Is Tattooing the Right Career for You? – James Withee

James Withee - Tattooing as a career
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Professional tattoo artist, James Withee, discusses his thoughts on pursuing a career as a tattoo artist and if it’s the right thing for you.

Credit: James Withee

Video Transcript:

What’s up everybody? I’m James Whithee and today I’m going to talk about whether or not tattooing is the right career for you. [Music, ]

Okay, so um. I have a lot of people that watch my channel that are aspiring tattooers and um. You know one of the things that kind of keeps me going making these videos is getting messages from people that say that i inspired them or helped them with some information, while they’re on their journey becoming a professional tattooer and I’ve had some people. Thank me in person and um. You know me the fact that i inspire them inspires me to make uh these videos.

So what i think i’m gon na do i’ve been playing this for a long time. What i think i’m gon na do is i’m gon na start, making some videos that can sort of help people along that journey and give people information. You know whether they’re at the very like beginning level of uh, just considering tattooing as a career or um. You know i’m gon na be making videos that apply to people that are in a more advanced stage of their journey and are looking for an apprenticeship or maybe even currently, in an apprenticeship, um, so yeah. This is gon na, be the first video of that series and in this video, we’re gon na discuss whether or not tattooing is the right career for you and uh.

What i’m gon na do the way i’m gon na structure it is. I am going to first discuss uh reasons why it might be a really great fit for you, um tattooing and then i’m gon na discuss reasons why it might not be a good fit for you and i’m gon na break all that [ __ ] down. For you, so here we go okay, so as far as reasons why tattooing might be the right career choice for you, the first point that i’m going to cover is that it might be the right choice for you. If you have a passion for art – and you know like in your heart that the only thing you could be happy doing is being a professional artist and um, you know obviously there’s other like career fields. You could choose within like the realm of art or whatever um, to be a professional artist like, for instance, you could be like an oil painter or you could be a cartoonist or you could be like a graphic designer or something like that.

But in my opinion i feel like tattooing. Obviously i’m biased right, but i feel, like tattooing, is probably the best one to get into out of all those fields that deal with art, because there’s a lot of buzz around it right now and from what i’ve observed. It seems to be the most like collected original art out there, so um. If you find that you really can’t do anything else with your life other than create and uh. You know particularly visual art, and it’s just an itch that you can’t stop scratching.

Then tattooing. Definitely could be a way where you can make a living and continue to pursue that passion of yours indefinitely now. One of the reasons why i feel like tattooing might be better than some of those other uh career fields. That i just mentioned is because you know a lot of other career fields. You don’t really get the same.

At least i imagine myself. I wouldn’t get the same satisfaction out of working for a company um. I don’t know like disney, for instance, and making cartoons or whatever for them and just only being responsible for like a really small slice of a larger project and kind of um being like a grain of sand um at the beach. So, to speak, to where i really don’t feel personally, like i’m putting my signature, my stamp on um a complete, you know comprehensive piece of art, that’s all my own original creation, rather than it being like somebody else like you know, project manager or some [ __ ] telling me what to do and delegating to me, i feel like if i was in that um like type of artistic field, i would feel more, like i don’t know like a factory worker or like um somebody. That’S just executing [ __ ] for somebody else’s creative vision, whereas in tattooing, even though you’re tattooing for the client – and you are you know in this collaborative situation where you’re giving them what they want out of it.

You know you can be very largely original in tattooing and that becomes more true as you gain more skill. So i like tattooing, because it is a very individual type of thing and um. You know you don’t necessarily have to be like good at cooperating with a team, or something like that, like all you have to do, is be good at what you do and care about it. A lot and you’ll be successful. I know a lot of people out there that are tattooers.

