You will Quit Tattooing


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.



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.


  1. Johnny Valentin on 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 on 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 on 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.

  3. Tony figueroa on August 20, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    I stepped away from tattooing about a year and half ago after 11 years, it was my everything to me my wife loved me doing it my kids aswell. I was never the party man, or the drugs and alcohol guy, I’ve helped establish a couple of shops that my buddies opened over the years so I’ve witnessed the business end too. Here’s the thing I’ve been dealing depression my whole life and with the last shop at was at really push my depression to its limits to the point that I had to put my machine down. It was effecting my work and my home life, now my wife has suggested I’d get back into it due our financial situation as I took a hugh pay cut, but mostly i miss doing what i had such a passion for. How should i approach coming back mentally and emotionally?

  4. Barrett Metheny on December 7, 2019 at 12:41 am

    This is a great and accurate post. I’ve tattooed on and off for awhile but was always forced to work a 9-5 job. My recent job I had paid really well but I was miserable at the thought that this is what I grew up to do? I felt that I was worth more and the thought always came to mind “ what if I would’ve stuck with tattooing”. It had always been my passion and I cringed at the idea that I would always work a miserable job to pay bills instead of doing what I love. I quit my job and finally made it back into a shop and I loved it!!! I excelled and was proving to myself that I could do it. I was finally tattooing again and doing what I loved!!! After a year or so I started realizing that it had to be my life and I was ok with that, but I wasn’t able to spend enough time with my kids and it was hard to sustain myself after being accustomed to making decent money in construction. I had built a lavish life for myself and became comfortable with having free time, spending time with my kids, traveling etc with my old job and that was something I was willing to sacrifice to tattoo and follow my passion. But eventually me not spending time with my kids, worrying about finances, not having benefits and living comfortably finally was breaking me down including the rough but expected atmosphere of the shop. I took a break and left and have been beating myself up ever since as to what the right decision was for me. If I was horrible at tattooing it would’ve been easier to leave and go back to work, but my potential and my artwork was progressing and it made it that much harder to realize I had left and if it was the right path. Do I go back to my old job for the comfortable life and be able to spend more time with my kids and get my benefits back and humble myself, or do I continue to follow my maybe selfish dream to continue to tattoo no matter the cost or sacrifices? Thanks for the post👌

  5. mike castillo on November 12, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    tattooing was dead, the minute the wheels of ideas where grinding about bring it to the “TV’ it was over. i left and joined the ARMY did 8 years was all over the place and loved it, so when i hung my uniform and decided to, hop back on what i did best was to work in a street shop, i realized it changed for the worst ,some of this people couldn’t even tune their machines or make needles from scratch ,and the shops where all over the place like Mcdonalds at every street , they only thing i can say its be versatile and try new things , don’t get stock doing something it NO longer works for you ,just like disappointments comes, every form and shape so does happiness on your new found joy! tattoos or tattooing will never have that same magic it had ,like so many of us knew it from the 90’s who earned our title tattooer, now i work on hotords weld, and paint, and still have time for ART on the side, thankfully the air power tools and the danger of chopping your fingers off, keeps the wannabes away and the posers don’t even try to come around its been almost 10 years since i did a tattoo and don’t miss it , i hope and wish the best for the many of you out there , who’s tattooing path turn ugly, just like mine , we just gotta roll with the punches , life is not a bed of roses with steak & Bjs , PS i love this post and the post from everyone else ,

    • Dirtier the Better on June 20, 2021 at 9:34 am

      I’m also considering joining the car world, wrenching on stuff and pinstripes seems to be the place. Tattoo used to be a dirty blue collar job like the rest of them, but now the technology you can be a soft handed artist and not know dick about tattoo. I tried to tell an acquaintance that you have to be a technician first to make tattoos and she scoffed at me. So infuriating. The ARROGANCE! The Ignorance! I know the nature of tattoo has always attracted arrogant assholes right but you still had to be able to handle yourself? Now truly anyone with the cash to spend on the tech can stick their “marketable style” or rather “copies of popular cartoons with some traced roses” with reckless abandon. Tattoo is “hip” right now, artists who can’t hack it on paper see it as a way to make their art more interesting! Sorry I’m Ranting I’m so glad I found this forum clearly I have a lot to say!!

      Point is, I’ll be happy to be up to my elbows in grease and leaded paint.

      Tattoo has always been a pigeon hole I guess the best thing those of us who are in it can do it to stop digging and try to learn something new.

      And maybe life can be steaks and roses and BJs for a time again.


