5 Creative Arsenal Must Haves for Tattoo Artists (Tips + Mindset Advice)

Black female tattoo artist, Imani K Brown, Tattoo Artist Tips, tattoo mentor, business coach

Hey there and welcome (back) to Shoppe Gal Diaries, fam!

Today we are digging into tattoo. Expect this from me for a while alongside mindset + motivation and kawaii lifestyle things …

I mean the blog IS called Shoppe Gal and the title DOES come from me being a tattoo shop girl – as a counter girl, tattoo artist, and tattoo entrepreneur. So it’s only right, right?

Ever pivot, as my studio – Little INKPLAY Shop – gains more visibility in these digital streets I have people in my DM’s asking about how to become a tattoo artist, if I need an apprentice or the first steps they should take. I always answer begrudgingly because I never set anything in place to answer these q’s on autopilot. But there’s no time like the present so let’s go!

Let’s start with my best 5 tips and advice for artists. The tips we’ll cover today are:

  1. Mindset
  2. Art Portfolio
  3. Improve Art Skills
  4. Art Entrepreneurship
  5. Apprenticeship

Keep reading for the deep dive of reasoning and advice of each tip, no matter your age in the tattoo industry ~

5 Tips for Beginner Tattoo Artists

1. Mindset 

The first thing is grooming and having the right MINDSET. But this comes in 3 parts:

  • A creative mindset
  • A confident mindset
  • An entrepreneur mindset

So let’s take a moment to break down each of these and why you need them.

Congratulations on the CREATIVE mindset. 

I’m sure you already have that covered if you’re here, reading this and trying to piecemeal the illusive tattoo career. *no shade just fax, fam*

BUT if I had to say anything about having a creative mindset, it’ll be that you MUST enjoy creating, having and honing a creative voice, and pushing creative limits.

Creativity isn’t all about the art. It’s also about innovation.

And absolutely NOTHING is new under the sun of tattoo ideas. Though people don’t believe it, it is true! 

So how do you make an already common tattoo idea like Man’s Ruin, Rock of Ages or the almighty pin-up in your voice without a creative mindset? Hmmmmm? 

Don’t worry, I’ll wait ~

If you want a head start on mindset grooming here’s a love letter exercise just for you!

Next is the CONFIDENT mindset.

There is NO crying in tattoo and it’s not a career for the faint at heart. Think about Theodore Roosevelt’s quote “Nothing worth having comes easy” and multiple that a few times! To survive in the tattoo industry is something you really have to WANT.

But wanting is not enough. You have to work for it, push towards it and know that you have something to impart to the industry, to your clients and to yourSELF through art + needles.

The industry can be cut throat – though a lot of new, young artists are pushing for a cushier space. Let me be clear though … I’m not one of those people sorry not sorry. *kanye shrug*

Confidence allows you to carve your own lane, grow your own voice and be your best authentic self. That’s what you need to sell yourself in this life.

Last but not least, is an ENTREPRENEUR mindset.

You are now a private contractor, which means you are now your own boss and responsible for making your own way. That’s heavy ~

Jay-Z said it best. You’re not a businessman. As a tattoo artist, you’re a business … MAN!

And with that comes, budgeting, sales goals, marketing, growing and scaling and so much more. The flip side of that same coin means that you are also embracing an ongoing personal development journey.

And stepping into the tattoo arena means that you accept where you are now and your inevitable evolution. In fact, having an entrepreneurship mindset means that you are here to embrace becoming a better human.

You just have a hope of bettering yourself through art and sharp objects.

2. Art Portfolio

If you know me then you KNOW this is my favorite jam – portfolios. Every artist should strive to have a strong portfolio. It is our visual resume that indicates what we do, sometimes who we serve, and the transformation. 

That said, trying to score an apprenticeship, call in your ideal client, or show your worth is extremely hard if you do not have a portfolio.

Lip service only gets you so far in the tattoo world. Issa put up or shut up kinda sport. 

And you answer that call with your portfolio.

If this were marketing, your portfolio is your pitch deck. It is needed at every level of tattoo entrepreneurship, but what does that look like?

At the apprentice level – to score an apprenticeship, your portfolio should be art NOT tattoos you tried to do. That’s not impressive, it’s gross! >.< Instead have a showcase of your signature art style + art that mimics different tattoo styles. This shows a tattoo artist that you are developing your style and voice. And you have an understanding of tattoo styles and composition.

At the professional level – your portfolio puts your specialty and strengths on blast, showcasing a lot of what you can do in and out of your style. This type of portfolio often communicates preferences of what you want to do and calls in your ideal client. 

At the thought leader/ influencer level – it’s a whole vibe and you are showcasing your lane, only. Your portfolio not only showcases art but also the unique experience and transformation you provide. It’s no longer just about your art skills and process, but also your bedside manner of customer engagement. This portfolio will require more grooming as an intentional collection of work and vibes.

3.  Improve Art Skills 

If you think you stop art’ing once you get your apprenticeship … WRONG! So start now, before you even have it in the bag so you do not have trouble flexing that muscle in the industry.

