10 bits of Advice for beginning tattooers

I look back at my tattooing career and a couple of things are pretty clear. One is that I sucked for a really long time at tattooing and didn’t realize it, and two, that I could have had about 5000% less stress if I had sought out the advice and knowledge of people who had been tattooing for a lot longer than me. Instead,  I spent an embarrassing amount of time and energy worrying about shit that was, in hindsight,  the exact wrong things to be spending that energy on. I hate to see people making the same mistakes that I did and if my experience can help one person not bang their head against the same walls I did then I can feel that at least my learning the hard way was not completely in vain.

So, if you have already been tattooing for 10+ years what I’m about to write really wont come as much of a surprise to you,but these are the things that I wish someone would have shared with me in my first 5 years of tattooing, it would have saved me a lot of headaches!

1. Get critiqued!

Of all the things that we do to improve the most important might be to get critiqued on your tattoos. It hurts to hear that you are failing at certain aspects, but the amazing thing is that until you hear it you almost never see it! If you can take a critique without getting butthurt then your work will begin to improve immediately. I had been bumbling along for a couple of years turning out mediocre crap when I stumbled across an online tattooers forum where they were exchanging critiques, I blithely put a couple of my tattoos that I thought were pretty good and proceeded to get my balls so thoroughly busted that I seriously considered quitting tattooing (as several critiquers had suggested) It really hurt to hear how bad I was and yet that very hurt opened my eyes to several bad habits I had and were not even aware of. It also revealed that not only did I not do good tattoos, but that I didn’t even really know what a good tattoo looked like! The critique was the first step to opening my eyes, and as he years have gone on I still ask for critiques all the time, in person or online I find that knowing a fellow tattooer will be looking at my work keeps me from taking lazy shortcuts with my tattoos since I know a tattooer will spot them!

When getting critiqued sit down, open your ears, and shut the fuck up! A critique is a chance to see your work with a new pair of eyes not a place for you to defend your work! The tattoo you apply to a client will have to stand or fall on its own merit without you there to explain it for the rest of the client’s life, so if it needs to be defended or explained then you have failed to do it correctly. A fellow tattooer who takes the time and effort to give you a critique is giving you a gift, you should receive it that way, with humility and grace. If your fragile ego can’t take hearing someones opinion about your tattoo then you might be in the wrong line of work.

2. The secret to tattooing is repetition.

I have heard the old saying “art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” hundreds of times before I finally actually understood it. The fact is that very few of us are such prodigies that we can draw everything a tattooer needs to on the first try.  I finally began to understand that the way to improve me work was repetition (practice). In order for our creative ideas to flow effortlessly from our minds to our hands we must have trained those muscles to the point where they can do what we ask of them without having to think about it! In martial arts the training is repetitive and ritualistic, musicians play scales and practice chords over and over, in both cases the reason is not so that they can be really good at practicing martial arts or playing chords, it is so that when the time comes to fight (or play) that the person will do so automatically without having to consciously decide what to do. If a jazz musician had to think about his next not he would never be able to play the improvisational music that he or she does, it is the result of muscle memory that lets them play so effortlessly.

The same holds true for tattooing, we must perform the same action over and over until our muscles respond to our imagination without having to go through the brain to do it! Years ago I wanted to learn to draw Japanese finger waves, every time I would try the image I saw in my head as beautiful graceful arching waves came out looking like shitty goo and no amount of trying seemed to help! I looked for shortcuts, asked other tattooers for “formulas” and tricks, I tried to figure out the “secret” of masterful Japanese tattooers like Filip Leu and Horiyoshi 3 all to no avail. Eventually I gave up and, like I had so many times before resigned myself to the fact that I just didn’t have the talent to do these fuckin’ waves like my heroes did. Instead, I began doodling waves every chance I got. little ones, big ones, when I was on the phone or eating lunch I would jot down a few sketchy finger-waves and an interesting thing began to happen. My waves began to  get better! Not immediately, and not in big leaps, but I began to notice that slowly I was beginning to make the waves on paper look like the ones in my head. I probably drew several hundred waves that year and these days I can freehand them onto the clients skin without thinking about it. All because of Practice, boring old tiresome practice.

