Tattoo Genesis
Foundations of Tattooing - Five Keys to Success

Foundations of Tattooing - Five Keys to Success

Tattoo artistry is a career that anyone can join, as long as you have the money to buy the necessary equipment and take a tattoo course, or the time to do a tattoo apprenticeship. You can dive into the world of tattooing at any age, you could be fresh out of high school, in your thirties after establishing a different career, or even during your retirement if you want to!

However, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a good tattoo artist, or even that you’ll be successful. Tattoo artistry is a skill that requires dedication, and your success is measured by more than just your popularity and income. It’s measured by how well you have mastered the foundations of tattooing and the amount of dedication you put into it. 

For some people, the foundations of tattooing come naturally to them, and the road to mastering their craft is much smoother. But for others, it can take a lot of time and practice. Everyone’s path is different. What really matters is what you learn along your way to the finish line.

As you pursue your career in tattooing, you’ll come across the foundations of tattooing, and these are your keys to success in this industry. Be mindful as you encounter each one, as these are important parts of the journey. 

Here are the five foundations of tattooing:

Mastering Different Types Of Art

The first on our list of foundations of tattooing is mastering different types of art and the elements of design.

Tattooing is one of the most delicate types of art. Here, the skin is the canvas, and the needles and machine are your paint brushes or pencils. This art lives on the body of a human being, usually for the rest of their lives, and ages with them. It goes where they go, forms a part of their experiences, and sends a message to whoever they come across. 

This means that whatever you put on another person’s body should be of the highest quality. This ultimately means you will have to master many different styles of art. Becoming a great tattoo artist requires you to be a master of art, well-practiced in different forms, and passionate about your work. 


You will, at the very least, be required to be good at sketching. A huge part of your job is sketching a design for clients to scrutinize before their appointment, and being open to criticism and changes. You should also be comfortable with using markers and colored pencils to bring colored ink and watercolor tattoos to life. You may also consider digital drawings, and even sculpting to help enhance your 3D perception and to serve as a reference for tattoo designs. 

The art you learn in high school is usually not sufficient, so consider taking a comprehensive art course. Not only will you learn about various types of art, but you will also gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for them. Start at your local college or university, and invest in some good art books or visit galleries and museums. Having a certificate in this area will also make your clients more confident that you know what you’re doing. There are also plenty of online courses you can take in your spare time. 

Enrolling in a tattooing course can also help to hone your skills and speed up your graduation from paper to skin. We recommend signing up for our Black and Grey Realism course by Hugo Feist. This course will take your tattooing to the next level from start to finish. 

Being Open And Flexible

The next foundation of tattooing is the ability to be open and flexible. The path to success isn’t a straight one, and you may have to make a few detours on your journey to becoming a successful tattoo artist.

Get rid of any rigid expectations you may have. By being flexible, you will be open to new opportunities instead of focusing on any drawbacks. 

Other career paths are usually a “Graduate high school, go to college, get a job” model. However, tattooing may skip a step, or require you to get back to basics. For instance, you may have to do community college art classes with teenagers as a part of your journey. If you‘re starting young, you may not go to college like your friends and get a degree. Instead, you may go to a tattoo school and do a few courses to sharpen your skills or get an unpaid apprenticeship in a tattoo studio. 


After you’ve completed all the training, you may not get hired right away. If you’re lucky, you can end up working in the same studio where you did your apprenticeship. Those who aren’t so lucky might have to do something else until a job opportunity presents itself. This doesn’t mean you are less of a tattoo artist than anyone else. It just means your path is different. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a tattoo artist, read all about how to start your tattoo journey here

If your dream is to open your own tattoo studio, you might not accomplish that right now, or even five years from now. Does that mean you should give up? No. It means you should work with what you have. Do the best work possible, and build strong client relationships. Be the artist that anyone can go to and feel comfortable that they’ll receive the best tattoo that they can. Have them request you by name. By the time you’re ready to open your tattoo studio, you’ll already have a strong reputation and the clients will come easily. 

