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Body artist or tattooist

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Summary of occupation

Body artists decorate their customers' skin using techniques such as tattooing, piercing and branding. While some body artists may perform a combination of techniques, many will specialise in one area, usually either tattooing or piercing. They consult with customers on the design, location and size of the artwork. When working with tattoos, they may create an entirely new design for a customer, modify an existing design or apply a design that the customer has developed. Body artists also advise customers on after-care procedures to avoid infection and help keep a tattoo looking its best.

ANZSCO description: Decorates, adorns or modifies the human body either permanently or temporarily by using a range of techniques such as tattooing by inserting ink under layers of skin, painting or dyeing the skin; piercing by implanting jewellery and other bio-compatible material in or under the skin; and modification by cutting, branding, manipulating, stretching and scarring to change the shape of or create patterns in the skin, using scalpel, heat and restraining techniques (registration or licensing may be required).
Alternative names:
Specialisations:
Job prospects: Limited
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

A body artist needs:

  • a high level of creative and artistic ability
  • good interpersonal skills and the ability to keep customers calm and at ease
  • good hand-eye coordination and steady hands
  • to be comfortable with needles and the sight of blood
  • a high level of personal hygiene
  • to be able to maintain concentration and focus for long periods of time
  • a responsible attitude to work (to eliminate the risk of transmitting blood-borne viruses).
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Working conditions

Body artists work in clean, well-lit and sterile studios throughout Western Australia. They must maintain a high standard of hygiene and cleanliness, both for themselves and their clients. Equipment must be kept sterile and is often disposable in order to minimise the risk of spreading infectious diseases. Local governments are responsible for enforcing strict guidelines and regulations that apply to any premises where a person's skin is penetrated. Body artists must be comfortable dealing with people from a wide variety of backgrounds who seek tattoos, piercings and other forms of body art for a wide variety of personal reasons.

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Salary details

Earnings for body artists can vary considerably, depending on their level of experience, artistic skill, reputation and the demand for their services. Many body artists either own their own studio, or work in a studio on a sub-contractor basis, where they are able to set their own prices based on the size and complexity of each piece of work.

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Tools and technologies

Body artists may use needles or specially designed guns (either for piercing or tattooing) to pierce a customer’s skin. Some body artists may also use scalpels to make larger openings or burn the skin using branding equipment; however, these techniques are not as common. All body artists must wear disposable gloves and wash their hands with anti-bacterial soap before and after piercing a customer's skin, gloves must be replaced and hands rewashed if there is a break in the work for any reason. They use disposable needles, which are replaced after each use, and they must also sterilise all other equipment using an autoclave steriliser. They may also use antibacterial spray and shaving equipment to prepare a customer's skin.

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Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a body artist you usually need to gain extensive experience through on the job training with an established artist. You need to have a high level of drawing skill and a portfolio of designs.

You may improve your employment prospects if you complete formal qualifications in drawing, visual art or design. Drawing, visual art and design courses are offered at TAFE Colleges and other registered training organisations throughout Western Australia. 

Opportunities for training may be hard to find and are often very competitive. You may need to travel to another city or interstate to find an established practitioner willing to offer training, especially for less common forms and techniques of body art, such as branding. The duration of training can vary considerably depending on the technique you wish to learn, ranging from eight to 12 months for a body piercer and three to five years for a tattooist. Most body artists continue to learn and experiment with new techniques and art forms throughout their careers.

Some training providers may offer short courses in piercing; however, there is no accreditation for these courses. It may be a good idea to first talk to established practitioners or potential employers about which courses would be best.

​You may be required to hold a current Apply First Aid Certificate before commencing training.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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