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Information & Guides

A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginner Tattoo Artists: From Sketching to Inking

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Last Update on September 20th 2023 By TPS

Are you a tattoo beginner or a budding artist with a passion for tattoos? Embarking on a journey to become a tattoo artist can be both exciting and overwhelming. From sketching your designs to mastering the art of inking, each step of the creative process requires precision and knowledge.

In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essential skills and techniques every tattoo beginner and budding tattoo artist alike needs to know. Whether you dream of opening your own tattoo studio or simply want to hone your craft, this article will provide you with the tools and insights to help you get started.

We'll begin by discussing the importance of sketching and how it lays the foundation for your tattoo design. From there, we'll delve into the world of tattoo machines and the different types of needles you'll need to achieve different effects. We'll also cover the hygiene and safety protocols that are crucial for both artists and clients.

Join us on this artistic journey as we equip you with the knowledge and guidance you need to begin your career transitioning from a tattoo beginner to a tattoo artist. Let's bring your creative vision to life, one ink stroke at a time.

Essential tools for tattoo beginner as the aspiring beginner tattooist

Before you dive into the world of tattooing, it's important to have the right tools at your disposal. As a beginner tattoo artist, you'll need a tattoo machine, also known as a tattoo gun, which is responsible for delivering the ink into the skin. Make sure you read our guide on purchasing your first tattoo gun which will provide the tattoo beginner additional insight. There are various types of tattoo machines available, each with its own unique features and benefits. You may want to consider a tattoo beginner kit to get you started. It's important to do your research and choose one that suits your needs and budget.

In addition to a tattoo machine, you'll also need a variety of tattoo needles. Different needles are used for different purposes, such as outlining, shading, and coloring. It's crucial to understand the differences between needle types and how they affect the final result of your tattoo. Alongside needles, you'll also need ink, disposable gloves, transfer paper, and other essential supplies to ensure a smooth tattooing process.

Developing your artistic skills

While technical skills are important for a tattoo artist, it's equally important to develop your artistic skills. As a tattoo beginner you will learn that tattooing is a form of art, and having a strong foundation in drawing and design will greatly enhance your abilities as a tattoo artist. Practice sketching regularly to improve your line work, shading techniques, and overall composition. Consider taking art classes or workshops to learn new techniques and gain inspiration from other artists. You can also use many different tattoo books as inspiration.

Understanding different tattoo styles

Tattooing encompasses a wide range of styles, from traditional to realistic, black and grey to watercolor. As a beginner tattoo artist, it's important to familiarize yourself with the different styles and find your niche. Explore the work of renowned tattoo artists and study their techniques and signature styles. Experiment with different styles in your own designs to develop your own unique aesthetic.

American Traditional Tattoos

Tattoo Style: 

Traditional (American Traditional)

Origin:

United States, late 19th to early 20th century

Cultrual Ties:

Sailor culture and military service

Common Imagery:

Anchors, skulls, eagles, roses, pin-up girls, nautical themes.

Populartity Peak:

1930s to 1950s

Image: traditionalstattoos / Instagram

Realism Tattoo

Tattoo Style: 

Realism Tattoo

Origin:

Europe, 20th century

Cultrual Ties:

Artistic realism and attention to detail

Common Imagery:

Portraits, nature scenes, animals, objects with lifelike accuracy.

Populartity Peak:

Ongoing

Image: nyempirestatetattooexpo / Instagram

water colour tattoos

Tattoo Style: 

Watercolor Tattoo

Origin:

Contemporary, from modern art influences

Cultrual Ties:

Artistic creativity and experimentation

Common Imagery:

Abstract designs, splashes of color, blending effects.

Populartity Peak:

Early 21st century

Image: pablo_ortiz_tattoo / Instagram

traditional japenese

Tattoo Style: 

Japanese Traditional Tattoo (Irezumi)

Origin:

Japan, Edo period (17th-19th century)

Cultrual Ties:

Deep ties to Japanese culture, legends, and folklore.

Common Imagery:

Koi fish, cherry blossoms, dragons, samurai, geisha.

Populartity Peak:

19th century and resurgence in the 20th century

Image: jin_qchoi / Instagram

new school tattoos

Tattoo Style: 

New School Tattoo

Origin:

United States, late 20th century

Cultrual Ties:

Pop culture, comic books, graffiti.

Common Imagery:

Bold and exaggerated designs, cartoon characters, surrealism.

Populartity Peak:

1990s to early 2000s

Image: furuczmisi / Instagram

biometrical tattoos

Tattoo Style: 

​Biomechanical Tattoo

Origin:

United States, late 20th century

Cultrual Ties:

Sci-fi, fantasy, and cyberpunk influences

Common Imagery:

Merging of mechanical and organic elements, creating illusions of machinery beneath the skin.

Populartity Peak:

1980s and 1990s

Image: msdarkart / Instagram

tribal tattoos

Tattoo Style: 

Tribal Tattoo

Origin:

Various indigenous cultures across the world

Cultrual Ties:

Indigenous and tribal cultures

Common Imagery:

Geometric patterns, tribal symbols, abstract designs

Populartity Peak:

Late 20th century.

Image: msdarkart / Instagram

neotraditional tattoos

Tattoo Style: 

Neo-Traditional Tattoo

Origin:

Evolved from American Traditional, late 20th century.

Cultrual Ties:

Modern reinterpretation of traditional style with added depth and detail.

Common Imagery:

Imagery: Similar to Traditional, but with richer color palettes, more dimension, and illustrative elements.

Populartity Peak:

Late 20th century.

Image: markedmarvels/ Instagram

Blackwork Tattoo

Tattoo Style: 

Blackwork Tattoo

Origin:

Ancient times, found in various cultures.

Cultrual Ties:

Ancient tattoo practices and spiritual significance.