You know they are like that. Like uh in my last video, i was talking about how we have this sort of maverick personality, a lot of tattooers do, and that kind of brings me to my next point uh, which is that tattooing might be a good career choice for you. If you like, the idea of being your own boss and you kind of want to live your own life and uh just be an individual rather than being a cog in the machine where somebody is like cracking the whip on you and micromanaging you and um. You know, because tattooing really is like that, like, even if you work for somebody else at their shop unless, like you’re, really at the bottom level and you’re in a shop where they’re like um, you know sweating you to do all the small tattoos because they don’t Want to lose out on any of the money from customers that might potentially be lost from you not choosing to do them or whatever are you being? You know too booked up to do them?

Um largely you’re going to be able to manage all your own [ __ ], like you know, you make your own schedule for the most part um. You have a lot of freedom in your work, um in terms of like what tools you’re gon na use. What approach you’re gon na take to the art um all kinds of [ __ ], like you, can pretty much uh do whatever you want to a certain degree in tattooing and if you like, the idea of like all the pressure being on you and not really Having to count on anybody else to make and break you in terms of your success, then tattooing is definitely a career choice that you might want to consider. If you also have a passion for art and not only that, but i feel like um, you know. Maybe this is kind of just my perspective, but i feel like maybe some other tattooers might agree that if you are just the type of person in general that has problems with authority and like really bossy, like corporate um type of environments and [ __ ].

Then that’s not something you really have to deal with quite as much in the tattoo world, which kind of brings me to my next point, which is that tattooing might be a really great career choice for you. If you want to be unapologetically yourself and be authentic and not have to like wear a mask when you go to work and act like somebody totally different um during the week and then on the weekends. Finally, you get to like kick off your shoes and actually, you know be who you actually are. So what i mean by that is that you know i kind of talked about a little bit in my last video, where i was talking about how tattooers really don’t have to fake anything for anybody, like we kind of dress, how we want talk, how we want. We just do whatever we want um at work, and it doesn’t really feel a whole lot different from how we act like in our regular lives or whatever um, which can be a really rewarding thing to be able to just like relax and be yourself all the Time it’s a really amazing thing.

I guess sometimes it’s kind of a bad thing, because it’s hard for me to like turn it off like when i go in public, and i realize that everybody like acts like normal people out there and [ __ ], and i’m like. Oh, i shouldn’t be talking about the things that i talk about when i’m just chilling in the tattoo shop or whatever. Sometimes you get a little bit too uh comfortable like that, and you got ta dial it back when you go to like social functions or family events where there are like those corporate type of people around or whatever um, but for the most part yeah, it’s pretty Um, it feels very free to be able to be yourself at work and not have to spend that huge chunk of time. That comprises a good like portion of your life, basically faking and being somebody that you’re not so, if you’re the type of person that really struggles with that, and can’t naturally do that and you don’t like being controlled, and you don’t like people telling you what to Do and you don’t like people telling you to fall in line, then definitely tattooing can be a really rewarding career for you. So the last point that i’m going to talk about in this section of the video kind of ties in with the stuff that i was just uh explaining, and that is that, if you are a tattooer, you can live an alternate lifestyle um.

That is outside of the status quo without very much penalty, and what i mean by that is that there is a lot of different ways to like be a tattooer. You know you can tattoo in a street shop, doing walk-ins all the time you can tattoo in a custom shop that does appointment only and kind of make your own schedule and uh pretty much do whatever you want. Whenever you want, you can tattoo out of your house and be a scratcher, you can be if you’re, really good, you can be a traveling tattooer, do nothing but conventions and live like a gypsy on the road and do 30 conventions a year all across whatever country. You live in, you can fly around if you’re, like super balling and really good at tattooing. You can fly around just tattoo people in hotel rooms all over the world and pretty much just like live out of a suitcase and uh live in different countries and cities.

For, like you know three four five six months at a time or maybe two weeks at a time, it’s really up to you and the reason why that’s possible, maybe there’s a couple reasons why that’s possible? One of them is because, once you gain the skill at tattooing – and you really know what you’re doing you can pretty much pick up and put your life down anywhere, you want and still have that with you like nobody’s ever going to be able to take that Away from you, you’ll be able to tattoo no matter what life circumstance you’re in as long as your hands, your eyes and your brain still work. So i don’t know, for instance, if you want to move to a totally different city um, it doesn’t really matter that. There’S like in a normal job with a normal corporation, let’s say you’re an aerospace engineer. For instance, you know you might only have four or five different cities in the united states that have large companies that are going to be able to hire you so that you can do the full scope of work that you want to do.

