What's it really like?Tomik Koziel, 29 years old is a Tattoo artist working in central London.
Hi Tomik, how long have you been working as a tattoo artist?For about three years. I started out by getting all the equipment I needed and doing free tattoos for friends, talking to different people who have experience, talking to people on the internet and trying to improve my tattoos. Eventually I got work in a studio, not the best one, but the only place I could work without experience. There I got to meet people and afterwards I was more confident. Now I work in a very good studio where I not only work but I have the opportunity to watch very talented artists in action, so I’m always improving.
What did you do before this job?I was studying art for about seven years. I have a degree in sculpture from Poland. That took me five years and then I taught art to kids for two years in Poland after I graduated.
What do you do in a typical day as a tattoo artist?In a typical day we start by cleaning and sterilising the equipment in the morning. After that we usually have some appointments for tattoos or we wait for walk-in trade. There’s quite a lot of free time, which you can spend drawing designs for customers or just creating new ideas. How long a tattoo takes very much depends on how big it is and how detailed. Some simple tattoos can be done in forty minutes to an hour. Very big complex designs can involve three-hour sessions, then coming back for more work a number of times at three or four week intervals.
What do you like about being a tattoo artist?I do art; I have constant contact with it. It’s not boring, and is something I really enjoy. I get to know a lot of people, different artists and very interesting customers and it pays well. Tattoos are no longer for crazy drunk people, sailors or someone who has been in jail. It has lost that stigma now. It is seen as an artist’s world.
Is there anything you dislike about the job?Sometimes you have to deal with difficult people, including drunk customers, because we’re based in Camden and there are a lot of bars in the area. But really there’s nothing I don’t like about the job. If you like tattoos you will really enjoy the job.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a tattoo artist?Well, it's good to speak with the people who already do this job. Learn how they work, use equipment etc; you need to see how things run. There’s a lot of technical stuff that you have to deal with: how to deal with different colours of skin, different types of tattoos, etc so it’s good to find someone who works in a studio just to watch and ask questions.
What do you think you might do after this role in terms of career progression?The next step for me would be to get into a custom studio. The studio I work in is a walk-in studio. A custom studio makes bespoke designs for individual customers rather than them choosing ready made designs ‘off the peg’.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering becoming a tattoo artist?You have to understand that it’s not something you learn easily. It’s going to take you years to stop making mistakes. You have to be really patient because in the beginning something can take you hours to get right. You have to really love it to have the patience to do it properly.
Also known as...
- Body artist
- Body Piercer
A tattoo artist designs and applies images to people’s skin using indelible inks. Tattoos have existed in human culture since time immemorial. Before the introduction of the written word, the ancient Europeans painted themselves and their surroundings with ornate designs. Likewise aboriginal peoples all over the world continue to use a variety of natural materials to indelibly mark themselves. In doing so they delineate heritage, authority, achievements and a myriad of other concepts. Modern day tattoos and indeed the word itself are inspired by the Polynesian word for inserting indelible ink onto the skin to make permanent markings, ‘tatu’. Eighteenth century sailors were the first to come into contact with this culture, popularised it and so became inextricably associated with the practice. Today, tattoos are at an apex of popularity, with many celebrities, artists and musicians sporting impressive designs. Once a subject of taboo, this alternative culture has become more mainstream and tattooing is increasingly regulated, creative and popular.
SalaryMany tattoo artists are self-employed and salaries vary widely depending on the amount of trade they receive. Summer months are traditionally the busiest.
- A trainee tattoo artist starts on around £12,000 per annum.
- An experienced tattoo artist may earn between £18,000 and £30,000 per annum.
- A tattoo artist owning his own business and employing others can earn in excess of £50,000 per annum.
ResponsibilitiesA tattoo artist’s daily duties would include the following:
- Cleaning and sterilising tattoo equipment and work areas.
- Devising new designs in spare time.
- Keeping up to date with the latest fashions in the world of tattoos.
- Meeting clients to discuss their desires.
- Applying a pre-made or bespoke designs to clients’ skin.
- Keeping up to date with the latest health and safety procedures.
QualificationsA tattoo artist trains by becoming an apprentice. This usually takes between 2 and 3 years. The only way to do this is by approaching a working tattoo artist and applying for the position. You will expected to buy your own equipment and sterilising kit and will not be paid for the apprenticeship. Expect to work around 6 hours a day for 6 days a week. Over time, greater responsibility will be awarded, until you can tattoo unsupervised. Once enough work experience has been amassed, a licence to practise must be obtained from the local council. The catch is that you must be working and have experience to obtain one and you have to obtain one to work. That is why the apprenticeship is necessary. Working without a licence incurs a heavy penalty. Once the apprenticeship period is over you work on simple designs, moving to more complex work as your experience progresses. Most professionals in the industry state that a tattoo artist is only fully qualified after around 5 years full-time working experience.
SkillsA tattoo artist is a very specialised job and requires a unique set of attributes, such as:
- A flair for design and creativity.
- A steady hand.
- A love of alternative cultures.
- Patience and dedication.
- Good interpersonal skills.
- Extremely good attention to detail.
- Empathetic nature, and the ability to turn clients’ ideas into reality.