You should also consider your location. If you live in a small, conservative community where few people have tattoos, you can’t expect to blossom there. Sure, people may love your work on Instagram, and some of them may even travel to see you, but think of all the opportunities you could be missing out on in a bigger city. 

Perhaps what you need is a fresh start somewhere else. Don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith. If you’re not willing to take a chance on your skills, how can you expect anyone else to?

Paying Close Attention To Detail

Tattooing is a profession that requires precision and close attention to detail. Think of it as surgery. One wrong move and you could lose your client! Literally! 

You’ll be required to plan the tattoo before you put the needle on skin. This includes doing the initial drawing for the tattoo, planning out which needles and colors you will need, and planning how you will approach the tattoo. On top of all of this, you will need to pay close attention to your hygiene practices and plan ahead if you do not want to have to change gloves every 5 minutes. Want to know more about the most important part of tattooing? Click here

You will need to find a balance between concentration and conversation. Being able to hold a conversation is a very important part of tattooing, and knowing when to put all of your concentration into a piece. You will need to learn customer etiquette and how to ask them to stop talking or moving without being rude. 

Pay attention to how your client is reacting. Ensure they are breathing, and not holding their breath. If they are fidgeting, offer a short break to calm their nerves. Talking to your clients, or even explaining what you’re doing can help to keep them still and make them comfortable.


Learning from the best

No matter how good you think you are at tattooing, there is always more to learn. In fact, this is one of those jobs that you never truly master because it evolves with time.

The third of the foundations of tattooing is learning from experts in the field. We already mentioned a few details about an apprenticeship, but this is perhaps the hardest foundation there is. This is where you will put into practice what you learn in your tattooing course. So while you may be an amazing artist, you still need guidance from someone with more experience than you.

Once you find an established artist who agrees to take you under their wing, be prepared to literally start from the bottom. In the beginning, you may be tidying and cleaning up the tattoo studio. You’ll learn all the basic tasks, some of which you might think are meaningless. Once you understand how important hygiene is in the shop, you’ll get to set up workstations for other artists and learn how to handle needles and clean as you go along. You’ll get to watch the other artists tattoo clients. 

You need to build up muscle memory because the actual machine is vibrating and heavier than a pencil. In the old days, before rotary machines came out, artists used to draw with a pencil attached to a coil machine. This helped to make their hands more stable. When you’re not cleaning you’ll be expected to brush up on your drawing skills and get accustomed to using your machine. Practicing drawing and painting will get you ready for when you get to tattoo clients. There is a lot to learn about all of the different types of tattoo machines. Read all about them here. 

You most likely won’t start tattooing actual skin with the machine for a while. You’ll start with fruit, fake skin, and sometimes even pig skin. When you’re deemed ready, you’ll graduate to the real thing. By then, you should feel comfortable doing it but being nervous is completely normal. Plus, you’ll have the supervision of an experienced artist to get you through it. 

The Ability to Persevere

It’s not easy. That’s the truth. No one will tell you that their journey to becoming a successful tattoo artist was a walk in the park. Some people don’t even make it to the end of their apprenticeship. Many give up halfway through as it is too difficult for them. Heck, some people don’t even make it through the first month!

You must be willing to overcome all hurdles to earn the title of tattoo artist. The ability to persevere is one of the foundations of tattooing that unfortunately holds some people back. Do you have what it takes? Are you willing to sweep floors for free for over a year without ever using a tattoo machine? 

Only the strong persevere, and you need that voice inside of you that tells you to keep going. You must persevere in the face of competition, new trends, and even slow seasons. Tattooing is also inherently competitive and you may come across your fair share of bullies that you will need to either learn from or ignore. 

Once you master these foundations of tattooing, the keys to success are in your hands. Now, it’s up to you to turn them. 

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.