It may seem like common sense to you, dear reader, that practice makes perfect, but I really believed that if I tried to draw something and it came out badly the first time that I was simply not able to do it. Almost all of us artists act like we were born with the abilities we have now, but it is simply not true, we all got to wherever we are by repetition. And if you want to really excel at something the best way is to draw it over and over again til you are sick to death of that image, until you can see it in your sleep. Fortunately for us tattooers the act of drawing uses the same muscle-memory as the act of tattooing so that each minute spent drawing is almost the same as a minute spent tattooing.

3. There are trends in tattooing, and you will follow them.

There are years that owls are popular and there are years that fairies are popular and no matter how cool and unique you are, you will be doing these trends. You could be the most exclusive, visionary, custom tattooer in the history of tattooing and you will find yourself wanting to do a lighthouse tattoo because you saw 15 of them on people’s arms around town. The trick is not to try to force a client out of their idea, it is to bring your own signature into that image. Doing the 300th switch blade tattoo is only dumb if you are looking at the last guys version of it and doing the same thing instead of drawing your own. Which brings us to #4

4. Use reference.

When I say reference I’m not talking about tattoo magazines, instagram, or your buddies arm either. Other tattooers art can be a reference, but really should only be used to see how he or she solved a particular technical problem (like “how did they do the shading on that wing so it didn’t blend into the background?”) Far too often we see a tattoo that is a copy of another tattoo (which is a copy of a further tattoo etc.) The result of this is the same as taking an original painting and then photocopying it, then copying the copy, etc. After just a couple of generations the spark, the detail, and the structure of the original are lost and you are left with a play-dohy looking half assed version with little to no of the bits that made the original so appealing.

If you are going to draw a rose then look at pictures (or even a real one) of an actual flower not a tattoo of one. When you look at real reference, our brain picks out the subtle details it likes and these end up in your drawing making it unique and distinctive in a sea of copycat artwork. How many times do we have to see the same koi fish that has anime eyes, goofy kissy-lips, a dorsal fin that looks like a mowhawk plus an overall resemblance to a flaccid dick!? Just look at a real goddamn koi for 30 seconds and you will notice that most tattoos are missing half the fins, have tiny tails and giant hydrocephaly heads! And, no it is not just your “artistic interpretation”, it is laziness. There is an obvious difference when someone knows the correct way to draw an object and deliberately chooses to tweak it versus some goofball just half assing it because he or she is too lazy to go to a real reference point before beginning.  Even the most conceptual artists in the world , the Dalis and Picassos, had learned the basics of anatomy and rendering before they went off on their own trips, and without that fundamental grounding their work would not have looked “right” even at their most expressively unconventional. If you want to be an artistic innovator then first learn the fundamentals, and you do that with reference.  Do just 5 minutes of reference and your drawings will be improved dramatically almost instantly. With the internet at your fingertips you really have no excuse for not pulling up a picture of a real object before you draw it (even if you are not drawing it realistically!)

5. Your style will come on its own.

I used to really worry that my work didn’t look unique enough, or that it just looked like “everybody else “. Like most of us in the western world I wanted to start making masterpieces and monuments to myself on day one. The fact is that I didn’t even have a basic handle on the technical aspects of tattooing and here I was wanting to be someone who people would recognize from my “style”.  Like a person who wants to sound like they are from Britain affecting a fake accent, there is something clearly phony which always comes through when you are trying too hard to be unique. It was only when I began to study Japanese tattooing that I understood that style is something that develops rather than being created. In the ShuHaRi method is a concept which also shows up in martial arts,  Zen training and now, tattoos as well. It’s deceptively simple, first you learn the tradition the way you are taught (SHU or “Obey”), Second you perfect that method until it becomes your second nature (or to put it in modern terms, until it is in your “muscle memory”) when you can then begin to do your own version and this is “HA” (or “break”) and finally you go beyond both your tradition and your own style into something transcendent of what came before (“RI” or “leaving”) . Put into tattoo terms I realized that I was trying to transcend before I had even learned the traditions, trying to run before I even knew how to walk. As you practice your artwork your effort should be in perfecting your drawings first, your own personal “style” will be there naturally, but only when you quit trying to have it! Otherwise it is like someone telling you to “act naturally”, as soon as you try, you end up being awkward and stilted. Even worse is copying another, better, tattooers signature moves. We are all influenced by the best in this art form, but it is painfully obvious when someone is trying to consciously emulate one of the greats.

