Tattooers Are Fed Up With Corrupt Tattoo Schools—Here’s What You Need to Know
A few weeks ago, we put out an article on tattoo schools, however, after speaking to artists, Myke Chambers, Eric Perfect, and Chad Knight, we learned that these scammers are much worse than we ever imagined. If you believe that tattoo schools are out there in doing good in the world, well think again because the tattoo industry will tell you otherwise. Chambers, Perfect, Knight, and several other Philadelphia artists recently staged a peaceful protest against the Academy of Responsible Tattooing (a.k.a A.R.T), a chain of tattoo schools called “Body Art and Soul” that has been growing rapidly in numbers. They promise prospective students that they will become successful artists in a mere nine months, just as long as they shell out cash for the program. They believe that tattooers don’t need to go through an apprenticeship to work in the business and that a school is their best possible option. However, as these artists will tell you, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A.R.T is a pyramid scheme at best, a scamming agency employing to prey on ignorant prospective artists who have been “burned” in the process of getting an apprenticeship. They’re charging students upfront for a tattoo education and instantly blacklisting them from working at any tattoo shop beside the ones set up for the schools. They are manipulating impressionable people looking for a career change that tattooing will make them rich and famous—when really, the people running this company have no understanding or respect for the tattoo industry. However, tattooers are working to put a stop to the madness that is A.R.T and it’s time that the public learned what these schools are really about.
Inked: How are these schools luring in students?
“They do a seminar where they charge $350 and they say it’s to teach how these people to get an apprenticeship. They teach you about cross contamination, how to set up a tattoo machine, and then they have you tattoo a grapefruit. But they really do is try to size you up for their school.”—Myke Chambers
The Big Issue
Inked: Why are tattoo schools much a bad idea?
“There are a million reasons why I think they’re messed up. For the general public’s viewpoint, of people who don’t know tattooing, they think that we’re being elitist because we want people to go through apprenticeships. But we’re not elitists, we only want people that work with their blood, sweat, and tears.
They think that apprenticeships are where you get hazed, bullied and that just the shop bitch—but that’s not the case. An apprenticeship is also not charged, but it’s paid off by cleaning, doing tubes, and answering phones—which are things that tattooers doing anyways. I’ve been tattooing for twenty years and I still clean and mop the floors or take out the trash.
And then people from the outside will say that we’re just afraid of the competition. I personally am not afraid of competition and no one at my shop needs to worry about the competition. The only thing that I’m afraid to come out of a tattoo school is someone who does a bad tattoo, spreads diseases, and stuff like that. The general public thinks that it’s a tattoo shop and that it’s a qualified business, so they go in there to get a tattoo from a qualified artist but in reality, they’re getting a tattoo from someone who is still in training.
The main problem is that this is a nine month school, which is better than the two-week schools, but it’s not much better. Any type of school is not okay. If they had instructors who were the best tattooers in the world leading these classes and teaching theses classes, it’s still not okay.
Because when you have twenty to thirty people in these classes for nine months, they cannot get a job in an established tattoo shop. So what they have to do is open their own shop or work in the tattoo school’s shops. So this is basically a big huge scam because the people running it know that their graduates cannot get jobs. These guys know that they can’t work anywhere besides these tattoo shops and they are unpaid what an actual tattooer would make. Every time this happens, twenty new tattoo shops in the town, the market is already over saturated. Not this generation, maybe the next one, or long after I’m dead—tattooing could become a hobby that people just do out of their house.
Because if there’s a tattoo shop on every street, no one is going to be able to make money. There may be a hair salon on every street, but a haircut grows out and you keep going back. There are constantly more people turning 18 every day but there are not enough people to support all of these tattoo shops that are going to be opening.”—Myke Chambers.
Inked: What is the most upsetting part of this scheme?
“The most upsetting thing is that they promise you, if you pay a certain amount of money, that you’re going to be a certified tattoo artist. I don’t know what the fuck that means because it doesn’t exist. You’re going to walk into my shop with a certificate that says you went to tattoo school, I’m going to tell you to get the fuck out of here. To me, it’s a joke.
The people that are the “educators” maybe have two to five years of experience, and these are guys that learned there—they’ve never been anywhere else other than the umbrella of tattoo schools. The main guy, no one knows who he is. He acts like a world famous tattoo artist, but no one knows him and his work’s terrible. And the guy who’s his partner isn’t even tattooed! He’s a money man. To me, this is corporate tattooing. But that’s not what tattooing is about.
This is something that’s handed down from a mentor to a mentee. I hung out in shops and got tattooed, if I saw something out of place I fixed it or saw something that was dirty, I clean it. And that was even before I had my foot in the door. No one is willing to do that these days. They watch TV and say ‘I can do that.’ I would say that 90% of the people taking these classes are basically customers. We make it look easy because we’ve been doing it so long and they think that it’s easy. And the tattoo schools say it’s that easy, which it’s not. They’re basically scamming people. I’ve heard about 50 horror stories within the last month of people who’ve gone there.”—Eric Perfect
Inked: How do you feel about these students being handed a machine on their first day?