But if you’re a tattooer, you can move anywhere. You want from a small town to a big city to a different country whatever, and your skills are still going to be in demand. Unless, obviously, you move to a country where tattooing is illegal or something like that. But the majority of places where like people want to move, are going to have an accommodating environment for a tattooer, because there is a demand for that artistic skill. I mean, even if you get locked up and go to prison, still good, you can still tattoo and you’re going to have all the honey, buns and snickers bars that you want, because you possess a skill that nobody else does, and there is a demand for that.

So it adds value to you wherever you go, so you can live like whatever kind of lifestyle you want as a tattooer and um. I feel like a lot of people, do gravitate towards it um because of that, so it is a very like entrepreneurial type of uh career choice and it comes with a lot of the same freedoms that owning a business. Um comes with, except the difference is, if you own, a business, typically you’re gon na be tied to one physical location, assuming that you have like a brick and mortar type of business, where you have to like sign a lease or something like that. But tattooing is almost like uh, you know another career choice that might be kind of similar to it is, if, like you, learn how to code really well and you can work remotely pretty much from wherever you want. You could just be on your computer on a beach or whatever sending files to some people and still getting paid the same amount of money.

That’S a similar amount of freedom to what you have tattooing, except the difference, is you’re doing something with visual art. Instead of technology, you know what actually there is one more thing i want to discuss for this section of the video. I know i said that that last point was the last thing for this section, but there’s one thing that i thought of that might um indicate that tattooing is the right career choice for you, and that is, if you are the type of person that gets bored Very easily doing something repetitive day in and day out, um in your job, so most like regular jobs, i can think of you’re pretty much doing the same [ __ ] over and over and over and in my experience, what happens to me when i work in Those type of jobs is, i feel, interested in them when i first start doing them like the process of learning the ins and outs of whatever task it is that i’m supposed to complete all the time and then coming up with like an effective and efficient like Solution, um or method, or whatever, to execute that task. But after i start getting good at it, it almost feels like i’m just like somebody in a factory like pulling a lever over and over on an assembly line, and ultimately i end up in a situation where i come to work dreading it every day, because it Is so mundane and i’m just like literally looking at the [ __ ] clock on the wall and counting the minutes until my shift is up and then, after that i clock out, and you know i exploit and enjoy all the time that i have up until I have to go back to work and when i go back to work, i dread it again. Tattooing is the only job that i’ve ever had.

That doesn’t feel like that, and the reason why is because every day is a little bit different. You know you’re always um doing some new unique type of project. At least you know. For me, i got like a different style of tattooing that i’m doing every day, different subject matter different clients, different people, different conversations that i’m having and also like, there’s a lot of pressure in tattooing. So me personally, like i enjoy pressure and i feel like i perform better when i’m like backed into a corner, and it makes it it’s like a little bit of a rush.

You know so tattooing is the only job that i’ve found where that pressure is enjoyable to where it’s just stressful enough to bring the best out of me. But it’s not stressful enough to where i feel like it’s a negative thing in terms of how much stress i’m undergoing on a day-to-day basis. So if you enjoy like mixing it up and doing something different every day, then you feel like you get bored in regular jobs really easily. Tattooing might be a really great career choice for you as well. Okay, so in this next section of the video i’m going to talk about reasons why tattooing might not be a good career choice for you and the first reason that i’m going to discuss for why it might not be a good idea to become a tattooer is, If you are choosing tattooing as a career, because you think it’s going to be an easy job, so in my nine years of professional tattooing, i’ve probably seen like i don’t know – 15 or 20 people um attempting to complete an apprenticeship – and i feel like out of Those 15 or 20, maybe only two or three, actually ended up becoming professional tattooers and if i think about all the people that failed and the people that didn’t make it, i think one of the things they had in common is that they assumed that tattooing was Going to be a really easy and uh lacks type of job um, and they were like really really wrong about that, so they were overwhelmed once they got deeper into their apprenticeship and they started realizing like damn these.

