I'm not going to lie. I recently became obsessed with tattoos. I've always liked them but lately my infatuation has grown. I have tons picked out that I want and I really want to become a tattoo artist. I'm only 15 and a freshman in high school but I feel like this is what I want to do for a living. I'm pretty good at drawing but I don't feel I'm good enough to actually become an artist. Is there anywhere I could go to college in the future to learn how to really draw, design, and actually tattoo someone?
Tattooing is an extremely hard, selective industry. Also, there is no fixed income, so to make decent money you have to work hard and be good.
First and foremost, you have to have insane artistic ability. Tattooing has become a very desirable career choice, and if your skills aren't up to par, you'll get nowhere. There are some really bad tattoo artists out there, but they will never hit it big time. It's not just about following lines from a stencil, it's being able to draw up custom pieces from a small description.
You don't need any specific academic qualifications to become a tattoo artist, just artistic skill and training (hence one of the reasons it's become so popular, people think it's an 'easy' career choice. It's not). Now, I'm not very aware of the education system in the US (I'm assuming you're from the US because you're a freshman), but in the UK you can choose what classes to focus on in high school, if it's a similar setup, take art. It will help. Going to college and studying art will also help, but it's not a necessity.
You have 3 routes to go down. One, get a tattoo apprenticeship. Two, become a 'scratcher' and do it from home. Or three, pay for a tattoo course. Don't become a scratcher if you want to be taken seriously in the industry. Many tattoo studios will turn you away based purely on the fact you've been tattooing at home. Generally because they'll need to train these bad habits out of you, and you could have potentially endangered someone's life by being unsanitary. Taking a paid tattoo course is also not advised. You have to cram 3-4 years of training into 6-10 weeks. Many studios will also not take you for this reason. So you're best bet, is to try for a tattoo apprenticeship.
I've put together a little guide for you, there's also a lot of information available on the the internet.
IMPROVING YOUR ARTISTIC SKILL: Take art classes, practice drawing every second you get. If you're artistic ability is not (remotely) perfected yet, you have to get better at that before focusing on tattoo art. In short, you need to know the basics, otherwise you'll never fully understand what makes a good tattoo design.
WORKING ON YOUR TATTOO ART: Now, as you're 15, you have quite a lot of time (until you're 18) to really focus on developing your skills and styles. Look at other tattoo artists you admire, or even tattoos you want yourself, and try and decide what style you like e.g old-school, new-school, neo-traditional, realistic, tribal etc. and focus on that. Every tattoo artist has their own style or their 'thing', and to do well you need to market that. Work on all ranges of media, whether it's pencil, paint, markers, colour, black and white, you need to be able to work with them all. Posting your work on a site like Big Tattoo Planet is useful. It's full of tattoo artists who are very honest, and will tell it how it is. They won't sugar-coat it. Always good when preparing you for potential critique.
Also, using other artist's work as inspiration is good for practice, but if you can't put together work on your own, you may need to re-access if this is the best career for you. So practice, practice, practice.
YOUR PORTFOLIO: When you've finally got your work up to a decent level, you can start putting together your portfolio. This is what you're going to take round studios to try and tempt them to train you up. So it needs to be good. Aim for 18+ A3 pages, full of designs. I'd suggest to do flash pages, rather than just one design on a page. Flash pages are what tattoo artists generally use to put up on their wall, so doing them yourself shows that's one skill you've already mastered, and they'll be a lot more tempted to take you on.
Try and go for several design styles to show that you're versatile and can handle any custom request that comes through the door. But remember to let your personality and favoured style show through.
If you've been looking at other artists work to improve your skills, never use copied work in your portfolio, it has to be all yours from scratch.
PREPARING FOR YOUR APPRENTICESHIP: An apprenticeship is hard work. You'll be the shop bitch for a while; doing the cleaning and making tea. This is why it's important to pick a tattoo studio that's not run by an egotistical idiot, you need someone who will respect you as a person. You're unlikely to be paid during your apprenticeship, so be prepared to be tired and skint, so have money saved up. Research blood-borne pathogens, and any studio will love you if you know even the basics. Eventually, you'll need Hepatitis B and C shots, it might help the impression you give if you get these first. Also, if you can get training in First Aid, even better.
GETTING AN APPRENTICESHIP: You'll need to take your portfolio round studios and see if you can get training. Like I mentioned before, aim for studios that are friendly. Sounds stupid, but you'll be potentially working there for 4 years just doing your apprenticeship, let alone when you're qualified. So don't get yourself stuck in an unhappy working atmosphere. Always be friendly and enthusiastic. Don't go in there with an ego, thinking they owe you the job. Never call it a gun, call it a tattoo machine. Even if you have the intention to eventually move and work somewhere else after your apprenticeship, don't tell them. They won't train you if they think you're just going to run off with all their secrets and tricks of the trade.
You may be declined a position over and over again, don't worry, many people do. Just keep at it, stay focused, and you'll get there.
Sorry if it's long. But I hope I've helped.