Common Imagery:

Bold black designs, often abstract or ornamental, with emphasis on negative space.

Populartity Peak:

Ongoing

Image:owen_cliff_jennings/ Instagram

script and lettering tattoo

Tattoo Style: 

Script and Lettering Tattoo

Origin:

Ancient civilizations, with modern resurgence.

Cultrual Ties:

Personal expressions, memorial tattoos, statements

Common Imagery:

Names, quotes, meaningful words, written in various fonts and languages.

Populartity Peak:

Ongoing

Image: weeeman32/ Instagram

Sketching and designing tattoos

Sketching and designing is a crucial step in the tattooing process. It allows you to bring your client's vision to life and ensures that both you and your client are on the same page before the inking begins. As a tattoo beginner looking to learn, you will need to become accustom to discussing ideas and concepts with your clients to understand their preferences and expectations. Then using this information as a starting point for your design.

When sketching, pay attention to the placement and size of the tattoo. Consider the contours of the body and how the design will flow with the natural lines and curves. Take your time to refine the design, making sure every line and detail is intentional and purposeful. Don't be afraid to seek feedback from other artists or clients to improve your designs.

 

Some tips to get started on your design:

  1. Master the Basics of Proportions: Begin by practicing fundamental drawing techniques to improve your sense of proportions. Learn how to accurately depict sizes and relationships between different elements. This skill will help you create designs that fit well within the desired tattoo area.

  2. Simplify for Clarity: As a beginner, focus on simplicity. Avoid intricate details that might be challenging to reproduce on skin. Instead, aim for clear and well-defined lines and shapes that can be translated accurately onto the tattoo canvas.

  3. Embrace Strong Line Work: Develop your line work technique to create confident and clean outlines. Clear lines are essential for translating a design into a tattoo, as they guide the tattoo machine and ensure accuracy. Practice smooth and consistent lines for a professional look.

  4. Consider Tattoo Flow and Placement: Understand the flow of the design on the body. Keep in mind the contours and curves of the area where the tattoo will be placed. Your design should complement the body's shape, resulting in a tattoo that looks harmonious and natural.

  5. Experiment with Shading Techniques: While keeping it beginner-friendly, explore basic shading techniques that can enhance your design's dimension. Practice creating gradients and shading transitions to add depth to your sketches. Remember that shading in tattooing involves solid areas of color, so focus on mastering smooth and even shading.

 

By honing these foundational drawing skills, you'll be better equipped to create designs that not only look impressive on paper but also translate well into tattoos. As you gain more experience, you can gradually introduce more complex elements into your designs. Always remember as a tattoo beginner, consistent practice and a willingness to learn will contribute to your growth as a tattoo artist.

sketching to inking

From sketching to inking - Image: boredpanda

Transferring the design onto skin

Once you have a finalized design, the next step is to transfer it onto the client's skin. This can be done using transfer paper or by freehand drawing directly onto the skin. Transfer paper allows for precise placement and ensures the design is accurately replicated on the skin, check out our guide on using transfer paper. Freehand drawing requires more skill and confidence, but allows for greater creativity and flexibility. Its not recommended as a beginner but something you may want to explore as you build skill and confidence. 

Before transferring the design, clean and prepare the client's skin to ensure optimal results. Use a stencil solution or spray to transfer the design onto the skin, making sure it is positioned correctly. Double-check for any errors or smudges before proceeding to the next step.

Setting up your tattoo workstation

Creating a clean and comfortable tattoo workstation is essential for both you and your clients. Start by ensuring that your workspace is well-lit and adequately ventilated. If you think this is the career for you, it will be worth investing in a comfortable tattoo chair or table that can be adjusted to accommodate different body positions. Keep your work area organized and free from clutter to promote efficiency and reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Proper hygiene and safety precautions

Maintaining a high level of hygiene and safety is paramount in the tattoo industry. As a tattoo artist, you must adhere to strict protocols to protect both yourself and your clients from the spread of infections and diseases. Always wear disposable gloves and change them regularly throughout the tattooing process. Use sterile needles and disposable tubes for each client to prevent cross-contamination.

Ensure that your tattoo machine and other equipment are properly sterilized before and after each use. Use single-use ink caps and dispose of them after each client. Keep your workstation clean and sanitized at all times, using disinfectants that are safe for both you and your clients.

Inking techniques for the tattoo beginner

Now comes the exciting part – inking the tattoo. As a beginner tattoo artist, it's important to start with simple designs and gradually progress to more complex ones as you gain experience. Start by mastering basic techniques such as outlining, shading, and color packing.  Use our guides on mastering lines and shading to help refine your technique. Practice on artificial skin or pig skin before working on actual clients to refine your skills and build confidence.

Experiment with different needle sizes and configurations to achieve different effects and textures. Pay attention to the pressure and speed at which you apply the ink, as this can greatly impact the final result. Take breaks when needed to rest your hand and avoid fatigue, as this can affect your precision and control.

Building a portfolio and establishing your reputation

As you continue to grow as a tattoo artist, it's important to build a portfolio of your work and establish your reputation in the industry. Document each tattoo you complete, taking high-quality photographs that showcase your skills and attention to detail. Create an online portfolio or website where potential clients can view your work and contact you for appointments.

Networking is also crucial in the tattoo industry. Attend tattoo conventions, workshops, and other industry events to connect with other artists and potential clients. Build relationships with reputable tattoo shops and consider apprenticeships to further develop your skills and gain exposure.

Embarking on a career as a tattoo artist requires dedication, patience, and continuous learning. By following this step-by-step guide and continually honing your skills, you can turn your passion for tattoos into a rewarding and fulfilling career. Remember, each tattoo you create is a work of art, and with each ink stroke, you have the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your clients.

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