Day In The Life Of A Tattoo Apprentice
Day In The Life Of A Tattoo Apprentice
By: Jennifer Santoro
My name is Jennifer Santoro. In December of 2019, I began my apprenticeship at 7 Inks Tattoo. I am being mentored by artist and shop owner, Andrew Bissell. If you’re reading this, you’re here to find out what a day in the life of a tattoo apprentice is like.
When you walk up to the front doors of a business that you’ve never entered before, that is the first impression you get of that facility. One of the most important jobs of an apprentice is keeping the shop clean. A tattoo shop should regularly be kept up to health department standards. One of the first things I do at the start of the day is make sure that the storefront and lobby are clean and organized, and that regularly touched surfaces are sanitized. This includes the iPads in our lobby, door handles, light switches, the shop phone, scissors, printers, etc. Some more cleaning tasks I do at the start of my day include taking the trash out (if not done the night before), sweep or mop floors, clean and stock the restrooms, and clean the artist lounge. I usually do this throughout the day as well, before and after anyone eats lunch, to make sure the eating space is clean for both the artists and clients.
After the shop is clean, I make sure that all artists’ have a stack of ripped paper towels at their station. Throughout the day, I’ll assist the artists with any tasks that are asked of me. These include setting up or tearing down their stations, grabbing their designs from the printer and making a stencil for them, or even small quick tasks while they’re tattooing- such as refilling their inks when they’re low, or getting out needles that they need.
Another job of an apprentice is being the receptionist- I help answer the phone and assist anyone who walks through our front door. I also help run the 7 Inks Instagram page, to advertise the artists at our shop’s and widen our audience. On occasion, I’ll also run errands for the shop, such as shopping when we’re low on supplies, or picking up lunch (which usually ends up with me getting free lunch- yay)
When I’m not assisting the other artists or cleaning the shop, I’m typically doing one of two things: drawing and making designs, or watching the artists tattoo. Continuing to draw on a regular basis is extremely important for the development of my art. I am constantly aiming to improve my technique. Every day, I set aside time dedicated to drawing. When I finish a potential tattoo design, I show my work to the artists and ask for their opinions on what can be changed or made better to make it more readable as a tattoo.
While watching the artists tattoo, I soak up as much as I possibly can and ask a lot of questions. I was told by Andrew at the beginning of my apprenticeship that “there will be things that myself or the other artists will not be able to teach you.” At first I was confused by this, but over time, this began to make more and more sense. I learn so much from watching. When I was starting off with my first few tattoos, I was taught the basics/fundamentals. In order to further develop my craft, there’s a lot that I will have to pick up on my own that cannot be taught with words alone.
When I watch the artists tattoo, I’m looking at EVERYTHING they do, and am constantly making mental notes, along with asking questions. I notice how far they’re hanging their needle out, how deep they are going into the skin. What voltage they’re running their machine at, and why. How slowly they pull a line. How they position their hand and wrist while pulling said line. The motions they make in order to prepare before pulling a line.
How often they dip their needle into ink. When they switch needles throughout their tattoo, what needle they switched to, and why. How much soap they use on a paper towel. How they fold their paper towels and how they hold it in their hand while tattooing. How they mix their grey wash. How they apply stencils. How they make stencils. How they set up their station at the beginning of a tattoo, and how they tear down at the end of the day. I watch the tear down process often to ensure that I am still following the correct sterilization procedures that I was taught at the very beginning my apprenticeship.
I learn new things about tattooing when it’s not even my intention to. Sometimes the artists will just be having a conversation, and I’ll learn something from it. Being in a shop with many talented artists that each have years of tattooing under their belt is something I don’t take for granted. I’m very thankful that I get to begin my tattoo career in such a positive environment with other artists that have their own drive to grow and improve.
The very first tattoo I made in my apprenticeship was on fake skin. Since starting my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to tattoo fake skin and grapefruits while I was first starting out. Since then, I have been able to tattoo myself and others to gain experience tattooing skin. On a day where I’m making a tattoo, I ask the artists for their help and approval throughout the tattoo. When applying a stencil, I make sure that the size and placement on the body is approved, or I’ll ask for help in the process of applying it. I’ll ask what needles I should use for my tattoos, and if there are colors in the tattoo, I make sure the color inks I chose are approved for the design. If I’m not sure what to use, I’ll ask for recommendations. Throughout my tattoos, the artists usually stop over to watch or give advice.
I’m coming pretty close to one year of working in the shop. A question I get asked a lot is “When are you finished with your apprenticeship?” This is a hard question to answer, because it doesn’t have an exact answer. Apprenticeships are complete whenever the mentor and the artists of the shop agree that they’re ready. I’m in no rush to graduate. However long it takes me until I’m deemed ready, I’m prepared to put in the work. I strive to make artwork and tattoos that I am proud of, so however long it takes me to get there, I’ll enjoy the process. There is still so much for me to learn. I cannot wait until the day comes where I can begin my career as a tattoo artist, but in the meantime I’m determined to work to get to where I need to be. Thanks for reading and taking a peek into my life at 7 Inks! You can follow my artwork and tattoos on my Instagram page: @jennsantorotattoo