Learn Tattoo Artist Tips & Advice 5 Traits of a Successful Tattoo Artist

Most people think that being a successful tattoo artist means creating amazing designs every day. And while that’s an outcome of success, what people don’t see are the characteristics that allowed the artist to get to that point- the grit behind it all. 

In the tattoo industry, simply being a good tattoo artist is not enough to be successful. There are other qualities you need to reach the top.  

In this article, you’ll learn: 

  • The five traits that you need to as an tattoo artist
  • Ways that you can grow these traits
  • How to ultimately be successful in a competitive niche like tattooing
professional-tattoo-artist
  1. 1

Self-Awareness

Being self-aware lets you improve as an artist.

Self-awareness means being honest with yourself about your skill level as an artist and being open to learning new things. However, it also means knowing your worth. 

Finding this balance is important because without self-awareness, you’ll never improve. If you think your work is better than it is, then you won’t practice enough, and you’ll mess up tattoos that are way above your skill level. 

But at the same time, you don't want to sell yourself short. If you’re constantly criticizing yourself, then it’s easy to end up working at a shop that only pays you a fraction of what you are worth. The key is to have balance. Don't be cocky about your art skills and don't discount the value you provide to the shop you work in. Especially if you are an apprentice.

How to Develop This Trait:

A self-aware tattoo artist is never fully satisfied and is always improving. These are the actions they take to progress, even if they’re at the top of their field. You can grow faster by following in their footsteps. Self-aware artists:

  • Want to be a good student.

When a better artist gives you advice, listen to it. If you implement their advice they will want to help you even more. If you don't, they will stop giving you pointers. Nothing annoys a mentor more than someone who does not listen to them. Also, don't take criticism personally, instead see it as an opportunity to get better.

  • Have a critical eye.

Artists tend to be their own worst critic. But as a tattoo artist, that’s an important trait. You always need to be considering how you can improve in order to raise your skill level. Even the top artists you see in magazines are never satisfied with their work. They are always trying to improve. 

  • Look at others.

Looking at other artists’ work will give you an idea of what the standard of tattooing is - and if you’re below or above it. This is important because without knowing what the standard is, it’s easy to believe you’re better than you really are. 

That false confidence leads to new artists doing tattoos they aren’t ready for, or ruining their relationships with other artists. No tattoo artist wants to be around other tattooers that think they’re better than they are. 

  • Know Your Limits.

Because tattoo artists leave behind a permanent mark, it’s important that you don’t put yourself in a position where you are in way over your head. “Normal” artists can start a new drawing when they mess up. 

Tattoo artists don't have that option.

A bad tattoo can ruin your career. If you’re not sure you can pull off a design, be honest with yourself and your client. Skin is not for practice, it’s for the skillful application of a tattoo that the customer wants. New artists should never “figure things out” on people’s skin.

  1. 2

Resilience

Being resilient helps you get through rough patches so you don’t quit before reaching your full potential.

Resilient tattoo artists push through hard times and stand up for themselves. If a tattoo artist is a pushover, they will not make it through their apprenticeship. Or, if they do manage those first few years, they’ll end up working 60 hours a week, barely making enough to survive while they make the shop owner rich. 

Tattooing is a hard industry to break into. Competition is through the roof, and during the first few years, apprentices work 60-80 hours a week for no pay. Apprenticeships often come with hazing and performing tasks as the “shop slave” that have nothing to do with learning to tattoo. Most apprentices find themselves without enough money for rent and food on a regular basis. In order to push through these hard times in the beginning, new artists need to be resilient. If they’re not, then they’ll be more likely to quit.

Even when you do land your first job, new artists tend to find themselves with very confrontational clients who are rough around the edges (drug addicts and criminals included).

As an artist, you can’t be scared of your customers or co-workers. You have to be able to hold your own. Otherwise, clients will walk all over you.

How to Develop This Trait:

Being resilient mentally is connected to physical health. If you want to develop resilience, you need to make sure you are protecting your body from breaking down first. Here’s how to protect yourself and become more resilient:

  • Keep your body strong.