Style is something that comes when your mind and hand work in unison effortlessly and the natural variations your unique mind comes up with can show up in your work, it takes time, but by working on the fundamentals it does come on its own.

6. Progress seems to be connected to humility.

In short, the point where a tattooer begins to get cocky, to feel that he or she knows what is the “right” kind of tattooing or when they decide that the customers are impediments to their creative genius is the point where they seem to stop growing. I’ve seen young tattooers who were getting really good very quickly suddenly plateau and stop improving and it was always that moment when they decided they were king shit on the turdpile. It’s sad to see because any tattooer with a pair of eyes can recognize that the very best tattooers in the world are also some of the humblest, and the rest of the guys who are “almost there” are the arrogant dicks. Humbleness and hard work are worth more than all the talent in the world in tattooing.

7. Dont chase money

Very few of us had any sort of success immediately. I had about 10 years of barely making ends meet and every winter was a terrifying balancing act of living on one or two tattoos a week and trying to make up the difference with the meager savings I had from summers (relatively) busier times. However if you can build a reputation as a good artist without being a dick and without being hard to find then eventually you will find yourself with a clientage who love your work and support you. Its like starting off at the bottom of the ladder in the normal working world and eventually making your way to being a CEO, it doesn’t happen quickly, but if you don’t sabotage yourself it does happen. One thing that helps is to stick around the same area for a while, traveling is fun and builds experience that is invaluable, but it makes it hard to build a name for yourself with the folks in your area who will come to see you as “their” artist.

8. “Keep your head down, do your best, don’t worry what the other guy is doing.”

I read those words in the excellent Sailor Jerry letters book published by Hardy Marks. Like many tattooers I spent a lot of time and energy worrying about, being mad at, and bitching about what other people were doing. I complained that tattooing was being ruined, that this or that guy was making “us” look bad, that this or that new trend was not “real” tattooing. In short I was a bitchy tattooer like 80% of tattooer still are. Every second I spent writing angry cry-baby shit online or sitting around belly-aching is time and energy I should have been putting into my goddamn art! I am convinced that I would be a year ahead of where I am today if I had spent all that effort on what really matters, namely,  getting better at tattooing. The fact is that tattooing will never look like we think it “ought” to, if you really want tattooing to be a certain way the ONLY thing you can actually Do about it (and bitching is not doing anything about it) is to do your very best to make your little corner of tattooing “right”. Believe it or not, you putting effort into your own tattooing changes the whole thing more than a years worth of gripe sessions and online rants can.

9. That “AHA!” moment will happen to you.

One year I was at a convention and was crying to a fellow tattooer (who had much more experience) that I felt like I still didn’t get “it”. I still felt technically inadequate, I didn’t really understand tattoo machines, and I couldn’t really draw the way I saw in my mind and I had been doing tattoos for a whole 5 years at that point! He just smirked and said “fuck man, none of us knew what we were doing at 5 years!” and it hit me! Here I had been thinking 5 years was a long time to be tattooing and to this guy that was just getting started! From that day on I relaxed a little bit and began to realize that tattooing was going to be a looooong road, the rest of my life! There were other Ah ha! moments as well, like the day I realized I was no longer afraid of any tattoo on any part of the body, the day I realized that drawing a sleeve or back piece was no more intimidating than drawing a small piece, the day I realized I rarely fiddled with my machines looking for that “perfect” tuning anymore, and the day I told a customer I wouldn’t do their tattoo and they thanked me for being honest.

There will come a time when you are confident in your knowledge and abilities. It will be the result of years of hard work, tiny bits of knowledge piling up, and of all the lessons that setbacks and mistakes have taught you. The coolest part is that if you keep your head out of your ass, that upward path never needs to stop.

