You will Quit Tattooing

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Why you will quit tattooing.

I used to say “Tattoo artist don’t retire, they just die.”

Thats not a true statement anymore. It is no secret that a rising amount of ambitious practitioners are rushing to the industry. With the excitement comes disappointment as announcements of earlier retirement become common on social media.

To a veteran it comes as no surprise. Tattooing no longer has the “Blood In-Blood Out” commitment that traditional apprenticeships would have made very clear. The message to a young artist in a traditional apprenticeship was, “Be as committed to your craft as the tattoo is to your client.”

I heard a story of a lady in California. After working in a shop for short time, she made a mistake. She applied a Japanese character upside down on a client. It was enough for her to put down the machines. She walked away from tattooing. It was at that moment she fully realized what an impact tattooing had on people and she decided not to pursue it any further. This was very respectable.


 

You’re running a business.

As a company man working 9 to 5, you get insurance, vacation pay, sick leave and a paycheck. Your taxes will be taken out for you. Budgeting your financial life will be predictable. Knowing that you are a few days away from payday is a huge relief to a dwindling bank account. It may be possible that you have a raise coming your way.

Tattooing does not offer any of this. The unpredictable nature of the business is enough to drive you mad. The swings of slow seasons bring the unprepared to their knees. Getting sick and going to a doctor is a nightmare. The time missing work and paying out of pocket for healthcare can cripple your finances. While a youthful lifestyle can take some these hits, family men and women cannot.

The undisciplined will be left with empty pockets and no chance of surviving the marathon of a tattooing career.


 

Drugs and alcohol

This might be the biggest reason you will quit tattooing. The tattoo artist is undisciplined so he must discipline himself.

Early days in a fruitful career bring the perks of the industry like an attractive candy dish. Instant cash and no real structure gives leeway to the partygoer. Late nights build comradery amongst artists. The temptation to live for the night can overpower your commitment to the craft. Eventually the hangovers and side effects of the party lifestyle will choke out the future of the most talented artist.

The spiral of bouncing from shop to shop will eventually land you on your ass. You will only be able to fool your clients with charisma for a short while before the inconsistency and unreliability defeat you.


 

The Grind

The great wave of new tattoo artists started about a ten years ago. Seeded in this group are hundreds of very talented people. Men and women who will catapult this industry into a new level of tattooing. First they have to survive the grind. Some individuals will meet tattooing with a strong knowledge in a traditional art medium. Seeing tattooing as and extension of their art career, they first have to learn how to become a competent practitioner. Learning the tools and ways of this new world will be challenging.

It is said that it takes 10,000 hours or five years to become competent. During this time the artist inside is struggling to get out. It will be beaten down with relentless requests to do menial tattoos. This is by no doubt the most common complaint of a young artist. “If I do one more infinity symbol for a cancer baby I’m going to quit!”

Looking at magazines and Instagram feeds of respected artists, It can be very frustrating. The challenge of how to bridge the gap between grinding in a street shop to an appointment style career is not so clear.

For those who have the drive to elevate their career to the next level, street shops will feel like trying to build Custom Choppers at Meinake. Its difficult to work on large scale projects when you need to give up your station for oil changes. It takes a very big leap of faith to leave a shop that has given your blossoming career a safe haven.


 

People

You are going to have to work with people. You are going to have to tattoo people.

Tattooing in a shop is like being in a submarine. If a coworker irritates you at the beginning of the day, chances are they will be 20 feet away from you for the rest of your shift. You will be tested on how well you can “let it go”. If you are unable to roll with the punches, you will be the target for every inner office prank. In the old days we had a standing rule that you could punch your coworker to settle your differences. Since that doesn’t work nowadays you’re going to have to suck it up.

Tattooing is a service industry. You serve people. It is repetitious and demanding chasing the requests of customers. As soon as you are done with a flavor of the month tattoo, the next guy that walks in the door will ask for the same tattoo. You will be busting at the seems to show the world who you can really be only to be given boring and simple tattoos to execute.

