There is no such thing as a tattoo "gun". A tattoo machine shoots nothing, not even ink. If you refer to a tattoo machine as a tattoo gun in our class, you'll be instantly killed. With a tattoo gun. If one existed.
The course, which runs about 120 minutes, covers a few minutes of tattoo history, a bit about sterilization, autoclaving, and basic sterile practices, then dives straightaway into machine setup, stencil application to human skin, and actual tattooing. During the last 30 minutes each student uses the machine they set up during the previous 60 minute course, and may tattoo on practice-medium (pig skin) to their heart's content.
This class is called "Introduction to Tattoo" because that's what it is. It's not a course in tattooing per se; it's an introduction to tattooing. It will allow you to get a hands-on feel for what tattooing is all about, and it's designed to answer this question ONLY: "Do you enjoy tattooing and do you want to know more about it?"
Much debate exists over the question of just how an aspiring tattoo artist might go about becoming a tattoo artist. Unfortunately, you'll find lots (and lots) of people who like to look down their noses at anyone who aspires to break into the same field THEY broke into only a few short years earlier. We call it the "slam the door" syndrome. They get in themselves, and obnoxiously try to slam the door on anyone who might also want to get in. It's a peculiar kind of dishonorable insanity that we liken to life in the primate world (a la Planet of the Apes). You'll find no shortage of nastiness, rudeness, backwardness and rank, belligerent discouragement in tattoo forums and blogs, and even amongst tattoo "artists" in person. We see this peculiar arrogance in other activities too, like yachting, horsemanship, sailing, creative writing....but never so much as in tattooing.
Some established artists claim that the only way to learn tattoo is to do everything from scratch, by yourself, and make every mistake. That philosophy also often includes the notion that your practice canvas should be your own body; put your earliest, worst work out of sight (in your armpits?), and as you improve, place your better work in public view. There actually may be a thread of honor to be found in this method -- and a lot of wasted skin, which is a finite resource. And time (also in short supply). Others swear that you must go to an established shop and beg your way into an apprenticeship. This includes working for free for a year or two (some even want you to pay them), and it means you'll perform every nasty chore around the shop, including scrubbing commodes and cleaning up bodily fluids of ALL types and viscosities. There's a lot to be said for this method, and we suggest that, no matter how many classes you take from us, you still consider going this route in the end, at least to finish up and round off your training. Scrubbing commodes can be good for the soul, and even while you're swabbing toilets, you're still absorbing the ambiance of a working, functioning tattoo parlor, and you're learning little tidbits virtually every minute of every day, even if you're not aware of it. It can give you a foundation from which to launch a long and satisfying career as a professional, and not a kitchen scratcher.
You may also pay through the proverbial nose to attend a formal tattoo school. Most charge $5000 and up for a few weeks instruction, but you'll receive a colorful "certificate of graduation" in the end, which will have virtually no credibility or value in the real world. Most schools are big on fluff and long on socializing. Many people need this type of environment and so should seek it out. It'll be a lot like getting a Liberal Arts degree in three weeks of preppy college at UC Berkeley or other institution of that ilk. But some people are more interested in learning the basic protein in the least amount of time, and then establishing their own way on their own terms from that point onward -- which is the niche we fill.
A recent study suggests that 64% of all working tattoo artists are 100% self-taught. It's like anything: If you have an idiot for a teacher, you won't learn much. Conversely, if you have more than two brain cells to rub together, and you're willing to learn and learn and learn, and that learning actually "takes" and you USE and apply what you've learned, there's a chance you can make it. The owner of this school taught himself to fly airplanes, for instance. He simply bought one, and ran it up and down the runway for a couple of days, until he accidentally took off. But like Clint says, "A man's gotta know his limitations". He went back and took formal flight training, and now realizes that without that training he might have crashed and burned long ago. When you crash and burn, alone in an airplane, you die. YOU die. If you're the only one who dies, well, then, C'est la vie. But if you crash and burn while doing a permanent tattoo on someone who trusts you, you're scarring another human being for life, and that's a hundred times more unacceptable than just squashing out your own brains by auguring into the earth in a poorly piloted Cessna.