These [ __ ] right here are having a lot of fun, but they’re also going hard and they’re putting in a giant amount of work, and not only that, but there’s nobody like cracking the whip on them and telling them to do that like they’re doing it All on their own um, which is gon na, be part of a point that i’m gon na make in a little while in this video. But you know what i’m trying to say is that tattooing by no means is easy to get into, and it’s not easy to continue doing it um. You know you have to practice a lot. You have to draw a lot. You have to work on a multitude of skills.

Um. You know it’s hard on your body. Uh your hands, hurt your back. Hurts your eyes, hurt it’s one of those things where you really are making a lot of sacrifices for this career and um. Those sacrifices.

Never really stop. It continues on until you stop tattooing, so um. If you are thinking that you’re gon na get into tattooing because it seems laid back to you, that’s probably not um. That’S probably an indication that it’s not the right career choice for you, because, even though it is fun, it is really really difficult and it takes a massive amount of work to become a tattoo artist, um, especially up front, because you make really like [ __ ] Money doing it um in the beginning, but it’s also a lot of work and a lot of pressure, even when you become successful at it. So that brings me to the next uh part of my um reasons, for why tattooing might not be right for you and um.

That is, tattooing might not be a good career choice for you if you are getting into it, because you think you’re gon na make a bunch of money and uh. You know the reason for that. The reason i’m putting this in the video is because i feel like a lot of people, look at how much tattooers make hourly um like how much they charge hourly and they assume that that’s the same amount that they make hourly like 40 hours a week. You know the same that you would if you had like a paycheck at a regular job, so you would figure looking at the industry from the outside that. If i make 100 bucks an hour and i work 40 hours a week, then that means i’m making four grand a week a week right.

It’S not really true. If you’re charging 100 bucks an hour, most likely you’re not booked out toward your tattooing 40 hours a week, and if you are tattooing 40 hours a week, then you’re not working 40 hours a week, you’re probably working more, like 60 70 80 hours a week, because You’Ve got to draw these designs up and you’ve got to count all that time. You’Re, not tattooing that you’re spending answering text messages emails all that sort of stuff setting up consultations talking to clients. You know i mean preparing designs, buying art supplies, setting up your station. Breaking down your stations, a lot of [ __ ] to it, that is outside of like the physical act of tattooing, where you’re building a client and um you know like.

I said: that’s assuming that you are tattooing, pretty much full time and a lot of tattoos when they first start out. They’Re, not you know: tattooing like every single minute of every single day, they’re in the shop they’re pretty much sitting around for a lot of days. Just waiting for walk-ins to come in and sometimes no walk-ins come in and you have what we call a zero day in the industry where, essentially, you sit there at the shop, all [ __ ] day and you don’t make any money at all, and that is Pretty common in the beginning of your career and, sadly, that’s pretty common for a lot of artists, even late in their career um. You know what even if they’ve been tattooing for a long amount of time if they never get to a skill level to where their clientele um is like self-sustaining and like generating new like business through word of mouth and people being like. Oh, it’s a cool tattoo and where’d.

You get that um and then they refer people to you uh. You know. If you never get to that skill level, then pretty much you’re never going to really get to the point where you’re tattooing um in a way where you’re totally booked out and you’re making money consistently all the [ __ ] time. So you know in in my experience or in my estimate. Rather i would say that the majority of tattooers, maybe like i don’t know, 65 percent of tattooers – are making a very very average amount of money or maybe even below average.

