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Want to be a tattoo artist?

Creativity can have no limits, especially if your canvas is the human body. The best way to learn tattoo art is to work as an apprentice in a known tattoo studio for two to three years.

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 17:39 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

Bidhan Singh is an artist at heart. During his childhood spent in Shillong, he did a lot of sketching and also tried out tribal tattoos on friends’ bodies, using indigenous methods. After his graduation, Singh came to Mumbai and did odd jobs — first at a call centre, then at a marketing firm. Neither of this excited him, so he decided to go back to his childhood passion and take it up as full-time work.

Today, a partner in Delhi’s Sting Tattoo — he moved here three years ago — Singh says he makes decent money. “I spent around two years learning the art in a couple of studios. It’s always a good idea to do an apprenticeship with trained artists for two-three years. It helps to work with various professionals as you are then exposed to different styles.”

Tattooing is taxing work that needs attention to very minute details. Abhishaik Madhur of Indelible Tattoos in Delhi says, “I find it tough to tattoo for five hours at a stretch. Every single line and stroke counts and one minor deviation can ruin the entire tattoo.”

Though he has been running the studio for the past two years, Madhur still calls himself a struggler. “It takes you a long time to establish yourself. If you do good work, then you get word-of-mouth publicity and gradually become famous. Until then, you have to publicise your works through social networking sites,” he adds.
Saachi Singh took two years to learn the art from a famous artist before starting her studio, Inkaholic, in Delhi’s Greater Kailash locality. This is the best way out for aspiring tattoo artists, she says. “No formal training is available and some people learn through books or the Internet, which can be very dangerous as you won’t get to know about hygiene and other aspects of this art,” Saachi adds.

Going to places like Thailand, the US or the UK and working with a trained artist there is better than working only in this country. One can also attend tattoo conventions organised in these countries where world-renowned artists congregate. One such convention is set to take place from January 29 to 31 at the Orlando Tattoo & Arts Festival in Florida.

The young tattoo frat is at the moment happy with the growing fad for “crazy” designs, text and figures. “I have tattooed customers who are 18 to 70 (who wanted his grandchild’s name tattooed),” says Michael Cowasji, owner of Tattoos by Mike, Delhi.

Most artists believe that earning a name in the business is no cakewalk as they have to compete with well-established players with a loyal clientele. But of late, a new trend of switching to new artists for newer designs is emerging. “Some tattoo freaks get one tattoo done from one artist and the second from another. It’s not considered ‘cool’ to get all five designs from the same artist,” says Saachi.

This trend can also be attributed to the specialisation of studios — some are known for text tattoos, others are popular for portraits. “You develop a specialisation over time,” says Singh, “like I am known in Delhi for lettering (writing texts in a tattoo) and the dark colour scheme that I normally use.”

What's it about?
A tattoo artist makes decorative patterns (tattoos) with needles and (chemical) ink on customers’ bodies, at a shop, studio or parlour. This art is normally learnt during apprenticeship of two-three years with a senior artist

Clock Work
11 am: Meet a client
11.15 am: Discuss details and design with client
12.30 pm: Apply chemicals and sterilisers on the body
1 pm: Lunch
1.15: Start tattooing
4 pm: Give finishing touches to the tattoo
5 pm: Meet new clients
6 pm: Go home

The payoff
As this is private practice, the income level is not fixed. It depends on your popularity and expertise. Small-time artists make Rs 500-600 per hour while popular ones charge as much as Rs 6,000-10,000 per hour. Those who work in studios normally do so on a partnership basis and enjoy a share in the total earnings, which can sometimes be in the range of Rs 40,000-50,000 per month in peak season (summers)

. You need to be artistic, with a steady hand
. Be very meticulous and detailed in your work
. Have loads of patience as it takes long hours to make a basic tattoo. Some might take a couple of sittings
. Good communication skills required to deal with clients; a lot of them can be high-flying people
. Eagerness to learn and continuously keep pace with changing trends

How do I get there?
The best way to learn tattoo art is to work as an apprentice in a known tattoo studio for two to three years.
You are supposed to learn by observing senior artists in the studio, and are then made to work on dummies before starting work on clients. Books and the Internet can act as supplementary sources but do not bank solely upon them.

Open your studio only when you have perfected the art of tattooing. Besides rent, you will have to invest a small amount (about Rs 20,000-25,000) in buying a tattoo kit and another Rs 15,000 in buying a good machine

Institutes & urls
You can contact the existing tattoo studios for apprenticeship.
. Michael Cowasji, Delhi
. Xed Lehaad, London
. Richard Tat, Singapore
. Inkaholik, Delhi

Pros & cons
. It has a lot of artistic value. Those who love art, enjoy the work a great deal
. You earn well if you are good at your work. For every square inch of tattoo, clients pay in thousands
. It takes time to establish your business. There are no jobs in this line and the only way you can earn good money is by opening your own studio or by partnering
with a studio owner
. Some find it tough to handle a vibrating machine for long hours at a stretch
. There are a couple of health hazards attached. Your eyesight might become weak or hands get rough after a few years

The Tattoo craze has Grown

A practitioner on the scope in his field

Do you think that tattoo art can make a promising work option today?
It can. I am a qualified mechanical engineer. After job-hopping for several years, when I wasn’t satisfied, I became a tattoo artist. If you are good at your work, the sky is the limit. Once, I worked on a client who paid as much as Rs 85,000 for one big tattoo, which I finished in just eight hours.

This business relies solely on the rage for tattoos among youngsters. Is it getting more popular?
I’ve seen it getting to be a bigger craze in the past two years. Earlier, very few people wanted tattoos. Now it is popular not only among the youth but among people of all age groups — from teenagers to the elderly.

Many tattoo studios in India are run by untrained or badly trained and ill-equipped ‘artists’. What do you have to say about it?
It’s true that learning tattoo art from the Internet is very dangerous. At my studio, everyone who works for a few months ends up starting his own studio.
In the past one-and-a-half years, 30 youngsters branched out from my studio and became artists themselves, but one needs to be an expert before taking the plunge. Whether you are making a tattoo or removing it through laser, it needs perfection. Even a small flaw can leave a scar on a person’s body.

What should an aspiring tattoo artist be careful about?
A person should be wary of health hazards. The work takes a toll on your health. I have spent 15 years in the tattoo art business. Now my eyesight is getting weaker. By working continuously with guns and needles, your fingers also get rough. There is a lot of fatigue, too.

Tattoos, bikes and music — do all three go together?
I think so, yes. Besides tattoos, music is my second passion, for which I get time only on Tuesday — my off day. I love bikes, too. I get some bikers also at my studio for tattooing.

Michael Cowasji Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi