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You know, I think I could throw a rock in any general direction and hit a good tattooer. It seems like they’re everywhere these days. It’s had me thinking about the challenges that today’s tattoo apprentices face as well as the problems that we encounter as mentors.
In my last post, I talked about the perceived “hard and fast” rules of tattooing and how important it is to understand the principles behind putting in a solid tattoo (see original post here). One of the greatest hurdles that we, as mentors, face when taking on a new apprentice, is teaching these principles while ensuring that we are not creating miniature versions of ourselves. An important thing to keep in mind when apprenticing an artist is to make every effort to help them stay true to the way that they naturally work. When we start to control the way that another artist makes marks or builds a composition, we take away the very components that make that artist unique. The same components that drew us to take them under our wing to begin with. That, in my mind, is the biggest dilemma.
So, what’s the solution? We have to help them to make their drawings “tattooable”, right? They have to develop the ability to make clean consistent lines and solid fields of color. How do we teach these fundamental skills, without influencing our young artist’s mark making? To be honest, I don’t have the answer. I do, however, have an idea
I believe the best solution is to help our apprentices learn to problem solve instead of offering our personal solutions to their problems. For example, instead of telling them how you would make changes to their composition, simply present the issue that you see within the current composition (ex. the design seems bottom heavy, this area is visually confusing, etc.) and let the artist come up with their own solution to the problem.
As far as how they make marks on the skin, it might be a little more difficult to sit back and let them experiment, but I still believe that presenting the issue instead of the solution is the way to go. I used to tell beginning artists that their lines would be cleaner and more consistent if they pulled the lines using their elbow instead of bending at the wrist. This is, in fact, the way that I make consistent marks. It may not, however, be their most natural way to make a mark. I try to keep these ideas in mind when offering advice. Do they make a difference? I hope so. Either way, I believe the best new artists entering our craft will eventually find their voice within the medium. It’s our job to find a way to guide them without controlling every mark they make along the way.