Tattooing 101- A new fine arts elective?

Throughout the course of my semester I took on the challenge to learn to tattoo in three months. My goal was to start with zero experience and from mostly on-line sources and with a little help get to the point where I designed and completed a tattoo on someone. The challenge was steep, but I was lucky enough to have a good mentor that I could check in with to validate or correct what I was learning online. Unlike other fields of online learning there is not a ton of resources for learning to tattoo from the start. Tattoo artists and the tattoo industry have a long tradition of mentor/apprenticeship relationships. In the past the only way to become a tattoo artist was to find a mentor and apprentice at their shop. The tattoo culture formed out of an elitist sub-culture. The culture of tattooing meant that it can be hesitant to let new tattoo artists in. This stems from a desire to keep the industry at a high level- they worry about letting untrained artists taint the reputation of the industry. Tattoo artists often call people who didn’t follow the apprentice /mentor way of learning “scratchers” in fact there is a whole Facebook page dedicated to stopping them. This fear of scratchers means that they protect a lot information. Through some digging and sites like Mike Devries’, Tattoo Nerd, and Nick Baxter’s you can find a lot of helpful information. There are sites like Guy Aitchison’s Reinventing the Tattoo that will provide you with all the information you need.  On Guy’s site you can pay to view and participate in learning webinars but they aren’t inexpensive.

So how did I learn?

First I took an online blood-borne pathogens course. Read more about it here. Then I learned about the origin of and how to set-up a tattoo machine. After that I researched historical artists and modern artists. While I was writing this post I was working on some tattoo inspired art of my own. This is one of my pieces:

Magnum P.I.

You can see a few more of my designs in this post. The next blog post I picked up the tattoo machine and made a few lines. I also made a very dramatic slo-mo video of the first line I ever made. Check it out:

After that I tattooed a grapefruit in full colour. There is a time-lapse video and some pics here. Finally the day had come and I tattooed my wife.


Jac is the smiling recipient of my first tattoo! Looks like I did OK!
Jac is the smiling recipient of my first tattoo! Looks like I did OK!

The learning was a challenge.

The internet was definitely limited for resources on learning to tattoo. This limited source of knowledge took me a bit by surprise. I really believed that in the modern internet age there would be nothing that you couldn’t learn on-line. I think that the learning I did get done was decent but it wouldn’t have been enough with out the support of my mentor. It was a challenge to take on this personal learning project but I think it was worth it. Although learning to tattoo was interesting and something that I might keep working on in the future- what I really gained in the end is knowledge on how to use the proper tools and resources to find and evaluate the information that is on online. I think that I can take this information and apply it to other things that I want to learn in the future. In fact I think I’m going to take a look at learning piano as a project… Sounds like its time to start a new blog. Stay tuned!

One thought on “Tattooing 101- A new fine arts elective?

  1. Well done, Will! I think that’s awesome that you ended up giving your wife a tattoo. It was interesting to read the apprentice/mentorship history of learning to tattoo and how that can still be seen today… I also would have thought there’d be endless resources online! Again, this was a really interesting Learning Project to follow. Awesome job! 🙂


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