When I first started as an apprentice, I was more confident than your average person. I knew how to draw very well, I read a ton of books, watched even more videos, and had my linework down to a science.
My first actual tattooing assignment (after 8 months) was to design and tattoo a piece that I would be applying on…myself. There were 2 reasons for this (as explained by my mentor) – 1. It would teach me what my client would feel when they get tattooed by me and 2. If I made a mistake, it was on myself and not someone else.
This was a very important lesson for me as it taught me the seriousness of giving a tattoo. I had received many in the past, but the actual act of tattooing held much more weight as it was an important transition for my career.
The hardest part of tattooing yourself is getting over that first initial prick. It took me 10 minutes just to do the first line (I held the needle 1/8 inch away from my skin while taking deep breathes and psyching myself up). After that, I was able to get myself into a zone and it was smooth sailing from there.
Tattooing myself was a breeze compared to what I am about to explain to you. Yes, I was a bit anxious before working on my own body, but the real fear comes when it isn’t your own body. It’s now someone else’s…and you can’t screw up.
The idea that I was permanently marking someone’s body kept running through my head. I was very confident in my art; however, because I am a passionate artist, my biggest critic is myself.
I was overanalyzing and second guessing every creative decision. “What if I make a mistake on this person? I should have done that differently. This person has social media, their friends will see my mistake – I could be ruined before I even start!”
These thoughts got so bad that before I would pull a line my hand would shake right until the needle hit the skin, then stop as soon as it touched the surface. I thought the customer noticed every time. They never did. And the line was always perfect.
Moral of the story: This was clearly an irrational mental fear that was all in my head. There is even a concept describing what I was feeling: imposter syndrome (You can Google it if you’re interested, I’m not going to get into it here because this is a tattooing blog).
The point I’m trying to make is not meant to scare you. It is to show you that we all have a set of challenges that we all face, especially when we’re first starting our journey that we need to overcome. You are not an imposter. Tattooing is a new habit you are getting used to. Any new job takes at least 6 months to learn and fully be comfortable.
With enough practice and repetition everything will become second nature. Your muscles will automatically remember what to do, and your thoughts will go on auto-pilot as you teach yourself to focus on a certain area for hours at a time.
This is why an apprenticeship is so important. It teaches you these fundamental techniques that will lay the groundwork for your entire career. Pay your dues! Practice, practice, practice!! Not only will the fear disappear, but the pace at which you work will also become quicker as well. Be patient…it all comes with enough time and effort.
*You can find out how to incorporate these tips and more into your arsenal to become a well rounded tattoo artist by clicking here. Now get to work!