10. Have fun

tattooing is fun, hard work, but still fun. Take a moment now and then to stop, smell the green-soap and take it all in. The years begin to fly by as we get older and those shitty, stressful, early years begin to look  pretty sweet in hindsight.

Categories: Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , , , , | 74 Comments

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74 thoughts on “10 bits of Advice for beginning tattooers

  1. Great content. I have been apprenticing for a little over a year now and reading this has given me more knowledge than you may know. Thank you for being a great source of guidance. -Ashley.

  2. Thank you for writing this!!! I’m almost at 5 years and reading this just called me out on some of my bad habits and my bitching. I hope to learn to stop being negative and worrying about what others are doing .

  3. Hi Jason~

    What a fantastic blog entry! You could substitute “tattooing” for “making glass” and it all still makes sense. I tell my glass students these things, when they get frustrated, when they get lazy or when they need to get off their high horse. Everything you say here is spot on!

    Do you mind if I share this entry with my students? I think it might raise their awareness that no matter what art form you are into, these ideas stand true.


  4. This is awesome!

  5. mark rioux

    thank you for sharing your advise.its very rare that a tattoo artist gives out any free advise to others starting out,other than “scratchers” get an apprenticeship, or don’t even try.but yet,but most of them the started out the same way.maybe if more good information was shared, there would be less messed up tattoos.

  6. erin

    Thank you so Much for this, I recognize the importance of what you have written here and relate to all of it. I really needed to read this.

  7. justin

    AMAZING! inspiring, so helpful an also humbling. Thanks you so much!

  8. sent this one to my former apprentice and a few new kids I have met or known…so good. this is a great piece

  9. thanks alot,iam just starting out,and what you have said really helps….i hope you give more insight over time….thanx

  10. That 5 year realization is spot on, then another at ten years in. We hopefully keep learning.

  11. Pingback: Advice for Beginning Tattooers, by Jason Lambert « Tattoosday UK

  12. Shelley sills

    Best read I’ve had in a long time…why? Coz it’s the fucking truth! 🙂

  13. Danny dygas

    Insperational words dude iv been tattling 4 years and am still learning critiquing shits me up but it all helps peace

  14. exactly, i am my own worst critic…my wife hates when i dont like my own tattoos, but i always notice some small imperfection, or something i could have, should have done better, or whatever the case may be. no matter what the design is, a good tattoo consists of 4 main thing… all tattoos need black, and clean ,smooth, solid…clean outline, smooth shading, and solid saturation….i have tons to learn, i feel like i know a lot even though i may not always be able to apply it, and i am still in my pursuit of being a better artist….not a tattooist, but a true artist, there is a difference.

    • Im glad you like the article but one thing I have found is that while I am also my own worst critic, getting critiques by others will show you things you never even considered. Getting another pair of eyes into the mix opens up a whole world of stuff we are blind to.

  15. Finally confirmation that I AM approaching this correctly. Thank the stars….I’ll be HAPPY someday to say 5 years , the 2 thus far have been brutal. Can’t wait, I’m a glutton for punishment….bring it ! Well written, and highly helpful.

  16. this is such a good write-up.

  17. stuart king

    wow wat whole lot of useful info much appreciated for this

  18. such good advice….this could be applied to graffiti too 🙂

  19. I’m just starting out, and this is really helpful! Now I know where to put my focus. thanks!

  20. Keith

    This is very great advice even to the guys not tattooing yet but want to learn. Thanks for sharing! I so wish more artists were willing to train other people in the art of tattooing. I think a lot of tattooists have gotten big heads and have become assholes and think its a waste of time for them to train someone else especially if in the tattooists opinion the apprenticeship seeker’s art is not good. I know of tattoo artists that couldnt draw before they they started their apprenticeships but learned to draw as well as tattoo.

