This Industry has always been self regulated. We have health departments and business licences to to deal with, but they do not oversee us in a whole. They make sure that we are being safe as regards to our health and the clients. It’s always been up to us to make sure that we train new artists in every other aspect of tattooing.
I once did an interview that was conducted by a small college girl. All her questions led up to the back bone of her article’s main point which was “Why aren’t there more women Tattooist?” This was in the mid-nineties. I set up a scenario for her. “I just got a tattoo from you, now I don’t want to pay. Are you gonna stop me from leaving?” I wasn’t trying to be an ass, I was just saying that in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s, the women who did tattoo, might have been a bit more street savvy. They had earned their apprenticeship just like the men. Being an artist didn’t have as big of a part as holding your own. But those who could, benefited from learning to tattoo by those who were masters of their craft.
Before the Internet, all information was passed on to those select few. It was bonafide by the source in which the teacher got the information. The person who taught them, and that begot the the information from the person who taught that person and so on. This information was well guarded. And even then, there was a standing rule that you never told your pupil everything. You always saved a few gems for yourself.
Theapprenticeship itself was rough. One of a tattooist favorite past times is to compare their horror stories with another artist. Bitching about how hard they had it and what they had to do to get their foot in the door. Stories might include painting a guys house to completely remodeling a shop, but not to forget the 80 hour weeks of no pay, sleeping in the back room, being humiliated on a daily basis, in some cases being punched and kicked. Being ordered around all day and sometimes all night. If your boss wants to drink till 4am, you are his copilot, but no matter what you better be at the shop bright and early cleaning and ready to open while telling his appointments excuses of why he’s late when you know that bastard is sleeping one off. My friend Ed in Cocoa Beach has some of the best stories.
Ed was apprenticed in Orlando. Old school to the T. As I remember it being told to me, Bud, who was as old school as they came, didn’t need another guy in the shop. Ed was relentless. Finally Bud agreed to teach Ed after another artist (Big Greg) pulled for him to get a start. Ed spent the first year cleaning, mopping, painting (walls), and running the floor. That was the easy part. He also had to deal with a barrage of insults and unrealistic demands that demanded tough skin. All of this without the promise that Bud would even teach him. He did all that with no pay and no guarantee that he would ever get a chance to tattoo.
After that first year, Bud must have seen something in Ed that convinced him he was a candidate to receive the information that Bud held closer to him than gold. You see once gold is spent, you have no more gold. Information is priceless. It was this information about tattooing that Bud had bleed for and it wasn’t so easily passed on. So Ed got bits and pieces of this information over the next few years. But the hard times weren’t over. Bud would make him walk into the lobby with his finger in his nose and tell a customer, “My name is Ed and I am a dumb ass apprentice. Can I help you?” As humiliating as this seemed, it left little room for Ego. If Ed cracked at this point and quit, he would be black balled by other artists. Nobody wants to teach a wash out. No second chances. The only thing he could hold onto was his willingness and determination.
This is one case of how it was. Years later, Ed was rewarded for his years of commitment and service. Bud built a shop in Cocoa Beach for Ed to run. After the shop was built, Ed said it looked pretty good but Bud wasn’t impressed. Bud pulled a gun out of his waist band and fired a few shots into the fresh paint and exclaimed,”Now it’s a real shop!” Eventually Bud handed the keys over to Ed and gave him Artistic Body Works. He had graduated. The holes should still be in the wall to this day, and if you make your way down there, Ed can give you the graphic version of the hell that was his apprenticeship which only he can deliver in his story telling fashion. He sits at his station under a sign that reads “ED MADIGAN – Machine Building and Quality Bullshitting”
We get asked weekly for a job or an apprenticeship. I am guilty of blowing these people off without an explanation. I guess even I have gotten a bit grumpy and calloused. But with the growth of tattooing, the appeal becomes greater. Most of today’s new artist didn’t have suffer as much for the information that was once so guarded. The result seems to be that instead being washed out during their apprenticeship, they give it a try for a few years only then to find out that they just don’t have what it takes. These people wash there hands of tattooing and move on, leaving behind a mountain of wreckage and disappointed clients who have a daily reminder in there skin of how horrible these short lived careers were. It is no surprise that a good part of the shops work includes cover ups. The tattoo artist whose determination to get through a seemingly miserable apprenticeship gets paid off with the information needed to begin their path to become a successful and well respected artist.