If you consider like the national like wage or whatever, and i’m saying like what the the average american makes and with the amount of work that it takes to become a tattooer for a lot of people, it’s not worth it and um. You know. I think that the only thing that keeps those tattooers going that are making a below average amount of money, but still doing it is because they had they have what i was first talking about in the beginning of the video. It’S because they have that passion. For the art and that’s what keeps them going and that’s what makes it worth it for them, because money is not everything and i mean to these people they’re still doing what they love and that’s the reason why they keep on doing it and that’s the reason Why they shouldn’t stop because they’re not selling their life and, ultimately that’s the reward for working in the career field.

They are, but if you’re coming into the [ __ ] tattoo industry – and you think i’m gon na come in here and start balling with this hundred bucks an hour 150 bucks an hour 200 bucks an hour or whatever it is, and you’re not willing to put In the work then you’re in for a really rude awakening and um, you know it might not be the right career choice for you. If that’s like your primary consideration for why you want to be a tattooer all right, i know that was kind of lengthy there. Um, i promise these other points, i’m not going to spend as much time on here. The second point that i have here is that you probably shouldn’t be a professional tattooer or pursue tattooing as a career. If the reason why you want to be a tattooer is because you want to live like a rock star and what i mean by that is like a lot of people that i’ve met want to get into the tattoo industry, because they have this image in their Head of what it’s going to be like, once, they become a professional tattooer where they’re like oh [, __ ], i’m going to be able to do as many drugs as i want.

While i’m working, i’m gon na be able to [ __ ] show up late and uh just kind of do whatever the [ __ ]. I want with the tattoo design and scribble [ __ ] on people and they’re gon na pay me, regardless of whether or not it’s good or bad, and i’m gon na get hella [, __ ] and all this [ __ ] like. Let me tell you right now: okay, i don’t tattoo when i’m [ __ ] up, because i feel like i’m gon na, do a shitty job and if i do a shitty job, then i’m not gon na [ __ ] continue to get paid because people aren’t Gon na say good things about me, um when it comes to the tattoos that i put on their body they’re, going to have only bad things to say so and personally, i feel like when i tattoo, when i’m all stoned or something like that. It makes me slower at working, so i don’t tattoo when i’m stoned um once in a while a tattoo when i’m drinking like a convention or something like that, and i don’t do no other drugs or party at all. While i’m tattooing, i’m like focused and i’m sober and i’m [ __ ] 100 miles an hour in professional mode when i’m doing this [ __ ], because i want to be successful at this and if you want to be successful at it, then it you might Want to consider um, you know, being a responsible human being.

Don’T get me wrong. I know a lot of tattooers that they’re [ __ ] hella good and they only tattoo when they’re all [ __ ] up like that when they’re stoned or whatever i know some tattooers that you know will get all [ __ ] up on heroin and that’s How they like to work, but that’s not everybody. You know some people are real highly functioning [, __ ] people in that certain respect and some people aren’t – and i don’t think you should pursue it. If that’s the primary reason for why you want to get into it is because you think it’s going to be a party the whole time all right. So another reason why it might be a bad idea to become a professional tattooer is, if you need a lot of structure in your life and what i mean by that is like, if you’re the type of person that doesn’t really do very well.

When everything is left up to you like in terms of decision making and like you know your schedule and like how hard you have to work and deadlines and all that kind of [ __ ], if you’re really terrible at that, then you might not want to Become a tattooer because at the end of the day, it really is all on you in terms of whether or not you are going to be successful or you’re not going to be successful. And if you don’t have the grit and the um like the motivation. The intrinsic motivation to do those things on your own without somebody telling you to then you’re, probably going to fail if you try to become a professional tattooer. So you know this one right here. I can kind of go back and forth on, like i feel like in general people that are good at managing their time, and you know their resources like money and [ __ ] like that uh.

They do better in the tattoo industry. But i have seen some people that don’t naturally possess skill at those things that end up making it and becoming very successful anyway, but that’s because they have a really abnormal, like extreme passion for the art and that kind of makes up for it. You know like the art is the most important thing. If you really like give a lot of [ __ ] about tattooing and art in general, then you’re – probably gon na succeed at this. But one thing that could kind of work against you and lessen your chances of succeeding is definitely going to be.