“My apprentice didn’t see a tattoo machine for a year and a half.
We talked to the teachers there and they knew none of the parts of a tattoo machine. They had no idea how to build a tattoo from the ground up. Besides the needles and the tubes, the machine is the most important part of tattooing. When the machine isn’t working right, instead of fixing it, they just toss the machine aside and buy a new one.
This has become the culture now. There’s a right way and a wrong way and the only one who is benefiting is the guy who’s making money. I have no problem with someone making money and running a clean operation, but this is just really irresponsible.”—Eric Perfect
Inked: How do you feel about the phrase, ‘Anyone Can Be a Tattooer’ that they’ve been promoting?
” It’s absurd. This is not for everyone if it was, then everyone would be doing it. Go to their facebook page and look at the first five or six pictures of the people who went to the school. None of them have tattoos! Personally, I wouldn’t go to a restaurant with a skinny chef and just because I’ve fixed one car, that doesn’t make me a mechanic. Just because you put a tattoo machine in someone’s hand, that doesn’t make them a tattooer.”—Eric Perfect.
Mediocre at Best
Inked: Do you see any quality work coming out of these schools?
” All they’re doing is trying to copy what they see in their curriculum and on the internet. They’re not changing tattooing for the better—artistically, health wise, legal wise.”—Eric Perfect
nked: Tell me why you’re going after A.R.T specifically?
“The guy that started this thing, got his first tattoo in February. He recently bought a medical supply company, because they have a backer who has a lot of money, and now they’re sending letters to try and buy tattoo shops. He’s trying to buy all of the tattoo shops that he can and build schools with even larger classrooms.”—Myke Chambers.
“Most of the guys who run these schools don’t know jack shit about tattooing. Because if they did, they would run a reputable shop and they would teach people right. When you take on an apprentice, that’s a three to five-year commitment and you’re with them every single day. I know with my apprentice, he’s a bonafide tattooer now but for the five years that we were together—it was every day. You have to be compatible and I don’t see how you can have that personalized training in a classroom setting. This ain’t nursing school.”—Eric Perfect
Consider Yourself Blacklisted
Inked: What would you say to people looking for jobs after A.R.T?
“The certificate they are given isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. No legitimate shop will recognize it to give you a job. Quite the opposite actually. It tells a potential employer that this person took a shortcut into the business and questions the integrity of that individual.
Being a great artist is one thing but compromising your education and bypassing the journey of a formal Apprenticeship speaks more about that person than how great of an artist they might be.”—Chad Knight
Not the Real Deal
Inked: So this is basically Trump University for aspiring tattooers?
“These schools are in no way accredited. They are not licensed by the board of education anywhere. They’re not zoned as schools and they’re charging people thousands of dollars to learn nothing.
I’ve had people who have gone to these schools come to me and tell me how terrible they are. They try to get you to get a loan so that you can pay for it all upfront.
Whenever I was at the protests, it was mostly immigrants who were attending these schools. It was young girls from South America and they’d just come here saying that they couldn’t learn to tattoo over there.
They’re also targeting Veterans and giving them a discounted rate. They’re taking money from the VA but they’re not an accredited school. To be clear, they’re just interested in the money.”—Myke Chambers
Doing It Right
Inked: How do people actually get an apprenticeship?
“I have people that come in multiple times a week saying, ‘Hey are you doing apprenticeships?’ That’s not how you do it. You don’t call a tattooer asking for an apprenticeship or comment on a picture saying ‘Apprentice Me.’
I had a girl walk into my shop and drop off a resume that’s just typed up words with no images. She had no tattoos and I’m definitely not going to apprentice someone who doesn’t have tattoos. It’s a very simple process to get an apprenticeship and it takes dedication.
First and foremost, you have to get the tattooer that you want to apprentice you to like you. You do that by getting tattooed in the shop and it’s almost like a courting type thing. You want them to want you around.
It’s not like applying for a job, it’s like joining a family and you want them to like you.”—Myke Chambers
Inked: What attracts customers to tattoo shops?
“Primarily the extremely low price. An experienced tattoo artist doesn’t need to constantly run tattoo specials like a soup kitchen to gather up business. And people might argue that if they are bad they won’t last however there are a lot of unsuspecting first-time clients that might not know any better either.
You would be amazed at some people’s criteria for good tattooing. Another point about the school is an educator lacks the skillfully trained eye of a veteran in the business thus reducing the acceptable standard of what is good.”—Chad Knight
Inked: How can we stop tattoo schools?
“If legitimate tattoo artists unite and stand together we can eradicate this nonsense. There can be no lukewarm position on the issue. This particular school is adamantly against us. They claim that they are responsible inferring we are not. The people at the top of this organization are not even rooted in our business so how can they attempt to make that sort of unfounded claim.
We need to be rational and excited for growth in our trade and we need to be mindful we are in an explosion of tattoo popularity and we need to protect what is and always has been sacred and keep it special.
The school is against that mentality. I personally cannot accept that type of thinking. If the public is educated and the victims of this scam see the light this kind of place will cease to exist. If everyone stays unyielding in this movement our message will prevail.”—Chad Knight