Grapefruits are a great way to practice tattooing

How To Practice Tattooing As An Apprentice

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  1. Draw as much as you can
  2. Practice on fruit or pig skin
  3. Familiarise yourself with the equipment
  4. Get tattooed yourself
  5. Under supervision, tattoo friends, family or yourself

In order to become a tattooist, you’ll more than likely need to start with an apprenticeship which can last for a couple of years. During your time as an apprentice, you’ll probably be drawing constantly, as well as practicing initially on things like pigskin and fruit (think bananas, grapefruits and oranges).

Apprenticeships are definitely the best way to start a successful career in the industry, but they aren’t easy to obtain. (If you’ve not got an apprenticeship yet, read our blog on How to Get a Tattoo Apprenticeship.) Once you’re there you’ll have an experienced tattoo professional ready to pass on their knowledge to you, everything from the best tattoo machines to what needles to use.

So what kind of things will they teach you?

1. Draw as much as you can

Every artist we speak to tells us the same thing; draw, draw, draw! This is the best and most common advice to anyone starting out as a tattooist. We spoke to Julian Siebert, owner of Corpse Painter in Munich, Germany, who said you should draw as much as you can and do so in a variety of styles.

A keen interest in art is something that will not only help you gain your apprenticeship in the first place but will also help you to become a good artist in the future.

Practice tracing, too. A lot of tattoo artists will start by tracing simple tattoos onto paper to practice inking. It’s a great way to train yourself in steadying your hand and getting used to transferring a design onto skin.

A tattooed man drawing in a sketchpad

2. Practice on fruit or pigskin

As we said, it’s not uncommon for apprentices to practice on fruit at the beginning – the most popular fruits being oranges, grapefruit and sometimes bananas. Another alternative to human skin when you’re practising tattooing is pig skin or ‘practice skin’.

However, Lianne Moule, who has been tattooing for more than ten years and has practiced on both said that although fruit and pig skin are good options to start with, neither are perfect. She said, “With fruit, you just touch the surface and it goes in, but pig skin is tougher – so neither are ideal really because they’re not human skin.” So, it’s important to bear that in mind when practising.

“I used a couple of grapefruits initially, mainly to check my machines were set-up correctly.”

Sneaky-Mitch, Gold Room Tattoo, Leeds, UK
Grapefruits are a great way to practice tattooing

3. Familiarise yourself with the equipment

Lianne also went on to explain that she would sometimes practice drawing as though she was tattooing. Her husband, who has been tattooing for more than 20 years suggested she attach a coil machine to the end of her pencil which Lianne said was extremely helpful in helping her get used to the weight.

There are also a lot of online resources that can help you – We have a selection of blogs for apprentices that cover subjects like Tattoo Needles Guides and a run through of the two key types of tattoo machines: Rotary vs Coil. Be sure to do your reading!

4. Get tattooed

When you get tattooed yourself, you get to see first-hand how other artists work. It’s a great opportunity to ask them questions around how they practiced when they first started. Most artists will be more than happy to offer you their advice.

Also, by getting tattooed, you start to learn more about the style you like which might help you with your own style as an artist.

5. Under supervision, tattoo friends, family or yourself

Tattoo practice isn’t always easy, because despite what you might think, you should not tattoo friends or family unsupervised. It’s actually quite frowned upon in the industry to take tattooing into your own hands, even if it is on yourself. Not only does it show a lack of respect for the art of tattooing, it’s extremely dangerous. By tattooing unsupervised, you could end up seriously hurting someone as there is a risk of infection and/or permanent scaring.

That said, under the guidance of an experienced artist during your apprenticeship, practising tattooing on a friend or family member is advised to get you started on real, human skin. It’s also kind of a rite of passage to have one of your first tattoos inked onto yourself for your days to come!

“I tattooed the whole inside of my right lower leg before I
started tattooing my friends and my dad.”

Julian ‘Corpsepainter’ Siebert, Corpse Painter Tattoo, Munich, Germany
A male tattooist with a moustache tattooing

Whatever you do to practice, keep in mind that you never stop learning as a tattooist. So, do your research, educate yourself on the art of tattooing and what it takes to be a good artist – even the different kind of machines you can use. It’s all important to help you go from tattoo apprentice to tattoo artist.

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Meet Our Experts

Chris Harrison Tattoo Artist

Chris Harrison

Bridgend Tattoo Studio

Bridgend, South Wales, UK

Sneaky-Mitch, tattooist at Gold Room Tattoo, Leeds, UK

Sneaky-Mitch

Gold Room Tattoo

Leeds, UK

Tito Inkid

L’Atelier Sans Nom

Armentières, France

Lianne Moule

Immortal Ink
Chelmsford, UK

Julian ‘Corpsepainter’ Siebert

Corpse Painter Tattoo
Munich, Germany

Alex Rattray

Empire Ink
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

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