No two tattoo artists are the same. Nor will they ever be. That’s one of the beauty’s of this industry. But of course that doesn’t mean that they won’t fall into different categories.
For instance when it comes to design styles, you’ll find artists that are neo-classical, or photorealist etc. And in this context, they may belong to several different categories.
But when it comes career choices, we can more easily define tattoo artists into three distinct groups:
You might notice that is in parallel to the art world in general and that’s because the tattoo world does mirror the world closely - it is a form of art after all.
This group of artists which would also include students and beginners should certainly not be discounted talent-wise. It can contains some excellent artists and you may discover their work by accident at an art show or someone’s online portfolio.
Tattooing might just be one of the strings to their bows, with their day job lying elsewhere in the art world. Or it might be that they have taken up tattooing in their spare time while they work or study at something else altogether.
From a consumer perspective, it’s very straightforward to purchase and receive a tattoo from a hobby tattoo artist. What there may be some negotiation needed is in the price. Often there artist will not know the value of what they are giving. Indeed if they just starting out that may even want to do if for free. Remember as they are not established and haven’t worked in a studio they will have no reference point in term of what to charge.
However there may be a risk involved for their clients in terms of safety. The equipment might not always be the latest or most up to date. The client’s skin may react to the ink or they may be lacking in advice on aftercare. You also will not know if the tattoo is truly original - for instance they may have just copied a famous design by another artist. However, the majority of this artists are diligent and keen to do everything right. And indeed, if they have a talent for art can be excellent tattooists
Usually the hobby or beginner artists is passionate by what they do - money is not their main motivator. They want to grow, learn, improve. In the best case they want to end up as an apprentice in a tattoo shop or become a self taught tattoo artist.
In the Black Hat we welcome art students as they often see tattooing as a canvas they love to explore with. Recently, we collaborated with an artist from Eastern Europe who was an outstanding painter and a talented tattoo artist, which shows you don’t have to chose a fixed path early on.
Additionally, most painters or sculptors artists don’t make a living with their art for years as gaining the support of an art gallery takes time, so a lot of them struggle to make ends meet. The tattooing industry provides a perfect opportunity for them to earn money while practising their skills.
Another artist we worked with is a prolific illustrator for children’s books. She has been balancing private commissions for illustration and customers requests for tattoos. So as you can imagine, these artists can not only complement your studio but add some amazing value to it also.
This person is a professional tattoo artist, or at least makes some of their living at giving customers tattoos. However, they are completely independent and not represented by any tattoo studio.
There is usually a variety of reasons for why this should be. Often, they simply just aren’t a good fit for studio life or in larger team setting. They also might not live in area where studios are located or they be specialised at design work that is to niche or specialised for contemporary tattoo studio clientele.
Whatever the reasons that can find ways to make a living independently and indeed you often see them selling their work at tattoo conventions or invite customer to their own private space.
From time, you might want to partner with a self represented artist - if say a client makes a special request for a style for instance. However, often there is not much collaboration - unless they’ve decided they want to try to studio like again.
These artists of course will be the ones that will work in your studio. They are of course fully professional artists, who will do the vast majority of their business in the studio. In fact if someone independently contacts them for a tattoo they will usually tell them to contact the studio out as a matter of ethical practice. However, it’s not uncommon for some to do nixers outside of the studio too. This of course is not a good idea, particularly if they dependent on the studio for building a clientele. After all most customers choose a studio first and then an artist, and if the studio is unhappy with customers not coming through them, then the artist can easily undercut their own career.
Of course, the motivation to not put work through the studio is down to paying the studio a fee or a percentage commission on their work. And this can often be a common source of complaint, that the studio is taking too much from them. However, that studios help artists to market themselves, get them customers, and build up a secure customer base. So there has to measure of exchange and often studios will also support artists in other ways too.
You also may deduce that most artists you will work with in your studio fall under the third category - the represented artist. And you’d be correct in this assumption. As the business owner you are representing these independent artists, and giving them a platform so that clients can discover them and commission works. In that sense you are operating almost like a gallery - while also being a high-street retail outlet.
Giving artists this platform can be the exciting part of owning such a creative business and it’s important to understand the differences and needs of each of the three types. This is because artists of the other groups may not be suitable to be represented by your studio, or may not show any interest in it
These artists have different inner values, sometimes backgrounds and the whole tattoo experience can feel different regardless the quality of their art. So to ensure you appreciate the nuances of all three groups we’ve provided more information on them for you here.
Similarly when an artist moves from non-represented to represented, the prices should not change, unless the tattoo artist is undervaluing their work. When they do move from one to the other it usually means the artist simply makes less money per tattoo than they could get on their own. However the upside is that the volume of work should also increase so they will it more lucrative to them in the long run.
Secondly of course they will gain from the free marketing of their portfolio and other promotions of the studio.
Thirdly they can more easily build a reputation in a safe and secure environment where there studio can ensure they are abiding by standards. This will be important if a customer wants to make a complaint too. If the tattooed artist has lived up to all the studio processes and legal requirements, then it offers them some protection in terms of liability too.
Fourthly a studio is also a warm, convenient and usually happy location for them to carry out applying tattoos. This is important for the artist to do their best work in a place both they and they customers are comfortable. Find the space independently will not be that easy for them, and could be very expensive in terms of rent also. So although they might have to give up more of their markup as a represented artists they are gaining many benefits which they wouldn’t have on their own. Plus, their growing customer base can easily make up for and surpass what they giving away to be represented.
This is why setting up a tattoo business or franchise will not just be of benefit to yourself, it will also hugely benefit your artists.
Sure the studio is not perfect but it’s best all round way for both artists and tattoos to prosper in the area. It allows the masses to safely choose a place to get an amazing tattoo. And it allows artists make a successful living without some of the more difficult aspects of running a business.
As independent artist who are represented by your studio, there is also nothing to stop them moving from one type of artist to the other, or indeed nothing to stop you from offering someone who is a beginner or not currently represented from joining your studio. As long as everyone is aware of what moving from one type to another means, you can all reap the benefits.
If you are an artist and want to collaborate with us, read the tattoo artist collaboration conditions available in our studios.
If you want to read more about the shop manager role, this interview from a shop manager will surely help you decide if that is the right career path for you.
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