Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Walking the walk

November 11th, 2008 by

Way back when, before a lot of tattoo artists started to offer apprenticeships left and right to make ends meet, (Let’s face it not all of us are namers like Spider Web, Hanky Panky, or Kat.), apprenticeships were hard to come by. Most artists would simply look at you like you had just crawled out from under a rock, or simply tell you to get the Hell out of their shop.

I, myself was lucky. I had the fortune to have been friendly with several members of a motorcycle club, one of which happened to make his living as a tattoo artist. Having been an artist all my life he was slightly impressed by my ability to draw and offhandedly asked me if I wanted to learn to tattoo. Well, Hell yes I did! Like most starry eyed wannabes who can draw I foolishly thought, “How hard can it be? I can draw.” I never said that to him, but I sure did think it.

I can hear the laughter from our tattoo artist readers already.

Anyone who has ever held one of those heavy bucking machines of wonder, tried to lay a smooth line on a stretch distorted image while the “canvas” is squirming around and bitching knows where I’m coming from.

Still and all I can’t blame a lot of paper artists for their enthusiasm. Regardless of the slowly improving outlook of our western culture, tattoos are cool. Always have been, always will be. The art form has been around at least as long as cave painting has, perhaps even longer. There’s something to be said for that, and I’ll expand on that theme at a later date. For now let’s get back to apprenticeships.

As I said, I was lucky. This was back in the late 70’s and regulations were lax, if they even existed at all. Some places they did, most places they didn’t. However, the artist who apprenticed me had it all together for the times. He even kept and used an old All American steam sterilizer, though he wasn’t required to.

Even then, while my young ass was doing the grunt work, such as making needle groups with jigs, disassembling tattoo machines and rebuilding them, wrapping coils, cleaning the shop, ect, ect. We would have “artists” coming in from time to time looking to learn the trade. My teacher had a great way to more or less discourage some of the more persistent and obnoxious wannabe’s who would say something to the effect that since they could draw they could tattoo. Some folk have all the social skills of G. W. Bush.

He would keep a indelible fine tipped marker under the counter to which he had fixed a tattoo machine. Then he would pull out a pencil tracing of a fairly easy piece of flash, and hook up the machine and have the “artist” step on the pedal and trace the “stencil” with the marker. Not too hard, huh? Guess again.

Without warning he would jar the table the would be was working on and yell “Fuck that hurts!”, or jar his arm and shout, “Damn!”. Through out the tracing he would be constantly complaining. Spouting off every piece of crap a tattoo artist will hear in the studio. Basically rattling the Hell out of the guy’s cage. After the would be tattooist had finished he would point out all the squiggled lines and marks where the line had shot off into parts unknown and ask the asshole if he still thought it was easy.

Grinning he would look the guy dead in the eye and say. “Tattoo machines don’t come with erasers. When you can get a decent line while all that shit is going on, I’ll think about showin’ ya how it’s done.”

I’d bet most tattoo artists out there smiling right now. Why? Because they all know that although you may be a good artist there is a lot more to being a good tattoo artist than just being able to draw well and no, you can’t learn it from a book. You can be one of the best artists around and still not have what it takes to be a good tattoo artist. It takes something special to be able to make a damn good tattoo that goes beyond just being able to draw.

One thing I can tell all the would be tattoo artists out there. If you are thinking of getting into the business because you believe it’s an easy job and you’ll make beacoup bucks being a lazy son of a bitch, you are dead wrong. Most likely you will end up being nothing more than another scratcher. If you have a passion and love for the art first and foremost, your on the right track and it is possible you will make a good artist. Just make certain you are willing to walk the walk.

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