Throughout American history, tattoos have often been seen as marks on black sheep of society. Once viewed as being the marks of social outcasts and criminals, 3/10 Americans now have at least one tattoo, according to a 2016 poll by the Detroit Free Press, with numbers growing compared to a similar poll in 2012 where 1/10 Americans had tattoos.
As tattoos become more socially acceptable, being a tattoo artist has become more of a legitimate career choice for aspiring artists looking to make a living from their art. However, the job isnt as simple as it seems.
On the business end, tattoo artists are independent contractors, their own bosses and most artists must go through an apprenticeship in order to be allowed to contract and tattoo at a shop.
Keiffer Becker, an artist at Bitterroot Tattoo in Moscow had always been interested in art.
I was always getting in trouble in high school for drawing on my assignments, Becker said. When I started getting tattooed, it just became clear that this is what I wanted to do.
Becker said how he put together an art portfolio and reached out to tattoo shops before finally receiving an apprenticeship at Bitterroot Tattoo.
It was long and short at the same time, Becker said. Three years is a long time, but it felt like it went by really quick. The most stressful part about it all was the business side of thingslearning the ins and outs of the shop, answering emails, catering to clients needs. All of that is really important for any tattoo artist to learn.
Becker said there is not a set timeframe for apprenticeships. When asked about similarities and differences between his apprenticeship and other artists, he said how he has seen some apprenticeships last for five years, and others go for as little as one year. He mentioned how most apprenticeships he has seen all offer some type of education on how to work the shop and learn the business ends of tattooing.
Becker said that despite the long time he spent as an apprentice, he gained reassurance from his clients reactions to his work.
When you see 1-3 peoples faces light up, its incredible and gives you that reassurance to create confidence, Becker said. When youre confident you do better work.
As advice for aspiring tattoo artists, Becker says to be open to comments and criticism from other artists.
It was hard being told I had to work on my art or we dont have room, but being open to direction can really be the best thing for you, Becker said. If you go in with an ego or thinking your art is perfect, it might be a rough experience. Just be patient and open to direction.
Tattoo apprentice Lorelie Faulk from Fourth Wall Tattoo in Lewiston was able to give her experiences as an artist still going through her apprenticeship.
Its definitely been really taxing, Faulk said. Learning about all the intricacies of tattooing: the history, the rules, different machines and how they handle also the self-critique. You definitely have to look at tattooing as learning the basics and building your skills from there instead of looking at a tattoo as just an art piece.
Faulk said she wanted to become a tattoo artist for a couple of reasons.
I was in a really bad mental state, Faulk said. I hated my art, and I was just on a really dark path, but when I got my second tattoo, it made me feel really great. It made me realize I didnt want to destroy someones art. It made me want to give people the same feeling that that tattoo gave me. Knowing how getting tattooed made me feel, its extremely gratifying to know I can do the same thing for other people.
Faulk said she is currently in the process of learning the intricacies of tattoo machines and is becoming comfortable with using them.
Find an artist that you want to work with and respect, Faulk said. There are a lot of big personalities in tattooing so find that one artist you can respect and, more importantly, want to learn from also circles. Learn to connect your circles.
Art via needle and ink is coming closer a norm. Tattooing may be the way for aspiring artists to truly make their art a livelihood.
Teren Kowatsch can be reached at [emailprotected]
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