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A tattoo artist (also tattooer or tattooist) is an individual who applies permanent decorative tattoos, often in an established business called a "tattoo shop," "tattoo studio" or '"tattoo parlour." Tattoo artists usually learn their craft via an apprenticeship under a trained and experienced mentor.
To become a tattoo artist a person must first have a passion for art and for drawing and also be able to draw. A strong skill set in other visual media also will help in creating art on skin. The first step is to gain an apprenticeship from a person that is already skilled in the art of tattooing.
A tattoo apprenticeship traditionally lasts two years. For the first six months to a year, traditionally the apprentice is not allowed to tattoo but is trained in sanitation and proper safety techniques. The apprentice will be expected to clean and maintain the shop, as well as watch and continue to grow as an artist. This first year most apprentices quit and don't ever achieve full completion. The cost of apprenticing can range from free labor around the shop to tens of thousands of dollars. However, completing an apprenticeship is only the beginning of the education. A tattoo artist will always learn and perfect new techniques and skills from others throughout his or her career.
Tattoo artists can create original tattoos for their customers. Tattooists may use flash (pre-drawn, stock images that can be traced onto the skin) or variations of known designs.
A "scratcher" is a bad artist in reference to the bad quality of the shading on the skin; that looks "scratched" in rather than smooth. A "scratcher" is also known as someone who does tattoos at home, normally non-licensed and under the table.
Some of the tools of the trade have greatly evolved while some have stayed the same, such as the tattoo machine. In itself, the traditional machine has not changed from its original design and/or concept. With the rise of new machine designs, however, both air- and electric-powered tools such as the rotary and pneumatic tattoo machine have made their way into the industry. A practitioner may also use many different needle sets, such as round liner needles, round shader needles, flat shaders, and magnum (mag) needles. The amount of needles attached to the needle bar change, as well. For instance, large magnum needle groups range from 15 to 55 needles on one bar. A practitioner must have the basic tools to provide a tattoo. All other items at the artist's disposal are as different as each tattoo. Basic tools include the tattoo machine, power supply, clip cord, foot pedal, grip, tips, grip stem, needles, and tattoo ink.
The properly equipped tattoo studio will use biohazard containers for objects that have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids, sharps containers for old needles, and an autoclave for sterilizing tools. Certain jurisdictions also require studios by law to have a sink in the work area supplied with both hot and cold water.
Proper hygiene requires a body modification artist to wash his or her hands before starting to prepare a client for the stencil, between clients, after a tattoo has been completed, and at any other time where cross contamination can occur. The use of single use disposable gloves is also mandatory. In some countries and U.S. states it is illegal to tattoo a minor even with parental consent, and it is usually not allowed to tattoo impaired persons (e.g. someone intoxicated or under the influence of drugs), people with contraindicated skin conditions, those who are pregnant or nursing, or those incapable of consent due to mental incapacity. Before the tattooing begins the client is asked to approve the position of the applied stencil. After approval is given the artist will open new, sterile needle packages in front of the client, and always use new, sterile or sterile disposable instruments and supplies, and fresh ink for each session (loaded into disposable ink caps which are discarded after each client). Also, all areas which may be touched with contaminated gloves will be wrapped in clear plastic to prevent cross-contamination. Equipment that cannot be autoclaved (such as countertops, machines, and furniture) will be cleaned with a low level disinfectant and then wiped with an approved high level disinfectant.
The local health department can/will do a hands on inspection of tattoo studios every 4 months in the state of Tennessee. The venue will be graded based on the areas being inspected. If the studio passes an inspection, the health department will sign off on a passing scorecard and the studio will be required to show their score publicly. If the studio fails an inspection, they will be given the opportunity to correct the mistakes (if minor) or be fined (major health risks) and can also be placed out of business on the spot.
Also, the possession of a working autoclave is mandatory in most states. An autoclave is a medical sterilization device used to sterilize stainless steel. The autoclave itself will be inspected by the health department and required to submit weekly spore tests. However if these jurisdictions are up to date, they will not require an autoclave if the practitioners are using 100% disposable tubes and grips which are made of plastic and some grips are made of rubber. These come pre-sterilized for one time use.
Membership in professional organizations, or certificates of appreciation/achievement, generally helps artists to be aware of the latest trends. However, many of the most notable tattooists do not belong to any association. While specific requirements to become a tattooist vary between jurisdictions, many mandate only formal training in blood-borne pathogens, and cross contamination. The local department of health regulates tattoo studios in many jurisdictions.
For example, according to the health departments in Oregon and Hawaii, tattoo artists in these states are required to take and pass a test ascertaining their knowledge of health and safety precautions, as well as the current state regulations. Performing a tattoo in Oregon state without a proper and current license or in an unlicensed facility is considered a felony offense. Tattooing was legalized in New York City, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Oklahoma between 2002 and 2006.