Tattooing can be rough on your body. You spend much of the day hunched over, and it’s hard to avoid fast food when you don’t have much time between tattoos. Doing your best to eat healthy and hit the gym is important to having a long career. In particular, performing exercises like deadlifts will help your posture and prevent constant back pain.

  • Rest - physically and mentally.

Doing stressful tattoos and missing sleep because you are drawing the next day’s designs are very normal parts of tattooing. Making time to rest is key to avoiding burnout. Take time off when you need it. In the beginning you have to hustle, but if you work all the time, you won't do your best work.

  1. 3

Patience

Patience allows you to create flawless work and make customers happy, building your reputation.

The tattoo artist stereotype tends to show someone with a short temper. Successful tattoo artists are the exact opposite. We are in the era of social media, so if you blow up at a customer, it will come back to bite you.

Sometimes, you will get difficult clients. For example, you’re bound to get a middle aged woman with a “Can I see the manager?” attitude and a screaming baby in a stroller. She’ll want a design she got off Pinterest that is way too big for her finger, and she’ll refuse to let you make any changes.

Getting these clients sucks, but you have to keep your cool. It’s part of the job. If you blow up at customers, you’ll get bad reviews on social media, meaning fewer clients and less money.

In tattooing, patience means being able to focus while also being kind.

You’ll have customers (like the one mentioned above) that you’ll want out the door ASAP. But you still have to treat every tattoo the same, even if you don’t like the client. This means never rushing and staying focused for hours on end. Trying to speed through a tattoo leads to mistakes that ruin your client’s skin for life.

The other customer type that requires the most patience is people getting their first tattoo. They can be very uncertain about what they want. In times like these, it helps to remember that you were once like them. As a tattoo artist, getting a new tattoo doesn’t seem like a big deal because you are around it all day.

But when people go in to get their first tattoo, they’re usually so scared and excited that they’ve barely slept. They have a million questions running through their heads. Will I like this forever? Will the artist do a good job? Will my parents freak out? Will my boss care? Will my friends like it?

Your job is to guide them through the process and work with them. If you’re clearly frustrated or angry, it can scare customers off and hurt your business.

Remember: No one forgets their first tattoo.

How to Develop This Trait:

Developing patience is one of the most difficult traits to nail down. However, there are ways to keep yourself in check when you’re frustrated or anxious that will become second nature with practice.

  • Try mediation.

Probably didn’t expect to hear that from a tattoo artist, right? But meditation is a great tool that teaches your mind to keep its cool for a long time. We won’t get into the science here, but it physically changes your brain so you can become a more patient person. 

  • Understand the process.

Learning to tattoo does not happen overnight. You can speed up the process with proper training and mentorship that you get from programs like the Artist Accelerator, but you’ll never hear us say that you’ll find overnight success.

Tattooing is a skill, and new artists have to accept that it takes time to learn, especially if you are trying to transition from a current job into tattooing...or if you’re making no money at all as an apprentice. It can be tempting to skip steps (like improving your drawing) so that you can start making money sooner, but if you do not have a solid foundation before you start on skin, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot in the long term. Tattooing is filled with artists that have made zero progress in the last 5 years because they skipped the fundamentals and they have nothing to build off.

You can set yourself up for success if you understand in advance that learning to tattoo takes time.
  • Enjoy the process.

As artists, it can be all too easy to focus on creating an incredible end product - especially when we’re anxious to post on social media. However, learning to enjoy the process of creating art instead of simply being attached to the outcome makes being patient much easier, because you won’t be tempted to finish a piece just to “get it over with.”

  • Take breaks.

Part of being patient is knowing when you need to take a step back. If you’re trying to create art while you’re frustrated, it will not be your best work. “Pushing through” will not get you anywhere.

  1. 4

Strong Work Ethic

A strong work ethic opens doors for you to build an exciting clientele, develop your own style, and make more money.

The days of being able to sit in a shop and wait for work to walk through the door are long gone. If you wait around, the only work you will get is the jobs you don’t want to do (small script, infinity symbols, tribal, and other tedious tattoos). These customers are often the most demanding and don’t appreciate your art and the time it takes to create.

