Tattoos have come a long way in America, today serving as both fashion statement as well as a unique marker of identity and personal expression, and NYC alone boasts more than 270 tattoo shops. When it comes to the art we adorn our bodies with, none is more important than the talented artists responsible for bringing a design to life and transferring it onto our body – especially since it’s permanent! But how does one become a tattoo artist, exactly? We caught up with Bart Bingham of New York Adorned to find out.

When did you decide to become a tattoo artist, and how did you get your start?

To be honest, I initially had no interest in tattooing. I was a fulltime student and I had a fulltime job, and I just needed something easy to do to make some extra money since I was living out of my car at the time. I walked into a tattoo shop, still very young, and got my first job there. I’ve always drawn, but I had no deeper interest in drawing, tattooing or pursuing art as a career. I was actually looking at going into the medical field, which is what I was studying in school. I was very young when I started, in my teens, and then by the time I turned 22 or 23, I was more into going out and having fun, getting drunk, so I was showing up to my other job late most days, showing up for school less and less, and this job tattooing was suddenly a lot more fun – I was getting really good at it, so I quit school and quit my other job, and finally focused more on tattooing.

Could you tell us about the first time you tattooed someone? What was that like?

The very first time I tattooed someone, I wasn’t worried at all. I was 16 or 17 years old, and I didn’t care about much – I was just an arrogant little teenager. I didn’t plan on being a tattoo artist – it was just a job for me to do while I was doing my ‘real’ job and going to school, so I wasn’t really worried about whether I was good at it or not. Years later, after I became really good at it, it suddenly mattered, like now I’m nervous. I’ve been doing this for 20-something years and I still get nervous when I’ve got to tattoo, because now it’s so important to me and I care about what I’m doing. When I was younger, it was just fun and easy. Obviously, it wasn’t really fun or easy then – I was a terrible tattoo artist for the first ten years. It was probably a good ten years before I put a good tattoo on someone.

What is one tip you’d give someone who’s interested in becoming a tattoo artist?

There are way too many tattoo artists as it is, and since the popularity of tattooing has grown, there have been a lot more people interested in getting tattoos, but there’s also been a lot more people interested in creating tattoos. So it’s kind of like I explain to people: If you’re throwing a party and you’re inviting five people and you buy a pie, that’s plenty of pie for a few guests. But then, now that tattooing is more popular, or if the party is now for 500 guests, you’re going to need a lot more pie. That’s kind of how tattooing is, it grows with demand.

If you really want to be a tattoo artist, the most important thing is to go get tattooed – meet tattoo artists, get tattooed, and build your portfolio.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

The best part of my job is that even on my worst day, I get to come in and create, draw pictures all day.

When did you realize this is what you want to do?

The moment I realized I wanted to be a tattoo artists was after I’d been tattooing for a few years. I was losing interest in the medical field more and more… and more. It was very stressful, since I was working in the ER. I’m more of a chill, laid-back dude, and emergency medicine – which I was interested in –  is highly stressful. As I slowly lost interest in medicine, tattooing was becoming more fun – I was getting better at it, I liked the feeling of accomplishment when I put a good tattoo on someone, and I wasn’t getting that feeling from medicine or school anymore. I was doing well in school, but that’s just really about memorizing stuff. When I was tattooing, I was actually creating something new – feeling happy with it, putting the tattoo on my clients, seeing how they look at it, how they feel better about themselves, then feel happy.

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