Here's a picture of a tattoo done by a woman who is employed full time in an established tattoo shop in Aberdeen/Hoquiam, Washington state. Her work is a horror. This individual needs formal training even now:
Above: The original bad tattoo
Below: The result after the "artist" was asked to fix the above tattoo
We've seen work this bad only once, of a self-tattoo by a student who had not yet gone through our beginner's class (we'll show you the picture during the class). Work of this caliber is actionable in civil court. The customer (victim) is in the process of selecting a covering tattoo. We've referred her to "Slave to the Needle" in Seattle. We've seen fine work come from their shops. We also personally know customers who've walked out due to artist's "Attitudes" (with a capital "A") . We once walked out ourselves. From whence doth this obnoxiousness spring? We really don't know. It's too bad this person (the Grays Harbor artist) didn't make her life-mistakes in a plane, instead of on someone else's body. Proper training would have avoided this. Had she done this kind of work on herself, first, she may have learned a little humility and THAT may have made her a better machine operator. Will she ever be an artist?
Our classes are designed to give you a leg up. You can take what you learn from us and perhaps have a better shot at finding an apprenticeship in a local shop. Be careful not to solicit an apprenticeship from the likes of the shop and/or artist who did the tattoo shown above. You'll learn less than nothing there. In fact, to apprentice in such a shop may well ruin you forever.
What you will NOT learn in our beginner classes:
You won't learn enough to do a real tattoo, even a simple one, on ANYONE (not even your gullible little sister or your shaved, unconscious cat)(although we encourage practicing on shaved, unconscious politicians). You won't learn to be "an artist" -- that's far beyond the scope of a two hour class and can't really be "taught" anyway. You won't learn everything you need to know about machine setup and tuning-- the only way to do that is to build one from scratch (inquire about advanced classes).
Payment is made online. Scheduling for regular classes is coordinated using the calendar that appears after you complete the rather disturbing disclaimer below (hey, we see absolutely ALL KINDS here!). Cancellations and no-shows are NOT refunded under any circumstances, even if you DIE.
The owner no longer tattoos due to a loss of fine-motor control as a result of a commercial diving career under adverse conditions in which decompression tables were not always observed (take notice, recreational SCUBA divers). He's working on cures, but he may be washed up.
Schedules usually run afternoons and early evenings.
The course is laid-back, slow-paced and fun. The atmosphere is quiet. We want to leave you inspired and content -- even glowing, with marvelous thoughts of new possibilities of expression.
We suggest that most people don't know what they want to be when they grow up. Most don't figure it out even when they DO grow up. The surest way to never get what you want is to never KNOW what you want. There's only ONE way to know what you want -- and that is to try EVERYTHING. Until now, there has been virtually no opportunity at all to walk in off the street and try your hand at tattooing. Now there is. Use it. Enjoy it!
Still not sure how we do this? The following is a typical email exchange from a prospective student:
To Whom? tattoo class
Message Hi, my name is Kory. I'm 41 years old, serious about learning to tattoo and hoping you're open for lessons.
I enjoyed reading your page. I live about an hour from Mt. Rainier and agree with your comments about Seattle's citizens.
Here's my situation:
I've been doing art and design professionally for a lot of years and have been looking for the right place to learn to tattoo.
Was about to sign up for a multi-thousand dollar school when I found your page.
Would much rather pay for one-on-one instruction than sign up for a school.
Not sure if you'd be interested in teaching a student my age, but you'll find I'm not going to jerk you around.
I love art, love to learn and have wanted to learn to tattoo for the last few years. I respect your standards (as expressed on your website) and you seem like someone I'd enjoy learning from.
As it happens - I'm going to be driving to Vegas this Thursday with my son. A little father/son road trip.
It would be easy for me to stop in Merced on my way down.
I realize this is short notice and kind of a long shot, but I'd be very happy to pay you a hundred bucks an hour if you have a few hours to show me and my son the basics on Thursday night or Friday morning.
Thanks, let me know what you think.
You've got my phone and email, would be great to hear from you.
We are now in Merced, California per the website. I presume you're not interested in travelling that far?