If you aren’t able to manage yourself in terms of um being accountable and staying disciplined and basically keeping your word to yourself and keeping promises to yourself when you say you’re going to do stuff, because at the end of the day, like i said, nobody else is Going to tell you to do it and, as a matter of fact, it is one of those jobs where people are going to tell you not to do it. People are going to tell you that you can’t succeed that it’s a stupid idea that you’re wasting your time you’re spinning your wheels and that maybe you should quit and go and get a job with one of your buddies that [ __ ] lays tile for a Living or something like that, there’s going to be a lot of naysayers and a lot of people that are telling you that you can’t do this for a living and, if you’re the type of person that isn’t strong enough to ignore that and move past. That and continue on, because you have a vision and you want to blaze your own trail. Then tattooing might not be the right career for you, because everybody that gets into this job has to go through that and they have to be able to push themselves and be self-reliant in terms of their own. Like emotional support system, because there probably ain’t going to be anybody, coughing you in the industry – and i can damn sure uh say that it’s not going to be your mentor.

Whoever teaches you how to tattoo is not going to be right. There holding your hand through the entire [ __ ] thing, so you got to be a strong person like you really have to be very self-sufficient, and you have to have a lot of belief in yourself to do this job so yeah. I think that’s about it. Those are all the reasons why you might not want to become a tattooer um. Hopefully, this video is gon na reach the right people and it’s gon na you know maybe turn some light bulbs on and um convince people like push them over the edge where they’re like.

Maybe i will go ahead and try that out and go and do that, and hopefully you guys gain some information from it. Some benefit from it. If you guys want to see uh pictures of my tattoos or check out like my own online portfolio or whatever you can always go to my instagram, it’s at james with the tattoo check all that stuff out. If you want to get tattooed by me, then go to my website, it is and uh.

Look at the contact section on there. There’S like a form that you fill out shoot me an email, i’ll, look through it and uh. You know if it’s gon na work out, then i’ll go ahead and respond to it and we’ll get everything scheduled and get it figured out, but um yeah. In any case, i really hope you guys enjoy the video, and i hope that for those people that aren’t looking to become professional tattooers, it was uh entertaining and insightful and uh yeah hope you have a nice day, see ya. Okay, so now that we’re at the end, there is one more thing that i want to mention, and that’s that this video is sponsored by skillshare.

Skillshare is an online learning community that has like thousands of different classes for creators and it’s a really great way to explore new skills and beef up your knowledge and ability and whatever creative endeavor you choose. The types of classes that you can take on. Skillshare are really wide in variety and they include stuff like uh, freelancing, uh, fine, art, videography, filmmaking all sorts of stuff. One of the classes, specifically that i liked, when i was looking through the skillshare website, was one called start. Drawing techniques for pencil, portraits taught by a person named gabrielle bricky.

One thing i really liked about this course specifically – was that she’s really comprehensive in the way that she explains everything in terms of like how to draw a pencil portrait. So she covers, like uh different materials. You’Ll need to start the process, uh specific techniques that you might be using when you’re drawing pencil, portraits and also one thing that i really really liked was that she covered like the anatomy of the human face, which is super important. If you want to be a good portrait artist to like know where those anatomical landmarks are um, so that you can kind of recognize them more easily when you’re matching information from the reference to the actual art, you’re, creating so yeah overall skillshare is a really great Learning tool, regardless of your current level, of skill like whether or not you’re a novice or whether or not you’re, intermediate or advanced, and you know it’s really great, because there’s no ads and they’re also constantly putting on like new material onto the website, so that there Are new classes for you to continue your learning the first 1000 people that click on the link in the description of this video are gon na get a one month, free trial, membership of skillshare and uh yeah go ahead and try it out and see if you, Like it, hopefully you benefit from it. Thanks for watching you,

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