    • Im glad you liked the article Keith, but I dont think that tattooers think “its a waste of time for them to train someone else” I think that anyone with some expereince in tattooing realizes that most of the tattoos out there range from Ok to terrible and none of us wants that for out beloved art. Anyone can do what they want, but I (and many tattooers) choose not to apprentice anyone unless and until we know they will be a benefit and a boon to tattooing. Sadly most folks who want to be tattooers want it for all the wrong reasons, they think it will be easy, or just fun, or an excuse to be cool or make “a lot” of money and these sorts of folks will never put in the kind of time or work that Im talking about in this article to become a positive part of tattooing.

      So we tattooers have to be selective and protective, I have only had one apprentice in 15 years and its my wife, and I only agreed to apprentice her when she showed a really burning desire to learn, work, and listen. Ive turned down my best friends, people who could draw better than me but seemed to lack that desire to go back to square one in order to be a tattooer and not just some guy who tattoos.

      Im sorry to disagree with you, and I hope my article didnt give the impression that I think that just anyone should be a tattooer. It was meant as advice for tattooers early in their careers but who had already done the hard work of proving themselves to be beneficial to the art we all love and dedicate our lives to.

      • Keith

        I still like your article and I understand what you are saying. I have studied the art long enough to know what to expect and hope to one day find the right person to apprentice me

      • Kristinag2692@gmail.com

        Okay. So my very worst fear above everything else but below not raising my two girls right is that I’ll be another mediocre tattoo artist which is worse than not being a tattoo artist at all. But still I worry about both.. I worry I am not going to be able to balance the lives of your family and I and still succeed at being an acceptiinal artist. Also things are rough for us these past few years so I’ve had to move quite a bit and on top of that I pretty much dislike most of mankind. So I don’t usually make a butttload of friends and when people that have seen my works on others (and I have yet to put out anything that is really truly mine or even that great period) if it conflicts with my duuty as a mother I usually pass it up. Then I find myself sitting at home when my kids go to bed googlong videos of artist tattooing just to ease my craving of that lovely sound… I even spray my green soap tinxture once in a while….? So am I a lost cause? I am constantly finding myself at roadblocks with my dream and it’s discouraging… Is the any hope for me? Or is this simple as good as it gets?! I want to do this since I was a little girl and grew up hearing how it was either the wrong path to choose or that I would simply never m ake it…. Any advice? And if I’m simply just on a plateau then what should I be drawing over and over again until my personal flare? Some have told me skulls or roses or just pick a style like American traditional… How can I get myself out of this fog… Am I truly just someone who the flow of the universe mixed with my kundalini energy is against my desire for my dream.. An just move on?! I’m only 22 and am terrified of chasing an unattainable reality but I can be stubborn and not know when to my children deserve someone better than a starving artist for amom… I’m truly lost…. Please tell me your years and extensive wisdom has something for me to work off of… Because when I do actually lay down some in its the only other thing besides breathing and my children that feels right… But what am I to do…?

      • Tyrone.

        You are a legend! Thanks for the words. I always try and help as much as i can, but fall so short with words sometimes to explain the understanding…but your words hit the nail on the head in the exact proper manner-word for word. THANKS!!! Ill keep this article close to heart for as long as i tattoo.

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  22. JD KImrey

    Thanks for the lovely article! I am not a tattoo artist yet, and my one most lingering fear was that I do not really have a ‘style’. What you said, is exactly what I have been telling myself, it definitely helps to hear the same thing from a well established professional. P.S. I wanted to RSS your blog, but I don’t think it has the option on your site. Would be something to look into XD Thanks Again

  23. This couldn’t have found its way onto my news feed at a better moment. After a pretty awful week and a semi disastrous convention I was close to just packing it all in.. After reading this I feel like I can take a breath, realize that my mistakes are learning opportunities and move forward. Feel inspired to draw and interact better with my customers.. Thanks so much for making so much sense!

  24. chris

    fuck, this is awesome!

  25. sak

    Man thats the best advice i have ever had of tattooing.
    I thank u verry much friend.
    you are the MAN!!

