Tattooing is a complicated process that involves both artistic skill and hospital level cleanliness because it is a minor surgical procedure. The basics of tattooing encompass both the design, application and execution of the tattoo by the artist. It is far from a simple process and even at the most simple of tattoos the same standards have to be maintained to keep both artists and clients safe. Learning how to tattoo is a process that takes years and most artists consider themselves to be perpetually learning to keep their skills growing over the years and their artwork improving.
The most basic aspect of tattooing is knowing to draw. Some tattooists cannot draw and they are left being able to simply copy pre-made designs. Though they may execute them well these type of tattooer are usually not paid as well as tattoo artists. Those who have artistic talent, especially enough to create custom work generally fare better and are paid more. Knowing the basics of shading, color theory and other art processes can be invaluable when drawing out tattoo designs even though drawing tattoos actually requires it's own knowledge.
The second most basic part of tattooing is cleanliness. If you do not practice hygiene and safety, then you shouldn't be tattooing at all. Sanitation applies both to how you set up and disinfect both before and after applying a tattoo. Following universal precautions or skipping things because they take time endangers both the artist and client, it is a basic fundamental necessary practice.
Execution of the tattoo, though important, is more about the actual skills you possess. Knowledge of how to tattoo is not basic as there are so many aspects that come together to actually take you from a needle to the artwork in skin. When undergoing an apprenticeship, you will be taught not only the basics but the how and why of them and it is the complete knowledge that makes tattooing possible. Simply putting needle to skin will make a mark but probably more of a mess than a tattoo. Some of the basic aspects of knowing how to tattoo include needle depth, skin texture, ink mixing and fixing mistakes.
The final basic element of tattooing is cleaning up after the tattoo. Tattooing involves blood and therefore contamination issues are at play. this can be life threatening for both artist and clients if proper safety measures are not followed. To a degree this is more important than the set up and the ability to actually draw the tattoo. Knowing what a “hot” surface is and how to disinfect it as well as proper sterilization techniques for the equipment can be life saving.