After chatting with freelance tattoo artist Michael John Longo, I found out that theres’s a lot more to it than that. Being self-taught means you need to buy your own starter kit, read up on tattooing, watch instructional videos and tattoo your own clients from home. Tattoo school will put you $8,000 in the hole for a three-to-six week course and after the course you are on your own.
Apprenticeships are the best way to become a tattoo artist, but they are also the hardest to get. The outline test takes the longest and is the most difficult to learn, as you will need to pass calligraphy, Chinese characters and tribal. Be crafty: for example, when investing in a tattoo gun, you can buy the frame from eBay and then the parts from Eikon, and basically make your own $400 machine for less than $40.

The problem with this method is it’s expensive and most tattoo shop owners prefer someone they’ve had a chance to train themselves. You have to first convince a tattoo shop owner to apprentice you and then, during this time, you need to bring in your clients to act as guinea pigs for three levels of tests: outline, shading and colour. You are encouraged to practice at home on pig skin and, once you’ve passed your tests, you are a fully qualified tattoo artist. Most shop owners will only take junior artists as freelancers, which means that you will need to bring in your own clients until you’ve built enough of a portfolio to get hired full-time. I love the practical application of using the drawing skills I learned at the Toronto Academy of Realist Art and through various books of self-study. Practice on pig skin for seven to eight hours a day (after you’ve been properly shown how) and learn your tattoo machines.

Here it becomes a catch-22: the only way to improve your portfolio is to tattoo and the only way to tattoo is to show that your portfolio has improved.
Most people view being a tattoo artist as a cool job, but few realize the ongoing stuggle for us to be fully established, which in most cases can take up to five years.
Pietro Annigoni, an Italian classical realist fresco and portrait artist best known for his 1954 Commission of Queen Elizabeth II.

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