  6. Doesn't matter anymore. on June 16, 2021 at 7:05 pm


    I’m quitting after 25 years. 1996 to 2021 give me a perspective on how the art, industry and humans have changed, mostly for the worse. Product innovations and technology are amazing nowadays but everything else has gone to cancerous shit.
    It’s nice to have found this article on my way out the door. It was fun and rewarding during the first half, the second half has been torturous and depressing.

    To anyone looking to get into tattooing, don’t. It isn’t worth the eroding of your psyche.

    So long clowns.

    • Clown shoes are earned, not issued on June 20, 2021 at 9:36 am

      God speed, comrade. Life is a bitch and she just order the lobster!

  7. I feel like a hospice nurse to a lifestyle on June 20, 2021 at 9:27 am

    I have been tattooing for only 5 years full time, I decided to hang it up late last year after the pandemic seemed like a welcome relief due to the burnout I was feeling. In my time as an apprentice and an artist I watched my mentors literally drop like flies, our shop had 2 suicides in as many years because of the mounting stress of being caught between the old blood in blood out world of tattoo, and the world beyond that has slowly been pushing those guys out. The pressures from their baby mamas, from social media, from the fancy funded hipster shop that opened up right down the street. The guys tell me that there was a time they would have had a violent reaction to someone opening up that close to us without permission, but it’s not like that anymore. And now it’s like Oregon tat school and green horns as far as the eye can see, they take the old school about as seriously as the old school takes them. The disparity is infuriating, I can build machines I know how to make ink I want to make my own needles… anyone who runs rotaries and halo lights asks me “why?’ I watch them throw away pounds of plastic with no remorse. They want to be Instagram famous before they’re even a year deep. I still see my familia and barrio clients, but I do not advertise. I do not talk to other tattooers my own age. My mentor and I have lost touch after he was forced to close his street shop and he lost his home…he’d been the sole provider for his family, living on tattoo for the last 25 years. And Now his clients are filled up or dead, their kids aren’t interested in coverage or the old way of doing things. A shop filled with salt of the earth tattooers playing the Exorcist on VHS for the 10th time that day is a place of the past. I don’t even know another tattooer that scrubs tubes anymore. I am alone and I am with you all apologies for the rant I don’t know where else to put this!

    I’m thinking about writing a book, gathering as much of the old guards life as they will let me and immortalizing it. That’s all I can think to do at this point to give back to tattoo.

    -Cas Wulf Wilhelm

  8. Mike on October 24, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    I left the industry in 2011 after a 10 year career…it was an issue with needing health insurance so I won’t get into that …I began tattooing in 2005 …although not quite the hey day 90s …at that time it was still paying the dues …respecting mentors ..honoring a sacred industry rich in history and the word humble was constantly thrown around …it was a tough climb but a worthwhile and rewarding one …I was deeply depressed to have to leave … Fast forward 10 years and made the decision to return ..i never got used to the 9 to 5 world .Like a ghost re appearing from nowhere …I wish I hadn’t ..not because I cannot tattoo ..I CAN STILL TATTOO..although a bit slower ….not because I need to wear glasses now ..not because I have this gut I never remembered having ….I wish I hadn’t because I am disgusted with what has happened to the business…it’s become as watered down as nail salons …it’s become a selfish breeding ground for art school grads and greedy shop owners who could care less about tattooing but all about making money with that degree fast …they don’t want the gen x tattooer around ..the ones who tell it like it is …they don’t give a shit about any of that …now I understand progress ..and some things are for the better ..especially equipment …the social media tool can get a struggling tattooer busy quick but it’s also destroyed the one on one walk ins …created complexes for those who refuse to filter their work as if it as wrong to do so …and it’s over saturated an already over saturated industry ….it’s a double edged sword ..I recently left a shop due to an age discrimination issue …I was basically told if I left nobody would care ..I am 43 years old …I don’t understand tattoo schools ..older artists I used to look up giving free tattoo advice on you tube and I don’t understand why real tattooers don’t step up and take back the business …it a force to great I suppose ..for myself ..shops can kick rocks …I don’t trust any of them now …I have a private studio I tattoo from …doing the work I choose to do ..when I want and I’ve kept the day job for the benefits and realability.. ….I’d love to be grinding away in a traditional themed street level shop full time again but the letdown isn’t worth suicide or serious depression …if I don’t create my own world as I know it …I assume toss my 6 thousand in equipment in the trash …burn my books and artwork and sit back and let the madness fade into history ..shame shame shame what was allowed to happen…rant over.

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