Apprenticeship Advice: What Tattoo Artists Look For in a Portfolio

so you wanna be a tattoo artist? Mar 07, 2021

When someone comes in looking for a tattoo apprenticeship in my tattoo shop, I always need to look at their portfolio, before I can do an interview with them.

There are 2 types of portfolios when applying for a tattoo apprenticeship:

1. The Book Portfolio

The traditional way to show us your tattoo art is to come and visit our tattoo shop, ask for the manager, the owner, or a specific artist, and personally show your little book of drawings. This was the only way before Social Media, but some artists still prefer this way, mostly because we can meet the person and see if we would be a good fit as apprentice and mentor. Some do a massive job decorating this book, making a solid first impression by the cover itself. Some show us big size paintings, some are just tiny simple notebooks with some sketches. 

2. Online Portfolio

Since Instagram came, this has been the more common way to show your portfolio. Now you can send the shop or manager an email with a link to your online portfolio. Just remember that your Instagram feed should only consist of your artwork, finished and in progress. Do not have your selfies, what you had for dinner and party pictures from last weekend in there. You can put those in your stories or have a separate account. Keep the portfolio account for your art portfolio only. That way, when you send us this link, people get what you do, and what you're trying to show us, and that's what's most important.

Important Portfolio Advice

No matter what type of portfolio you want to show us, remember a few important things:

  • The online portfolio is what's most important to work on first. If you want to impress with a personal and creative book, do it, but the Instagram feed is a must nowadays. To have your portfolio online like Instagram is great for several more reasons, but that's for another article.
  • We need to see that you can draw by hand. When you first start tattooing, there is no digital way of tattooing, like there is in the modern drawing. You must be able to draw lines and make smooth shading manually.
  • We want to see your progression over the years. Show us the drawings you made a while back in addition to the newest ones, to show that you learn and evolve.
  • We want to see what you love drawing, NOT what you think is expected to draw as a tattoo apprentice or tattoo artist. Being able to draw different tattoo styles is very good, but don't be afraid to specialize in what you love.
  • Don't think too much about how you should make the perfect portfolio. There is no perfect way to make a portfolio because the portfolio is just a book or an Instagram feed that shows what you can do. The important thing is if you have the potential to be what we think you can be. So don't think about how many drawings to show per page or in total, just do and show what you want to do. 

That's basically it. So the most important thing is to actually just show it and just draw, draw, draw, draw, you can never draw too much. Because in the end, when you have become an apprentice and you do start tattooing, my biggest lesson to everyone out there in the whole tattoo business, both apprentices and artists, is that you cannot tattoo something that you can't draw. Keep that in mind. So the more you draw before you're an apprentice, while you are an apprentice, even after when you're a tattoo artist, the better you can tattoo.

Again, don't think about how the portfolio looks, that's not important at all. Just show your potential. That's it in any style. Because you need to find the artist that likes your style. Yes, it's gonna be a long road. You won't find it tomorrow. That's not gonna happen unless you're super lucky. But it's gonna take time and you have to work for it. 

Good luck!

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