This is the complaint I here the most. Tattoo artists who say, “I hate people”. If you truly hate people then this is not a job for you. You will be tested at work, at home and out to dinner. You do not get to turn off tattooing. It is a full time job. When you are not at work, you will be drawing for work. When you are taking a break from drawing, the waiter at dinner will ask you about work. You will get a whole new group of seasonal friends. Those who cannot handle people are doomed to an early retirement.

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3 Comments

  1. Johnny Valentin June 9, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    Your statements are more true then anyone can realize. I made it thru most of this having been an artist for near 15 years. While I would go home and complain about just about everything you mentioned I still held strong until my wife of 18 years was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Thru one of my clients I was able to land a job building websites from home during the final year of my wife’s life so that I could be there with her and still make a living. After she passed I stayed doing the web sites because I liked the constant flow of income and a deeper fear that too many of my clients had found a new artist. After another year the funding for the web design ran out and I attempted to return to tattooing. It was like starting all over again having to work in a street shop that had no concept of artistic consistency or marketing to increase traffic to make up for it. I just couldn’t get enough of my clients back and it was nothing more then fighting for the next bone that walked thru the door. After that I just felt it was time for a new start somewhere fresh and on the word of an artist 1100 miles away who did a guest spot in my shop many years before, that they had enough traffic to allow me to rebuild I picked up what was left of my family, used every penny we had left and moved us for a fresh start. I did everything in my power to remain honorable as days turned into weeks, turned into months. and after 3 months it turned out this new attempt was even less fruitful as the street shop I was in. I’m pretty much in an area where I don’t even know where to begin to try to generate a client base nor do I have the money to do so and now I am stuck 1100 miles from anyone I know, my family uses the vehicles to work making just enough for us to barely survive and I am in an area with something like 4 or 5 street shops that just make me cringe at the thought of working there just to fight for a bone. So I ask my self what do I do now. I have spent most of my life doing what I loved and had my entire world crumble around me. Even looking for a new job in any different field yields no result. I feel like as soon as someone reads tattoo shop on a resume they just toss it in the trash expecting me to fit some stereo type they have embedded in their mind or expect their customers will not accept someone with tattoos, regardless of my ability to do the job. Either way I just felt like this was a good place to share this since it was the only recent and relevant post to my multiple searches online as to what to do or how to re-enter the work force after being a tattoo artist. Most of them where poor examples of how to become one.

    • Tappa September 18, 2016 at 11:59 am #

      Johnny I am having the same problem … the tattoo industry is so different !
      Where I live its completely flooded with new shops , and because of the poor economy they started to bring down the hourly . I also took a break from tattooing …. I got into t-shirt silkscreen design ,
      I was doing well especially financially for the first time …. but after I quit due to poor management .
      Now I’m back to square one .. I got into a shop no prob but peoples taste have changed , I have a darker style mixed with graffiti that the majority of people don’t like around here … now its Neo traditional and mandala patterns …. the clients now are SJWs and hipster’s …
      I have noticed even guys that have a really good rep and have owned a shop for along time , are starting to feel the pressure also !
      I printed up a resume and after I looked at it , I was quite embarrassed ! ….. now I just keep thinking what I got myself into …. I hope Johnny your doing well … My advice get yourself back home and start doing some work from home if you want to continue tattooing . It should build your clientele again .

  2. Sally June 28, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. This cannot be more true and this is what is making me realize the changes I need to make and possibly leave tattooing for the ones who are in it 100% that can make this work for their life. I have been tattooing for almost 4 years but I just do not feel at home pretty much for every reason you have listed and more of what makes a tattoo artist. It needs to be serious, and it really does need to be your life or you will kind of be eaten alive by your own thoughts of leaving/changing or the new flow of clients you encounter. Thank you so much for posting this. If you are getting into tattooing, this better be the only thing you want to do or honestly, like you said, you will quit.

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