Tattoo Genesis
Drawing Exercises Every New Tattoo Artist Should Know About

Drawing Exercises Every New Tattoo Artist Should Know About


It should go without saying that drawing is a major part of tattooing. Even if you plan to tattoo realism or flash tattoos only, it still takes quite a bit of skill to create beautiful tattoos that the client will be proud to show off. 

While tattooing skin is much different than drawing on paper, it is a good idea to practice drawing exercises, as this can only strengthen your tattooing technique. 

A good tattoo artist is always working on honing their skills and is constantly researching and keeping up to date with new techniques, products, and technologies. Whether you are an amateur or have years of experience in this field, drawing exercises can be of huge benefit to you, and ultimately your clients.

Let’s talk about ways you can practice drawing and some tips and tricks to consider when doing so. We will also take a look at some actual drawing exercises for tattoo artists.

How To Practice Tattooing for Aspiring Artists

A good artist is always practicing their craft.

Ideally, it would be more effective to practice tattooing on an actual person but that’s not such a good idea if you're new to this. No matter how skilled you are at drawing, and how amazing your art portfolio is, it’s always important to stay sharp and keep improving.

The first place to start is paper. Draw, draw, draw. Whatever comes to mind, try to draw it. Take suggestions from friends and family. This is one of the most basic drawing exercises for tattoo artists. This will prepare you for the diverse designs future clients may ask from you. This is just one of our tips for becoming a tattoo artist, and you can read more here

Start with a pencil then graduate to a pen, and finally try a paintbrush, for a greater sense of permanency. This way you will start making fewer mistakes as you progress.

After using paper, you can start practicing your drawing on irregularly shaped objects with contours to mimic the human body. Try tattooing an apple, a lighter, or an old piece of pipe. This will help to prepare you to work on different parts of the body that have curves and contours. 

From here, you can move on to drawing on yourself and others. Purchase markers and pens of different sizes with non-toxic ink and start drawing. While it isn't the same as an actual tattoo machine, it will get you accustomed to movement while drawing. 

You may even try using henna when you feel like you're ready since it can last up to two weeks.

Be sure to ask your practice clients for feedback since it can help you once you're ready to do the real thing!

Purchasing an inexpensive machine is definitely a step in the right direction from here. Start with fruits such as bananas, melons, and grapefruit, then graduate to synthetic skin if possible. You may even ask your local butcher for some pig’s skin since it’s as realistic as it gets. But we warned, it can get pretty smelly!



 Wanna Know What We Think Are The Five Keys to Success As A Tattoo Artist? Click here

5 Drawing Exercises for Tattoo Artists

Now, you’re ready for some drawing exercises. At the surface level, they can seem pretty basic, but they are quite effective at improving your skill. 

Here are 5 of the simplest, yet most useful drawing exercises for tattoo artists:

1. Linework  

Most of the time, the difference between a good tattoo and a bad tattoo is the line work. The most basic thing you can learn is how to draw a straight line. 

Do not worry about adding shading and colors, or making patterns or designs, just practice drawing straight lines. You’ll need a few sheets of lined paper and blank paper, pencils, pens, and markers with different-sized tips.

Start with your pencils, and draw a bunch of lines as straight as you can get them, following the lines on the paper. Try the exercise again, but this time on blank paper. A neat trick to try is to avoid watching the pencil since it can throw you off. Instead, watch the point on the paper where your line should end. Now, set those sheets aside - we’ll get back to them.

Repeat the exercise with pens, then break out your markers. You are going to be drawing lines of varying thickness on the lined paper. Draw 10 of them about 15 cm long. Pay attention to how much pressure you put on them to ensure the thickness is even throughout the line. Try this again on the blank paper to see how well you do without the lines as a guide.

Advanced line work

The final test is the continuation of lines. Get another sheet of lined paper and a marker. Draw a line, about 5cm long in a quick movement, stop, then continue for another 5cm, stop, then add another 5cm. Your 15cm line may not be smooth on your first try, but that’s okay! It will get better as you keep practicing.