  26. Joel Brown

    I Read your comments and agree alot Even though i have only been tattooing for Three Years could you Be so Kind As to croutique my work ON my Facebook i would really appreciate it thanks Joel

  27. You know, as great and spot on I think this advice is. It seems like a lot of people feel better and lighter after reading it. And that’s perceived as a great effect… But I never had a situation in my years of tattooing where I was light and happy and felt good about myself AND learned something crucial. I feel like this kind of advice is the best we can provide but it will inevitably have negative effects. While it my help some get over a hurdle quicker it may make some too confident to actually fall over that same hurdle. The point that you Jason, fell over your hurdles and were sad and hurt, was what brought on you learnin experience. While you are trying to help you might deprive some of the learning experience of falling into a hole and having to crawl out of it. Granted that it’s not for everybody but not everybody should succeed at this since we won’t it to be a hard thing to learn. That’s what makes us proud right?
    Dont get me wrong. I loved reading this and nodded my head all the time and was really happy somebody writes it like I think it do many times.
    Just adding some food for thought. I miss forum times sometimes. It certainly made me into the tattooer I am today. And I am grateful for the pain and the egobashing. Probably the most important part of my career…

    • Hey Markus, Thanks for taking the time to read this, I appreciate your comments. However I do feel that nothing I write is going to spare anyone the inevitable failings and I was careful not to put technical info in this piece. Also one thing I have been on a bit of a crusade about lately is to never forget that customers are a huge part of the world of tattooing, they are seldom mentioned but we couldnt tattoo without them and many of those “hurdles” and fuck up will on a real live human being! If I can help one customer get a slightly better tattoo then I feel like this article is worth is, at the end of the day its not about us or our artistic fulfillment, its about that person walking around with something we did to them forever on their body. The old saying goes “Experience is a harsh mistress, but she raises strong children” and I agree, but learning through failure should always be tempered with the knowledge that real people have to live with those learning curve moments on their skin.

      thanks again for reading, if you ever want to have a critique trade let me know.

      • I know, and i really mean this more as food for healthy discussion. i am asking myself these same questions and also come to the same conclusions as you do. Thats why i really liked this article. I also like the things James added, it makes sense.
        Balance is everything. also a balance of helping and neglecting.
        I actually respect my clients more for what they do than Tattoo artists… we can look however the fuck we want. It’s expected of us to be heavily tattooed. For most of them it is way more of a commitment and they are confronted with their decisions a lot more often than we are. It is very important for us to understand our responsibility. Thats also why i have stopped working at conventions all together… nothing makes me more queasy than knowing i have done a tattoo that could have been better.

        Right now i am working in quite a vacuum and it’d be cool to have critique sessions again. i have been of forums for a while now. i just couldn’t deal with the anger anymore…

  28. Pingback: Great advice from Jason Lambert « Modern Violent Gentlemen

  29. Kimi

    Wow! I must say you are a hell of a writer! Most people don’t have the skills that you do, art, grammar, articulate.

    I am NOT an artist, my brother is about at his 5 year mark and obviously I’ve been through his good times and bad. It was a rocky start and bad winters. Being a good, supportive sister (and a tattoo lover), I have researched my brothers’ field for years as he began his journey. He is my younger brother and I have ALWAYS tried to protect him. I still try to help him, even though he probably is thinking “shut the fuck up, Kim”! He’s 31 and I act like his mom. As always I just want the best for him and want him to succeed. Certain family members do not think tattooing is a “job”. They think construction, sitting behind a desk or working at wal-mart is a job…a steady pay check. No matter what, I stand behind my brother, his passion for art and tattooing.

    Thank you for sharing this information, I’m going to forward this to him, I think this will help him in more ways than one. You rarely see artists share useful information online. Best of luck to you and thanks again!

  30. thank u thank u thank u..

  31. Nivek

    Thanks Jason, great article and great advice.

