Being a tattoo artist isn’t as glamorous as most people think it is. It comes with quite a few risks, drawbacks, and challenges ranging from unsteady income streams, physical risks, and a whole lot of social stigma.
However, it is a job that has more positives than negatives, as long as you don’t focus on the bad stuff and are strong enough to get through the tough times. We have compiled a list of everything you need to know regarding the dark side of being a tattoo artist.
- Tattoo artists will often miss family events and important events due to having to work overtime and weekends.
- Tattoo artists are exposed to blood-borne pathogens every day which is a health risk.
- Tattoo artists are still stigmatized and may struggle with family dynamics when entering new relationships.
- Tattoo artists have a lot of competition and have to work extremely hard to be successful.
1. Commission-based Income
Due to the nature of the tattoo industry, tattoo artists do not get paid a salary, but rather take a commission for their tattoos (or they pay a booth rental). This means that during the dry season, you run the risk of not making enough money to get you through the month, especially when you are first starting out.
You need to budget extremely well, prepare for dry months by running specials or making sure you space out bookings for a constant cash flow or have a side hustle.
2. Physical Injury
Tattoo artists run the risk of physical injury and illness every time they pick up a tattoo machine. A needle prick can happen at any moment and while we do have steps in place to stop the spread of disease, there is still a risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases.
We also run the risk of injury to our backs, shoulders, and necks. We have to bend in all sorts of strange positions and stay hunched over for long periods of time in order to pull perfect lines in a tattoo. This puts a lot of strain on our upper bodies, and while it can be prevented with core exercises and stretching, most artists do retire quite young because of the physical toll tattooing takes on the body.
Tattoo artists’ hands also take extreme strain and you may find that your tendons start to tighten and callouses start to grow over time. This can be quite uncomfortable and make tattooing difficult.
3. Social Stigma
Believe it or not, tattoo artists still face a lot of social stigma in both the dating world and the professional world. As people have a preconceived idea of tattoo artists, it can be difficult to date as your partner’s family members might have a tough time accepting you and your chosen career.
In the professional world, you may not be taken seriously when applying for loans, or property leases, as some people will not accept “tattoo artist” as a real job. We have seen tattoo artists get denied for their dream apartment based on their job description even if they earn more than enough money to qualify.
4. Self-doubt and Artist’s Block
Most artists tend to face this aspect of creativity: self-doubt and artist’s block. It is quite difficult to get out of a rut if you have messed up a tattoo, had a nasty comment from a fellow tattoo artist, or an unhappy client. On some days you may feel like you just want to give up, which can affect your work badly for the rest of the month. We have even witnessed tattoo artists quit when it all gets too much, so you need to have a positive outlook and be strong enough to not let it get you down.
Artist’s block is a difficult hurdle for any creative person – you need to have a system in place where you can go for inspiration and a positive work environment of other artists who can push you to work through these potential blocks. For example, we host “paint nights” at our studio where artists are encouraged to make something that is not a tattoo design – having this creative freedom can be exactly what you need to spark new ideas and put that passion back into tattooing.
5. The Admin Stuff
Being a tattoo artist comes with a lot of admin. You may need to sort out your own tax, your own medical insurance, and your own retirement fund as tattoo studios do not generally offer this for you. If you are clueless about how to go about doing these things it can be extremely challenging. The industry is slowly changing and becoming more “above board”, but there are still many studios that do things the old way.
6. Being a Business Inside of a Business
If you work for a tattoo studio that isn’t heavily walk-in based, you have to treat tattooing as your own business inside of a business. What this means is that you have to learn how to advertise and market for yourself.
You need to have an active social media presence, respond to client queries quickly and efficiently, handle your own bookings, and in some studios even take control of your own stock.
It is literally like running a small business inside of another business and for some people, this is exceptionally challenging. If you are not a business-minded person and you just want to go to work, tattoo, and come home, consider working for a studio that works on a walk-in basis.
7. Cutthroat Industry
The tattoo industry is extremely competitive and cutthroat. It is not easy to get into it in the first place, and it is difficult to prove yourself to other artists. You need to be really good at what you do in order to have any kind of job security, as you are easily replaceable if a better artist comes around. Tattoo artists can also be mean and gossip among shops is, unfortunately, quite common.
We have seen many artists quit tattooing because they cannot handle the pressure and nastiness that can happen in the industry. This is slowly changing within the industry, but it is still very common.
8. Success Is Difficult to Achieve
Because there are so many incredible and talented artists out there, success is extremely difficult to achieve. You have to be one of the best at everything related to tattooing – design work, shading, line work, color packing, and personality.
You need to work extremely hard to get to the top and that’s why there aren’t that many world-famous tattoo artists (even though they might claim to be in their Instagram bios!). Putting the needed time into tattooing to get to this level is difficult if you want to have a family, and for some artists, the sacrifices are not worth it.
9. Time (or Lack Thereof)
The worst part about being a tattoo artist is the working hours. Most tattoo artists work on weekends and public holidays as this is when our clients are available to be tattooed. We miss family functions, are late for important events, and do not have a whole lot of time to socialize. If you are an artist who is booked months in advance, most days are spent tattooing and evenings are spent drawing. You need to have a very understanding family and friendship group.
What are the disadvantages of being a tattoo artist?
There are quite a few disadvantages including working weekends and public holidays, a high amount of competition among other tattoo artists, and having to follow extremely strict safety protocols.
Is it hard being a tattoo artist?
It is hard to be a tattoo artist - you have to face artist blocks head-on as your clients can’t wait for inspiration to strike, it is difficult to get into the industry as it is extremely competitive, and tattooing is quite difficult to learn.
What are common injuries for tattoo artists?
Common injuries include needle pricks, chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain, strained tendons and muscles, and even hip pain.
Can anyone be a good tattoo artist?
Anyone can be a good tattoo artist as long as they put in a lot of hard work to get there.
How long does it take to learn to tattoo?
A professional tattoo apprenticeship generally takes about 2 years.
9 Important Things You Need to Overcome to Be a Tattoo Artist
While being a tattoo artist is fun, rewarding, and exciting, it does come with daily risks, drawbacks, and challenges. You need to be an extremely strong person to stick with tattooing and not let the bad stuff deter you.
Every industry comes with its challenges, but tattooing is especially tough because of the physical risk of injury and illness, the pressure to create a masterpiece every day, and never having time for your family and friends. This article has uncovered a glimpse into the dark side of tattooing, and each artist may have a different experience.