You may notice some little dots in the line from each pause and the solution is to use less pressure. If you stay in one spot too long, the ink will spread outside of your desired thickness.

Once you master working on paper, you can move on to curved or contoured objects.

Afterward, try adding weights to your pencils, pens, and markers to simulate a tattoo machine. Taping batteries to them should work just fine. Repeat this entire exercise to see how much you have improved!

2. Tracing

Most of the time, you’ll have to use a stencil to create a tattoo on a client’s skin. This will require you to be super good at tracing unless you have a stencil printer but those can be pretty expensive. 

While you may be thinking, “Well, how hard can tracing be?”. Consider the fact that this will be turned into a permanent drawing on someone’s skin. There is no room for amateur mistakes. 

Revisit your first linework pencil drawings, and gather your pens. This time, you are going to brighten the lines while trying to maintain their thickness. First, start with your pencils, using the exact ones you used for each line. 

In this scenario, less is more, so avoid putting too much pressure on the pencils. In real life, too much pressure can ruin the tattoo, and put your clients through a lot of pain. 

When done, trace your old pen line work with the pens, following the same instructions. 

Move on from lines to actual sketches or stencils. Start with simple designs then move on to more intricate designs once you are ready. You will improve as you go and will soon not even be able to notice that the lines are traced on top of each other. We have some more free tips on stenciling for beginners here


3. Coloring and shading

Tattoos are more than just black outlines. Coloring and shading are crucial skills any aspiring tattoo artist should master before giving anyone a tattoo.

Start by getting yourself a tattoo book. Observe how different colors are used and what shading techniques are applied. Try to sketch some of these designs on blank paper and use pencils to shade them. You are bound to make mistakes, but practice makes perfect.

 Attempt shading with colored pencils, then pens, to figure out how each interacts and affects the outcome of the design. 

4. Observation

You might be wondering how observation could be an exercise, but sometimes, it takes watching someone do something for a concept to stick. 

A good exercise would be taking a few hours to shadow a tattoo artist or start an apprenticeship. Here, you will have first-hand experience of the ins and outs of what it takes to be a tattoo artist, and even how to operate a business.

You may ask questions as needed, and listen to advice, but more importantly, pay close attention to what they are doing. Another way to observe is to get a tattoo done yourself on a body part where you can see the tattoo being done. 

Observe closely how they interact with the client, especially how they keep the client calm or still. This is an integral part of how well your drawings will translate into a permanent tattoo. 

Observe how they manipulate the machine (angle, grip), what colors are used, and how much pressure is applied when the tattoo is being drawn.

If you are unable to observe a tattoo artist in a shop, there are a variety of online courses that you can purchase, such as our Hugo Feist’s Black and Grey Realism Course, which can teach you the art of tattooing from the comfort of your own home. Sign up now if you are either an experienced artist or a newbie, and unlock incredible tips and tricks to take your tattooing to the next level. 

5. Giving yourself a tattoo

This is sort of a rite of passage for many tattoo artists. The idea is that, before you put a tattoo on someone else, you should be comfortable with putting one on yourself. This is the final drawing exercise for tattoo artists that will cement the previous ones and indicate whether it is time to begin tattooing others.

After you’ve tattooed yourself, seek volunteers such as close friends and family who understand the risk of getting a tattoo from a novice. 

The Next Step

Drawing exercises for tattoo artists never come to an end. You can ditch the pencils and work solely with pens, markers, and tattoo machines, but keep on practicing.

Your line work can never be too clean, and your tracing skills can never be too perfect. There is always more to learn when it comes to shading and so many different styles and techniques to try. 

Your greatest teachers are people who have experience tattooing, so don’t turn down an opportunity to do an observation exercise.

With time, you will find that your skills improve, and you'll only get better!

One of our favorite websites out there is thetheartcareerproject. Go and check out what they have to say about this topic. Seriously, they're great! You might learn learn something new. 



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