Oops -- My apologies; I hadn't read far enough.
Yes, it's rather short notice, but I do have another student who needs to just sit in on the regular beginner class as a refresher, and so I may as well hold a class for more than one person.
First, age has nothing to do with whether or not I'd have anyone in a class. I've taught from 11 to 90. Age means nothing (and some of us say that more and more as we age!)
My class is a beginner's class, structured to last about 2.5 to 3 hours. I would charge you and your son the regular rate of $65 (each). The class is very intensive and concentrated. What I usually ask is that people attend this class, at the end of which they get to practice on pig skin for up to an hour. Then, I ask that they go home, and hopefully buy a cheap kit off eBay, and practice with that for about two weeks. Then, they should come back in, at which time we would skim through the original class again, and then spend most of the rest of the time practicing and trying out techniques for shading, etc., and addressing things that aren't clear. This is NOT mysterious. It's just art, using an unfamiliar brush, painting on an unfamiliar media. No voodoo involved, and CERTAINLY not worth paying for a long and torturous apprenticeship which will teach you about as much in a year as you'll get from me in one or two classes (you would, however, become legendarily proficient at cleaning toilets and kissing ass and enduring insults in your apprenticeship).
After that, it's a matter of informal follow-ups, maybe some email questions, and a bit of study and research on the web just reading, watching whatever vids you can find, and following along in the forums. Do NOT (I repeat) enter into the forums or ask questions. You're virtually guaranteed to be insulted, threatened, tricked into giving out your address (your home may be vandalized), harassed, messed with, and perhaps even beat up. It's happening and it's documented. It's the mentality of our "new age" of imbecilic, punk-ass, cowardly tattoo "artists". And it's despicable. And it's bluntly insane. I suggest you "lurk" in the forums but do NOT engage. Sad? Yes. But it's reality. Does it make you angry and disgusted? I hope so.
From that point onward, it's practice, practice, and forever more practice. You'll know when you're ready to start doing simple designs for free on willing victims. Hopefully you'll start on yourself (builds character and humility). A knowledge of art will help you immensely. I do not teach art. I do not judge art. I teach how to use the equipment.
I can commit to this on Thursday, after 4 p.m. Let me know how that would work with your schedule. I ask for prepayment by Paypal (you don't need a Paypal account) and there is no refund for no-shows.
PS: We make almost no money at this. We do it FOR FUN. Watching others have fun, is fun for us.
Unfortunately, one rotten student can ruin a great experience for everyone; therefore: Students who are loud, obnoxious, impolite, drunk, high, rude, terminally stupid, etc., will have their class terminated. This warning, of its own accord, tends to weed them out. This is a cerebral exercise for the intelligent and artistically inclined, not a street-urchin's crack-party. Students are expected to be polite, respectful, and to otherwise and in all cases act like intelligent human beings. Instructors reserve the right to refuse classes to anyone, for any reason, at any time. It's too damned bad we have to even mention this, but this is the world we live in today.
About our "Gifted Student Program":
ART for art's sake is what we're about. In a perfect world we could afford to teach anyone who wanted to learn, for free. That would be our Heaven. But we can't. What we have done, however, is to take notice of particularly gifted students and offer to mentor them for free. These students are rare; we see between one and three per year. We've taken them to heart and given them all the training and advice we have to give; we've given them unlimited free use of our equipment and facilities; we've worked to hook them up with working tattoo shops; we've displayed their art for free, sometimes even setting up their own domains for them on our Houston server. Unfortunately, we've been kicked in the proverbial teeth by almost each and every such student. How? They have, almost to a man or woman, treated us like dirt by not showing up when they schedule to use our facility, by showing up three hours late, by even costing us money by making arrangements to sit in on various classes for free, which took up the seat of a paying customer, then deciding to go to aerobics class at the last minute instead, thereby wasting a seat we could have earned revenue on. Sadly, we've had enough, and we have completely and irrevocably curtailed our "Gifted Student" program. Please do not inquire about it henceforth. Tattoo shops are famous for treating prospective apprentices with extreme skepticism. This is partly why.