Untrained People with Tattoo Kits Need Education First

Battle of the “Scratchers”

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about “scratchers” fighting for their right to tattoo. A scratcher, basically, is someone who taught him/herself the art of tattooing without the benefit of an apprenticeship under a professional artist. This may sound harmless enough in itself, but “scratchers” have been scrutinized under a very close microscope lately, and have been coming under serious attack by tattoo artists all over.

I thought I’d give the subject a little attention myself.

The art of tattooing has long been a trade which traditionally was handed down from generation to generation through apprenticeships. A student would work under the supervision and training of the master, and in return for free labor, the master would train the student. Needless to say, that long-standing tradition is gone. Apprenticeships these days are as follows: The student pays (usually a very large sum) in return for his education, and the master, in return….well, he STILL gets free labor. And many times, as I’m seeing a lot of now…the artists offering apprenticeships are NOT masters. Many times, they are new to trade themselves, and are using “apprenticeships” as a way to create revenue, rather than as a way to create future masters of the trade.

So, why apprentice? Well, unfortunately we live in a day and age where tattooing could literally be the death of a customer if proper procedures are not strictly carried out. Needles and equipment must be properly sterilized, cross-contamination and strict sterilization techniques must be adhered to, or disease can spread as quickly as wildfire.Spreading blood-born pathogens is a quick way to kill a client, AND the reputation of the entire profession of tattooing.

If you think that the only thing you’d learn as an apprentice is how to stick a needle in someone…think again! There is so much to be learned, and many of these things simplycannot be learned just by reading a book. If you think you’re ready to start tattooing on your own, answer the following questions:

  • What are the laws in your city/state on tattooing?
  • What certifications and/or licenses are required to tattoo legally in your city/state?
  • What is the procedure of operating an autoclave? What temperature must the autoclave reach and for how long?
  • What is a blood-born pathogen and how do you prevent the spread of it, and cross-contamination?
  • How do you thoroughly clean and disinfect needles and tubes before autoclaving?
  • What layer of epidermis of the skin must you NOT enter to prevent scarring of a tattoo?
  • What is plasma, and what does the leakage of plasma during a tattoo indicate?These are only a few of the things that are absolutely necessary for a tattoo artist to know, and if you can’t answer all of these questions with concise understanding, you are not ready to be a tattoo artist!Go get an apprenticeship!Now, don’t get me wrong..I don’t think all apprentices need to be taught how to draw! Some of the most fabulous artwork comes from “scratchers” and new apprentices. The reason that western tattoos have evolved so much over the years is because so many new faces have been added to the roster, and because they didn’t have someone standing over there shoulders saying “You can’t do that!”, they have found a wonderful world of variety, color, and effects that old school tattoos cannot hold a candle to.

    The aforementioned, however, is not a reason to go off and try to learn how to tattoo on your own. Gain experience from a master, pay your dues, put in your time and dedication to the art, and learn how to do it right.

    That also puts a burden on the tattoo artists already out there. You cannot look down on a scratcher if you turn away that eager young man/woman that came into your shop wanting an apprenticeship. If you want the next generation of tattooists to be trained in the traditional way, it is your responsibility to make sure that opportunity is there! And remember, too, your apprentice is not a walking cash flow. They are our future.

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