You will Quit Tattooing

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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.


 

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.

2022 Update

I wrote this blog years ago. It has been my most popular blog with visited daily from frustrated tattoo artist.

I want to update this article for 2022. Here is the next reason Why You Will Quit Tattooing.

YOU BELIEVED THE SHOP OWNER.

You thought this was a team effort. The shop owner told you that your co-workers were family and that every other shop sucked.

You were convinced that the only thing you had to worry about was putting your head down and working hard.  The shop owner spewed the rhetoric every street shop tattoo artist hears:

"You better tattoo everyone that comes through that door! Tomorrow could bring famine.."

"The only thing you need in your life is tattooing, nothing else matters"

"You're lucky to be working here! You should count your blessings I gave you a job."

"You would be nothing if you didn't tattoo here"

"Why would you need a web page? You work for me!"

"You are self employed, I don't buy your insurance"

This list goes on and on but the idea is that you thought the shop owner was looking out for your best interest.  One day you wake up from the bullshit and realize you have been lied to for the last 15 years.

Broke and no were to turn, you feel overwhelmed and start to consider a new occupation because retirement is creeping up fast.

You spent your tattoo career poorly. You concentrated on the good of the shop and not yourself.

The message to younger tattoo artists is this:

Invest in yourself, not the shop.

Learn how taxes work, learn how to build clients, learn what marketing is and dispel all things that are negative to your pursuit.

-Matt Hodel

2022

Have you heard my podcast? 

Bastards of Art: Too polished for folk art, too punk for fine art.

Bastards of Art is a podcast to reach out to lowbrow artist. We are helping artist to come together with a message of positivity and ambition. It can feel very lonely spending hours in the studio. We are here to help erase self doubt and cultivate the artist inside you.

2 Comments

  1. Angrier than you. on April 16, 2022 at 1:50 pm

    Your 2022 update is rad. Wish I’d have heard such words 30 years ago. I’m retiring at the end of May after 30 miserable years. I hate tattooing, it’s a beautiful art/craft and it’s that that I love. But it’s a shit business, made awful by a terrible world and even worse people and I will not endure it anymore. The industry killed itself by racing to the bottom by allowing clients to dictate thing, competing with pricing, pretending to be booked up, the cancerous television shows, legitimizing stick-n-poke tattoos among many other reasons. I’d encourage you to get out whilst you can, the end of tattooing as a ‘business’ is rather close.

  2. Weinërhead on May 17, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Been tattooing about 10 years. I love what I do, know how to tune machines, take the history very seriously. I don’t mind doing the run of the mill minimal shit that walks in, as joe dirt said “its not what you like, it’s the consumer.” That being said, interest in tattooing exploded during the ‘20 shutdown. Since then, there has been a boom of scratchers in my area, but the rotary pens get em to pull clean enough lines, they’re landing jobs at shops, or opening “private studios” everywhere. Most of the established tattooers in my area even give these posers free advice or tips. Everyone’s scared of being a “gatekeeper”. Too many cooks in the kitchen. The licensing requirements in nyc are a joke, im gonna hop around and guestspot different cities and see what else is going on out there. I dont want to quit, I dont know how to do anything else.

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