There are a lot of reasons to stay up on your art skills. Aside from becoming an old dusty one-trick pony flash artist you may look to:

  • Change styles
  • Fuse styles
  • Draw freehand, on the body
  • Make original art & merch

All of these will require you to constantly create. 

But above all things, your customer will depend on your fresh take for their stale as f*ck ideas. As a tattoo artist, it will be your job to take all that a customer wants, make it make sense, and make it translate well on skin. 

There are no do overs once you get to skin, so you will want to make all the mistakes on paper before you get there.

4. Art Entrepreneurship

Ok, this is another favorite topic of mine. Remember I mentioned the entrepreneur mindset earlier. Well, this is where you step into the act of entrepreneuring so you understand it in practice, not just theory. In fact, a lot of professional artists struggle to grow in tattoo once they reach their ceiling because we often skip this step, thinking it comes after you become a professional artist.

That is so far from the truth and is like hustling backwards.

I advise tattoo aspirants, hopefuls, and beginners to start an art business brand. Having this under your belt is great for understanding your bottom line and how your art converts now. When going to get that apprenticeship, having a business – even if it’s just a microbusiness – helps show you as a serious candidate, will help sustain you in your apprenticeship since it is most likely you will be working for free, and keeps you within a creative mindset. 

When you start an art business, the goal is to replace your job so that you don’t have to stress mentally. 

Ever noticed the energy it takes to go from doing customer service at Target or that one job of pouring soda at Chick-fil-a to switching that creative switch on. My gawd the mental fortitude it takes, since you will likely have to decompress from one to step into the other. And in between can be a cluster f*ck of distractions. *oof*

Plus coming in the door with an art business and brand means that as you grow you have a sales and marketing container to grow into. If you keep growing it alongside your career, it becomes something recognizable for customers – past, present, and future – to easily identify you. 

We call it a personal brand in the marketing world and can really boost your pitch portfolio.

5. Apprenticeship

There is a lot of information on the internet about how to tattoo – techniques and shit. But remember I said tattoo is a very cut throat sport for degenerates? I wasn’t joking.

For professional artists, as we grow there are always apprentice moments. We should embrace this learning phase every time it shows up in our creative lives, understanding that we are forever learning and evolving. But stepping back into this phase isn’t always easy if you haven’t done it once.

Having an apprenticeship gives you more tools than technique. It becomes art entrepreneurship on steroids, allowing you to learn a lot of the industry’s unspoken rules.

There are rules of networking and engaging, how to find customers, engaging with another artist’s customer, sanitation, booking appointments, etc. Every shop has its own baseline of customer service, booking and onboarding/ offboarding process.

In short, tattoo is a lifestyle. And you’ll need a clear view on the overall lifestyle – good, bad and indifferent, to understand where you would thrive best.

I will use the contrast of mine and my apprentice’s experiences. 

When I apprenticed I was in a walk-in shop – Pinz-n-Needlez Tattoo – having to learn how to handle customers and what I call people’ing on the fly. Before Pinz, my tattoo master was at another shop, Northeast Tattoos, and that is where I learned to be one of the boys. I went to strip clubs with my master. My one job, my assignment was to look at bad tattoos and mentally take note of what made them bad (in my eyes) and how I would do better/ different. Back at the shop I had to revisit those mental notes and recreate flash. 

By the time Chris opened Pinz, there was an expectation of how soon you greet a customer, how to walk them through tattoo ideas, specific sanitation process for stations and the shop overall, and how to tattoo on the fly. Guerilla marketing was best for getting bodies into a street shop and having the shop’s name helped me gain trust and notoriety within the industry.

Celide, my apprentice, on the other hand is in a private shop. This looks a lot different for her because all of her customer connections are generally digital, first. So the expectation shifts to how long it takes to respond to emails, understanding her digital landscape and how to grow visibility. She can’t tattoo on the fly since there is no foot traffic. But still has to develop that muscle, so she creates art on the fly with a game called 3 Words. As the industry has changed I have the responsibility of getting her up to date on the current trends and protocol.

Teaching her how to step into art entrepreneurship by activating a personal brand that circles back to the shop and artist who supports her serves better for digital guerilla marketing tactics.

Did you catch the bridge of having a valid shop and artist supporting you? 

A connection like that helps you with the know, like and trust factor while growing your own reputation in tattoo.

Conclusion

No matter your level (or age) in the tattoo industry, these are tips that you can always rinse and repeat.

As you pivot and turn in tattoo, you now have a way to regroup and reset to find solid footing. Which is great because the industry is very much alive – growing and keeping up with present day.

Wouldn’t it make sense that you do TOO?!

IF you need a lift and ready to groom yourself to break into the tattoo industry or ready to groom your tattoo business, mindset or portfolio for personal brand growth, then join my VIP Experience BEFORE the price goes up next month.

It’s an experience created special for artists and creatives to make a plan + build a personal brand with Instagram + get the entrepreneurship of it all ~

comment here or stop by to leave a voice message and let me know how it’s going for you!

As always, I’M ROOTING FOR YOU!

Enjoy my content? 

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Imani K Brown, Tattoo Artist /Author /Brand Coach

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