Learning to tattoo is a difficult process that takes years and as such there is no magical book or formula that will give you step by step instructions. As an apprentice your mentor will take you through both the theory and practical aspects of learning to tattoo though it will be arduous and time consuming to get to being a tattoo artist. If you are looking to learn to tattoo the first thing you need to do is get an apprenticeship as this is the only safe and legal way to learn this career. You wouldn't try learning to be an electrician without an apprenticeship and tattooing is no different, you can be just as dead for making a mistake not knowing what you're doing with both careers.
If you've managed to get yourself an apprenticeship with a qualified mentor then the first step in learning to tattoo is simply going to be to watch and observe. Most artists will make you watch and learn for several months before letting you handle machines so that you can get both the set up, clean up, and the basics of execution down before permanently mangling someone. This is often the part that causes most apprentices to drop out as they expect there to be something exciting going on immediately and not plain hard work. Learning the theory behind tattooing gives you the groundwork for understanding what you are seeing when you watch your mentor tattoo and helps give you a better understanding of the process and why each step is important.
The second step in learning to tattoo is actually learning to handle the machines. As with driving a car working with a tattoo machine takes practice and very few can perform clean acceptable work immediately; though it does relate to your artistic skill, practice and preparation. Your mentor may assign you tasks to help improve your wrist strength such as drawing with a machine and pen, or a pen and a barbell. Using a machine is not like using a pen and your muscles have to be trained to it so you can expect frequent cramps when you are a beginner to tattooing. Learning your machine also includes knowing how it works and functions, coil machines are the most complicated but are also the most common. Often state exams require you to have knowledge of machine mechanics as well even if you use rotary or pneuma machines.
While you may consider yourself no longer a beginner once you have completed your apprenticeship the next step in tattooing is generally a matter of experience. As everyone learns at a different pace there isn't a set rule about when you will no longer be a beginner. Once you can complete a simple tattoo without issues and have been able to replicate it your mentor may consider you a graduate, however your state may mandate you to have a minimum number or hours and tattoos before you can graduate from being a beginner. This step can often take the longest as it involves so much conjecture.
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