How Do Tattoo Artists Learn to Draw?

The tattoo needle: the Ph.D. of pencils. The tattoo artist who has reached this level of mastery started off as a freshman learning the foundation of their craft: drawing.

Tattoo artists learn to draw by taking art and design classes online, at a college, or at a community center.

Of course, some artists are naturally gifted. But it is recommended for most people to complete some form of schooling. There are many courses to choose from. There are also a variety of places to take these classes.

The practice is just as important as the course itself! The most skilled person at their craft is the person who recognizes that repetition is the key to mastery.

What Art Courses Do Tattoo Artists Take?

When choosing courses, the more variety you have, the better. Of course, learning how to draw is the main focus. But good tattoo artists will look into expanding their horizons. They’ll learn how to work with many different mediums like watercolors, acrylics, and clay.

“Clay? How can sculpting help a tattoo artist learn to draw?”

To be able to draw well means you have to be able to see the shapes that make up an object. While sculpting, you must understand the form of each object to create the sculpture.

So, sculpting can help you identify structure and create cohesive drawings.

Tattoo artists also learn to draw by taking introductory graphic design courses. Graphic design implements the foundation of art itself!

Balance, alignment, repetition, proximity, contrast, and space are all crucial elements used in drawing and tattooing.

Studying the work of famous artists is also a great way tattoo artists learn to draw. They study the style and characteristics of these designs. They see which elements they can reproduce in their drawings and which techniques work best for them.

Where Can These Courses Be Found?

  • Online – there are many online classes to take for graphic design and for drawing. This works best for those with a hectic schedule or just prefer to learn at their own pace.
  • Community college – many community colleges offer all types of art classes. Most offer graphic design too.
  • University – if you want a more formal approach to the arts, getting an art degree is the best option.
  • Community centers – some community centers offer sculpting and painting classes. This may not be the best option for graphic design, however. And sometimes, drawing lessons are limited or for children only.

How Much Schooling Is Needed?

Determining how much time spent learning how to draw is entirely up to the artist! Of course, the more practice and knowledge you have about a subject is always better.

It’s best not to rush the learning process and really take in every technique possible. Really immerse yourself in studying all about art and design. You can never have too much knowledge, and there is always something new to learn.

But what about people who don’t want to dedicate the time to learn to draw?

Can You Still Be A Tattoo Artist If You Can’t Draw?

Yes, you can. But you probably won’t be a good one. Why?

There are two main reasons:

  • You can’t make original handmade designs.
  • You won’t be able to modify tattoos per request.

Not being able to draw severely restricts the capacity at which you can perform.

What happens when a client wants modifications to their tattoo design?

What if they’d like a custom tattoo?

Most people who get tattoos don’t want something everyone else has. They may have a design that holds a special place in their heart. Maybe a loved one’s old drawing. A pet’s eyes, perhaps.

Not being able to draw will put you in a really awkward position in these situations, and your clientele will be incredibly limited. And if you can’t draw, you’ll be relying on generic designs that may not always fit the client’s needs.

The good news is, if you jump into tattooing before you are great at drawing, you still have the option of tattooing market flash designs. It’s a great place to start but not a great place to stay. It is still essential you learn to draw.

What Are Flash Tattoos?

Flash tattoos are pre-made designs that generally come with a stencil and can be done in one sitting. The two types of flash designs are market tattoos and collector tattoos.

Market flash tattoos are simple tattoo designs. They are the ones you usually see while sitting in the lobby. The hearts, infinity signs, or simple roses. If you aren’t skilled at drawing yet, this is an excellent option for you.

Collector flash tattoos are designs made from the artists themselves. These are unique, and a lot of clients tend to want them. These are created by hand, so they require that you have excellent drawing skills.

Collector tattoos are typically drawn the same way other tattoos are drawn. By using a sketchbook or a drawing tablet.

The Tablet: Paper or Digital?

Tattoo artists usually draw their designs by using a drawing tablet or old-fashioned pencil and paper.

When it comes to choosing the method by which to draw their design, the artist’s preference usually depends on the tattoo design. It could also depend on experience level with technology.

Some tattoo artists aren’t technologically savvy enough to use a tablet and stick with a sketchbook. Others decide to take the leap and learn how to use a drawing tablet. They see the benefits of being skilled at both.

The more knowledge you have in this industry, the more well-rounded and competent you will be.

Advantages of Using Drawing Tablets

Drawing tablets have become increasingly popular.

Artists are able to use a picture of the person they are tattooing and draw the design directly on the desired body part. This is super useful for clients who are unsure where they want their tattoo or how large they want it.

Drawing tablets also allow tattoo artists to create intricate designs with ease. Normally they would spend a lot of time drawing each line or pattern individually. But with a drawing tablet, they can use special digital tools to effortlessly duplicate them.

Best Tattoo Drawing Books?

Fortunately, there are quite a few books to help people learn to draw tattoos. However, when looking for a book to help you learn to draw, don’t limit yourself to those dedicated only to tattoos. You can expand your search to include those related to things like calligraphy and even animal or tattoo drawings. Here’s a list of some of my favorite books:

Advantages of Using A Pencil and Paper

There are still a lot of tattoo artists who prefer to use a simple sketchbook and a pencil. Using this method is ideal for simpler drawings or portraits. It is also more cost-effective.

Some artists also find the tactility of pencil on paper to be more therapeutic than drawing on a tablet.

The feel of drawing on paper or a tablet and tattooing on the skin, however, is wildly different!

How different is tattooing from drawing?

So, you’ve gathered all the necessary drawing skills, and you think you’re ready to jump in and start tattooing. Think again!

Tattooing involves much more than moving a pencil across a sketchbook. Or a stylus across a screen. Many different factors are influencing the needle that don’t affect the pencil or stylus.

Paper and screens don’t bleed, feel pain, or cry. People do.

When tattooing, the artist has to be a lot more careful than drawing. They have to ensure their needle depth is correct to prevent too much bleeding from the client.

The worst thing to happen with the paper is a rip or tear if you push down too hard. But you can always turn the page. You can’t do that with skin.

Another significant difference between tattooing and drawing is permanence. You can always correct a mistake while drawing with an eraser. If you are drawing with a pen, you can simply get a fresh sheet of paper.

And if you are using a drawing tablet, you quickly press the undo button. Our skin might be able to erase error marks hundreds of years from now in a futuristic society. But unfortunately, it can’t do that now.

The moment the needle penetrates the skin, there is no turning back!


Learning to draw is crucial for being a good, well-rounded tattoo artist. It gives the artist more flexibility and can increase their clientele. It eliminates awkward moments of not being able to perform a task that is asked of them.

Finding places to learn to draw is easier now than ever for tattoo artists! They can attend many different online courses, attend a local college, a university, or even find a class at their community center.

Tattoo artists will benefit from not limiting themselves to just drawing classes. They will enhance their overall skills by learning how to use different mediums. The artist should also consider graphic design courses to help strengthen basic knowledge of design.

Despite all this knowledge and training, being good at drawing doesn’t mean you will automatically be good at tattooing. It is also a skill that needs to be mastered! Drawing only enhances the ability to perform well as a tattoo artist. Tattooing itself takes practice.

Tattoo artists who learn to draw first are setting themselves up to become exceptional at their craft. They’ll create unique designs that will make people ask, “Wow! How’d you learn to draw like that?”.