooist, or tattoo artist, is an interesting journey. In college, I learned to succeed by catering to the professor’s taste, or by getting A’s on tests. There were measurable results, which would determine if I was worthy of a BFA in Painting and Drawing. In my apprenticeship, I am only being held accountable by the man who is teaching me ( however, I am paying him $5,000.00 to teach me,) so let’s assume he has a somewhat biased opinion. Eventually, it will only be my clients who rate and validate my skills.

  The apprenticeship usually involves about one year of drawing, or learning to draw. Honing skills in drawing certain styles of tattoos is generally encouraged. I already know how to do this. Then, I will learn the mechanics of tattoo machines (we DO NOT call them “guns,” by the way…) and shop cleanliness. I will do free tattoos on friends until my teacher deems them charge – worthy, and then 50% of the profit will go back to him, most likely for six months. Each teacher/apprentice agreement is different.

In Washington State, per RCW 18.300, it is illegal to practice body art without a license and a shop to tattoo out of. A tattoo artist must have their blood borne pathogens certificate. These are the only laws surrounding the practice. Potentially, someone could open up their own shop, get their license, and never learn from another tattooist. Generally, if someone tries this, they will fail. The industry is not kind to the startup rogue tattooist. He/she will generally be deemed a “scratcher.”

  “A scratcher, basically, is someone who taught him/herself the art of tattooing without the benefit of an apprenticeship under a professional artist.” –http://tattoo.about.com/cs/articles/a/battle_scratchr.htm

  I feel lucky to have landed my apprenticeship. It has opened the door to an important, respectable, ancient craft. I am somewhat cynical about the industry being so exclusive, and being able to milk so much money out of an overqualified college graduate, (let’s be honest) but I am happy to jump through one more hoop in hopes of “crafting” every day. Hopefully, I will get the respect I crave through this channel.


This entry was written by Sarvey and published on May 18, 2012 at 2:43 am. It’s filed under 8folds artists and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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