However, if you have a strong work ethic and put time and effort into marketing to the right people, you can build a great clientele and establish your own style. This will allow you to do more tattoos that truly interest you, or even let you specialize in your favorite style full time.

Most clients nowadays come from social media. You need to be constantly producing new designs to post that builds your social media (and in turn builds up your client list).

And if you want to be a renowned artist, you have to develop a recognizable style, and the fastest way to develop your own style is to draw...a lot. The more you draw, the more you’ll understand how to make your pieces unique.

How to Develop This Trait:

A strong work ethic is not something you “do or don’t have.” It’s something you build. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create good habits.

How you do anything is how you do everything. Deciding what habits you want to create as your standard will determine how good of a tattoo artist you can become. If you want to develop a strong work ethic, you need to get into the habit of drawing every single day. Overtime, you’ll build up the time you spend drawing each day. 

It is difficult to make time for drawing at first. Just like going to the gym, you have to get past that initial pain period. But once drawing becomes a normal part of your day, it will become easy.

  • Be organized.

Everyone has their own organization method, and it takes time to figure out what works best for you. However, here’s a few good starting points:

  • Use a calendar app to book your appointments instead of a diary. (Notifications and easy access help you keep track of your schedule.)
  • Keep track of your receipts for tax time.
  • Have a system for drawing tattoos or making them in Photoshop.
  • Create a filing system on your computer for all your designs. 

Systems like these will give you the structure you need in your life to be productive. You’ll be amazed by how much more you can get done.

  • Mentally prepare for long hours.

Tattooing, while incredibly rewarding, is not a 9-5 job. After spending all day in the shop, artists must be prepared to go home and draw the next day’s designs for several hours before spending time responding to social media messages and doing their own accounting and tax preparation. 

Note
If you don't have a strong work ethic, then you’ll struggle to find success in tattooing.
  1. 5

Passion

Being passionate means putting time into your craft - and reaping the benefits as your skills progress.  

Simply put, a successful tattoo artist makes time in their life for their passion: art. And then they don’t give up.

Too many people get into tattooing for the wrong reasons like money, status, and the cool lifestyle.

But when the job gets tough, those motivations will not carry them through, and they’ll burn out. The artists that make it are the ones that live and breathe art. Their passion fuels them when tattooing gets demanding physically, mentally, and creatively.

How to Develop This Trait:

People often think that if they struggle with something, then they aren’t passionate about it. They quit, thinking they’ve “lost their passion,” when in reality they’re looking for something that always comes easy to them. 

This is the wrong way to think about passion.

Once you find something you’re good at, your passion will grow after you push past the struggle. That’s why the number one way to develop your passion is to:

  • Put time into your craft.

As you put in the time and improve your skill, that original little bit of passion grows because the work becomes more enjoyable. 

Passionate artists are easy to spot because they make time to draw. They sacrifice other parts of their life to do so because art is more than a hobby, it’s their priority.

While you’re learning to tattoo, art has to be the sole focus of your life. It’s the cost of entry into the industry and everyone has to do it.

Think You Have the Traits of a Successful Tattoo Artist?

If you’re committed to constantly growing each of the traits in this list, then you have what it takes to be a successful tattoo artist. 

All you need now are the skills.

While five years ago you might have had to grind through a 2-4 year apprenticeship with no pay, today you don’t have to. The Artist Accelerator Program gives you everything you need to go from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days. We’ve taken the lessons you learn in a traditional apprenticeship and condensed them down into bite-sized modules so you can develop the skills you need to break into the tattoo industry while still making an income.

In the Artist Accelerator Program, you not only learn tattoo basics and techniques, but you’ll also discover the best ways to continually improve as an artist, organize your materials, share your passion with others, and more so you can continue to cultivate the traits that will make you a successful tattoo artist.

Ready to turn your passion for art into a career?

Click get started to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years experience working at studios across the globe including Celebrity Ink the world's largest tattoo studio chain. When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry

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