What should the perfect tattoo apprentice portfolio include?

how to build a tattoo apprentice portfolio?

What is a tattoo apprentice portfolio?

A portfolio for a tattoo apprenticeship is a carefully selected collection of your artwork, with a very particular purpose – showing your artistic potential to become a successful tattoo artist.

I stress the word “potential” because this is an application for professional training, not a visual résumé to get a job.
You are not yet qualified for the job itself, and you should be worth the time and effort invested in teaching you.

I hope the required humbleness comes across here, guys.

Your Artistic Education

So you’d think the first thing you should be doing if you want to get a tattoo apprenticeship is create an art portfolio showcasing your technical abilities and style.

But wait a minute. Or an art degree. Or at least a bunch of drawing classes.

Educate yourself artistically because that’s what makes the difference between a childish doodle and an aesthetically pleasing piece of art.

Learn color theory, value, hue and saturation; study how the light defines objects in space, composition, dynamics, anatomy. Sounds heavy? well, those are FUNDAMENTALS.

It doesn’t matter how talented you are if your technique is lacking.

So first, let’s make friends with the concept of The Reference.

THE REFERENCE – a study, not a copyright violation

Yes, you may be a creativity animal, your ideas may be wild and original, but if you cannot convey them in a way they will be understood correctly, i.e. press the right emotional buttons in the viewer, then they haven’t got a way out, they remain locked inside your mind.

Bad art can ruin good ideas.

So look up for references:
For the image below (work-in-progress!) I looked up the anatomy of a raven’s skull, the berries, the rose’s texture etc. It is far from perfect proportion-wise but I had no idea what a raven’s skull looked like before this drawing.

I thought I remember how blackberries look and I realized I had no idea of their structure when I tried to recreate them out of memory.

a piece from my art portfolioThis is why your preceding art education and research is so important, and the results of those studies should show in your portfolio.

Technique and Creativity – the intimate dance

What should the perfect portfolio include?
In two words: technique and creativity, both wrapped up in a presentation or display that conveys a tattooing concept/style and introduces YOU (We’ll get to the casing and presentation next time).

An impressive portfolio can take up to a few months if you really put the time and thought into it.


Your portfolio should be showcasing traditionally laid out tattoo flash sheets – meaning you’re familiar with the format, with what’s popular/trendy and you can pull it off (i.e. popular motifs like dream-catchers, mandalas, roses, skulls, etc); whatever you like as long as it’s in YOUR style of drawing (e.g. realism, newschool, dotwork, watercolor, etc) and not copied.

Show different art mediums you like (and know how) to work with, (watercolors, color pencils, ink, graphite, etc).

tattoo flash layout

Besides the visual effect of mastering a technique, it also shows you have put the time and effort to master it, so you have perseverance, patience and motivation, which are essential for a tattoo apprentice.


But the most important part of your portfolio should be showcasing YOUR art; what you draw for yourself, what you would like to tattoo someday. This second part of your portfolio should have no imitated ideas but only your own with the unique mark that YOU make; this part should be enhanced and emphasized.

a piece from my art portfolio

If your sketchbook is something to look at, you can attach it to your portfolio as a bonus: a peek into your doodles.

  • Remember:  TALENT= mastered technique + creativity
    But a successful tattoo artist is the one with the talent package AND the good communication skills, so don’t send all of this by email!
    Show up there and make friends :)An apprenticeship is an intense and demanding process which takes at least a couple of years, and that makes it a relationship between you and your mentor and the rest of the staff at the shop, so be nice to be with.

Come on, put up your artwork in the group forum! JOIN HERE.

Love and Ink,


10 thoughts on “What should the perfect tattoo apprentice portfolio include?

  1. Hey Noa!

    I’ve got a friend who’s really talented and draws incredible art works, and she’s thinking about moving into the tatoo world.

    These are really interesting tips in order to create her portfolio and be able to start in this world.

    Do you have any other advice for novice people trying to make themselves a name in this world?

    Thanks and by the way I love your art! So cool! 😉

    1. Thank you, Israel! Your friend is more than welcome to visit the website, there’s a lot of tips coming up! But here’s an important piece of advice: mind the presentation of the portfolio. I will elaborate in the coming post! Please let me know how your tattoo is coming along:) 

  2. Very interesting. I’ve been impressed with quality tattoo artists for a long time. The fact that this is going on another human has to be a stressful thought. You can’t rip it out, crumble it up, and throw it out which is what happens when I take ink to paper. Your images look great to me. Your site is pleasant, the post flows well with good information.

    1. That is so true, you can’t just throw a bad tattoo away. Combined with the fact that wherever this other human goes, they’ll say who tattooed them so it better be good:)

  3. Wow! I certainly agree that talent is a combination of both a mastered technique and creativity. This does not only apply to tattoo art but everything in general, very eye-opening write-up!

  4. hii noa , I’m just wondering is there an real time limit on becoming a tattoo artist?? and when i have my portfolio done can i just go into any closest shop an ask the manager?? bonie ,thanks g..

    1. Hi love, sorry for replying SO late. if it’s still relevant -no there is no time limit. I invite you to join our facebook group THE TATTOO APPRENTICE CLUB where you will meet apprentices over 50 years old:) When you have your portfolio you can upload it in the group and get more specific and accurate advice, but generally speaking, you don’t want to apprentice at ANY shop just because it’s close by. Research the artist you are approaching and make sure it’s someone you value enough to teach you. join the group and we’ll help you!

    1. it varies. Some old fashioned studios will want to see the originals and some will do with am emailed photograph version. make sure your originals are cleanly presented. for further assistance please join THE TATTOO APPRENTICE CLUB group on Facebook, you will be able to upload your art and get more specific and accurate advice from the apprentices and mentors community:)

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