  32. Thank you for writing this! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  33. I just wanted to thank you for writing this. Many budding young tattoo artists will benifit from this post.. It really expresses a lot of my thoughts about tattooing and its well said. I would like to add a couple comments..
    I went through a lot of the same frustrations when I was early in my career (I won’t say ‘when I was learning’ because at 17 years tattooing, I learn every day).. It takes time. I wondered forever when I was going to develop a personal style, until it was pointed out to me that I had one, I didn’t even see it happening, it was gradual.
    I never worry about what others are doing, but I did learn that seeing other artists work can rejuvenate you if you feel uninspired.. (of course, I’m not talking about using others for reference, or biting, just to be inspired by the great artists in our community).
    Critiques are super important, but they shouldn’t always be trash sessions- if someone is doing something right, tell them. We all need positive reinforcement as artists, not to feed the ego, but to know which direction to go.
    Remember that your clients are your business, treat them with respect and honor the fact that you are marking them forever. Do your best every tattoo.
    Number 10 is important, if it stops being fun, you stop loving what you do and the work suffers.

  34. Thank you so much for these inspiring words. I’ve been drawing like a mad man these couple of years. in 1,5 years ill be done with my study which has nothing to do with art. but I really want to pursuit my passion for the art of tattooing. I think you helped more people than you think with this blog. Again thank you

  35. Chase

    I am not a tattoo artist, nor do I intend to be. But I enjoy art and this article was excellent.

  36. Thank you so much for this post. I have been tattooing right at 6 years now and I KNOW I have several years to go before I’m even remotely satisfied with my work. I strive on a daily basis to better myself and those around me. I try my best to be humble and when I have to do the trendy tattoos, try to make them the best I possibly can. I am guilty of trying to steal little ideas and techniques from great artists and have been forcing myself to stop. I do however love getting critiqued. Is ther anyway I can send you a couple pics and have you critique them? I would be very greatful, if not i totally understand you must be a busy man. Thank you once again for this article, i hope it help many many people as it helped me.

  37. Hi Jason!

    Reading this article puts a huge smile on my face! You have written an article that in many ways exactly pinpoints i vision I’m working on.

    I think I need to write you an email and explain where I’m going with this. But reading this article sure as hell makes me wanna get you on board on my future project.

    Tattoo Art Project

  38. I’m going on my 4th year, and I know I still have ALOT to learn… but relish it 🙂 I am Always looking for Inspirations, people, artists, Tattooists and article written like this one, and I will never stop learning. I can get down some because I want to be the best I can and I see those like James Kern and I think …Some day.
    It shouldn’t be a competition Against others, but rather becoming the best that you personally can be, and doing the best tattoos you can, and learn from every experience. Afterall, if you can’t do something right, don’t do it. and if you are not doing it right, learn to.
    Thanks for the information. Personal growth is my goal 🙂

  39. This is awesome! When I stared my apprenticship I was asked “what new are you going to bring to tattooing” everyday I look for that answer. Thank you for your time writting this.

  40. Fortunately, i am here before i starting tattooing as my living. thanks a lot for this information. now i know where to start. i will learn how to draw a straight line, before starting how to do black and grey. thanks again

  41. sammi

    I am just starting off to tattoo and this is the best advice I have found :D! I am glad I got to read this before starting so I can keep my head straight ^_^

  42. I started my apprenticeship a little over 2 years ago and since finding this article I often come back and read it every so often. Just to kick my own ass in to gear when I start slacking and bitching about life getting in the way of drawing/painting/practicing . Thanks Jason, you have been a great help.

  43. Thanks for this, it all makes a lot of sense and seems obvious but until you here it from someone who’s been down the road do you look in word and see it all applies to you. I like many others read this at just the right time. I’m 5 years in and was wondering how I was going to start progressing into a respectable artist and everything you said will really help me do that!

  44. Ray

    I am a beginner and i am doing research prior to starting my tatooing career. I have always been a very good artist on paper, but my wife pointed out that since i cant stand 80% of the tatooist out there, due their half ass art and talent. ( i get turned down a lot due to the detial involved in my drawings) I should start doing my own. I beleive the time you spent writing this down for “me” will help in the long run. If you don’t mind, I would like to periodically post and show you my progress and maybe use you as a critic. Thanks for your assistance 🙂

    • Ray, it sounds like you have already made up your mind that you are better than 80% of the tattooers out there. You arent. One day you might be, but until you have done an apprenticeship then you are, and need to realize that you are on the bottom rung of a very long ladder. The fact that you have a bunch of detail in your drawings and get refused an apprenticeship tells me that already, even before your have put one foot on the path, that you are already not listening. There is a good reason that tattoos dont have a ton of details and if you had done an apprenticeship you would understand that it isnt because most tattooers arent on “your level”.

