An old zen story goes like this:
“There was once a man who loved his horse more than anything on earth (not that kind of love you sickos), it was some kind of thoroughbred and he loved this thing to the exclusion of everything else. Every day he would comb its mane with a golden comb, he hand-picked only the tenderest grass and vegetables for the horse to eat, he layed silk blankets over the floor of the stall so the horse wouldn’t hurt its hooves. He was so obsessive that he would catch its urine and poop in a giant ceramic seashell and take it away before the horse would have to smell it. Get it? He really, really loved his horse.
One day he was cleaning the horses stall for the 10th time that day when a big ol horsefly landed on the horses butt. The man went to slap the fly off of his beloved steed which startled the horse. The surprised horse did what surprised horses do, it kicked out with its hind leg hitting the man in the forehead killing him instantly. “
the point of the story is that just because you love something (or do something nice for it) doesn’t mean that the object of your gifts can understand that love. The man doted on the horse, but the horse was just an animal and when startled, it did what animals do.
So, I got an email today about an article I wrote years ago. To understand why the email was so misguided you have to understand a little about the world of tattooing. It is an extremely hermetic world, almost everyone in it is secretive and protective of tattooing. Sometimes (as the letter writer asserts) this is because some folks are afraid of too much competition, but far more often it’s because we have all seen terrible work put out by untalented hacks and we try to protect tattooing as much as possible by freezing out scratchers.
I appreciate the protectiveness, I do the same thing, but I also think that we can protect tattooing by showing folks the smart and effective way to go about things. I try , in this blog and my life, to show people the correct way of going about being an aspiring tattooer without deluding people into thinking that they could a)learn from this or any other internet source how to tattoo and b) helping them to see that just buying tattoo equipment and fucking people up will never result in them being a competent tattooer. In other words: I’m not trying to train all the people who want to be tattooers, but I am trying to help them to find the correct, effective, and ultimately safest way for them to do the work themselves of becoming a professional tattooer.
This isn’t the first grumpy email I have gotten about that article, but it neatly contains almost all the complaints that people have about my article (that they get for free on the internet. . .. ) so i see it as an opportunity to address them all at once. Here it is in its entirety except I have omitted this persons name and facebook page info.
“First off. I have NO aspirations of tattooing I do not the artistic talent to do it. that is probably why i love visual art soo much
Second. I must point out the Hypocritical aspects of this
I could go point by point but I will just hit on a few
“DO get into tattooing through an apprenticeship.” but if you ask me the answer is NO
This is the answer you hear 98% of the time when you talk to or read posts form tattoo artists.
I partly Blame good tattoo artists for there being so many Bad Tattoo artists. They will totally talk shit about anyone and shoot them doing for not being an apprentice then refuse to apprentice anyone. The Hypocrisy is Thick. Dont goto tattoo schools they are shit. Dont figure it out yourself it doesnt work that way. NO I will not apprentice you.
Is It because they dont want to create more competition? maybe. but Saying you dont have enough time in an industry thats already over saturated it bullshit! If you dont have alot of time getting an apprentice would be great for you. I dont have enough time for SOMEONE ELSE to make my needles. Clean my station and set it up and Clean all of my instruments. Go Bullshit someone else and tell the truth………I dont wanna teach you so you can take away my work.”
So lets address this point by point starting with the fact that this person is angry with my article on how to properly get an apprenticeship but has no aspirations of being a tattooer. There’s a lot of anger in this email considering he doesn’t actually want to be a tattooer. I get that, I also like to speak up for the underdog. Unfortunately, like a lot of folks, the author is using all their sympathy and compassion for the poor aspiring tattooer, but when I wrote that article I was looking out for the wannabe tattooer AND their potential clients. I’m not being mean to potential apprentices, rather I am looking out for both them and the poor souls who might end up getting bad work and hepatitis from them if the fail to learn properly. Also keep in mind that as far as I know I am the only person with 16 years of experience telling people who want to be tattooers anything at all, the letters author doesn’t seem to see this as the gift i intended the article to be because he has the idea that not taking any and all comers as apprentices is somehow unfair.
Second, I’m not sure if this person understands that the article I wrote is an instruction manual for how to get an apprenticeship, I promise you that if I was greedy i could have packaged the article as an “instructional” CD, and I would make a MINT, especially if i lied and said that it would make getting an apprenticeship easy. I didn’t want to profit from people’s aspirations, i wanted to help them to go into whatever shop they choose and at least have the basic tools to not get a door slammed in their faces. Also, the letters author doesn’t seem to understand what an apprenticeship is, again, I dont blame him. We live in a world where everything is convenient and everything can be had for the right price. He doesn’t seem to understand that an apprenticeship is a hold over from an earlier world. A world where one craftsperson takes you under their wing and teaches you their whole life, guards you from bad habits, shows you a little at a time as you master each part guiding you onto the next level while keeping you from fucking up your clients (I realize that’s pretty idealistic, but for the most parts that’s what it is). It’s the tattooer saying “OK im going to do my already stressful job AND take on you at the same time”. The letter writer also can’t seem to come to terms with the reality that sometimes wanting something really bad isn’t enough. Its sad and it sucks but some deserving folks will never get a shot and some craptastic ones will, all we can do as tattooers is try to keep our little corner of the world fair, but it never ends up being very fair. As Dogen said “Flowers, though beloved die while weeds, though despised, flourish”, sometimes the world isn’t nice or fair, but compared to many folks in this world who can’t get any education, safe food, or a nights sleep without hearing gunfire, some kid not getting an apprenticeship is a pretty mild shit end of the stick for life to hand you.
Lastly, the competition thing. Man, he really things he’s got the secret right there of why I’m being so “mean”. Obviously, in his mind, if I wasn’t afraid of competition I would apprentice every kid with a dream and a made in china tat-gun, right? Well, it might surprise people to learn that I have a clientele already, and a waiting list of very nice, patient people, and 6 months of a wait to get tattooed by me. My hands and back are wrecked at the end of a week and when someone cancels at the last moment I’m secretly happy sometimes for the break. I’m good on business. I’m lucky, blessed, and try like a motherfucker to make my customers happy, but I am perfectly happy with the level of business I have. Besides, not to be a dick, but some tattooer with a year under their belt isn’t really going to take my business away. In fact when a new tattooer (a professional one) talks to me I’m more than happy to share whatever I can with them, we trade critiques (yes trade, I need critiques as often as I can get them) talk tech, and wherever I can I try to help. So im afraid that , for me at least, the whole competition thing isn’t a motivation at all. Ironically, anyone who would be worth getting apprenticed by would be good and busy enough that the competition thing wouldn’t bother them either. Id also like to point out that almost no one makes (or has an apprentice) make their needles anymore, I did it for 9 years and since the advent of cheap (Chinese) premade needles I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that shit, and by the way,I pay “someone to clean up my shit” and he got his job by promising to never want to learn to tattoo.
I guess the point of this post is to assure you folks who are angry with me for offering the “How to get an apprenticeship” post that I appreciate that you want this whole tattoo career thing to be easy and accessible for folks. I get it, but the fact is that there is a limited supply to feed the massive demand, my article was an attempt to give the promising folks (who have the talent and drive) the tools to approach an apprenticeship safely and with some chance of getting in. If you misunderstood it as a way to keep people out I humbly suggest you go ask some tough guy tattooer how to get an apprenticeship and see if their answer is nicer or more helpful than mine.