      The advice I posted was for people who had already done the right and honorable thing by getting into tattooing via an apprenticeship, paid some dues, and dont already think they know better than someone with more experience. But if you do want personalized advice from me then here it goes.


      read that and apply it before you go one step further in tattooing. You are at a crossroads where you can put the ego away and learn something and eventually be worth the attitude you are already throwing out or you can be just another guy who started scratching people up because you think yiou are too good to work your way towards something.

      • Ray

        Thanks for the response. I may have come off arrogant. It wasn’t my intent. I am a prefectionist type. I always want info and tips on taking my skills to the next level. I understand where you are coming from and I am seriously going use your advice BEFORE getting started. Yes the drawings i was refering to had detail, but honestly I have seen more tatoos with 10 times the details than in my drawings. I will look into an appretice ship, but i am in no hurry. I have a lot of repetitious drawing to do before picking up the gun. I stopped looking pics of tatoos and went to photos of the real objects. LOL I am far from ready to work on people.

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  46. tatsbymike

    Your advice is very helpful… i been tattooing for 5 years now, and im still looking to better my work.. this advice helps, it gets you mentally ready and sets a level if confidence that any tattoo artist need that is willing to better themself as a artist in the tattoo world…

  47. Alex

    Wow I feel this is real good advice man
    Working hard is the key

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  49. Stacey-Rae

    So glad I read this and I thank you so much for posting this. You have made me feel so much better about myself.

  50. Megan

    Wow. You have made me feel 100% better! Thank you!!

  51. Nikk urata

    Damn well said! Not sure how old that post is but damn it made alot of sense. And it kinda relaxed me… thanks man

  52. Sonjah Sunshine

    As a new apprentice, this article was a fantastic smack in the face of reality for me. thank you so much man.

  53. That is quality advice! Try my best to stick by it

  54. Dear Sir … I am a 54 year old gunsmith/engraver/stock worker/ and I’ll stop there. Your 10 bits are priceless. Thank you.

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  56. Jonny Tatt

    I feel reading this will help me along the way. I have yet to buy my machines (about a week hopefully) and I’m trying to suck up any knowledge possible before I even start on fake skin. I know it’s a long road ahead and I’m in no rush to put ink to skin because I already have the realization that I will not start off as a prodigy. I will definitely take all you have written to heart and money has honestly never been my goal. I’m looking to increase my fiance’s artwork eventually as well as she learns, increasing my own. Thank you for posting this as I know it will help me along the way.

  57. emmanuel

    This blog was so on point and really gave me some extra boost to move on and really think about what I’m doing.. Thank you for this

  58. Alyssa

    Thank you for writing this article. I’m new to tattooing, and this is exactly what I needed to read.

  59. Keith

    I’m just starting to tattoo and when I colour the design it looks good till I wipe it then I see that I have missed loads and have to redo it all any tips I can get for that will be really appreciated and what needle is best for colour and shading

    • Keith, this is a question for the person who is doing your apprenticeship. I will never, ever answer technical questions on this blog

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  61. You are so intelligent and insanely talented. I have learnt so much from you in our time together so far. You are incredible. Thankyou! Love u azza xxx

  62. thank you for sharing your advise

  63. I come back to this blog at least once a year and it is just as amazingly informative every damn time. I just hit the ten year mark in plying this craft and these wonderful words of truth and advice, remind me every time that I still have a mountains worth of things to learn. A lifetime of experience to gain and long road ahead of me that has no destination. To whomever wrote this, there is not enough praise or thank you’s in this life or the next to offer your proper dues. Other than sharing it with all of my peers that I deeply respect. Old salts and greenhorns alike. Not sure if this message will ever find you, but I offer my thanks and gratitude all the same. I couldn’t possibly improve upon these words if I tried.

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