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Joey Tattoo Rants: Scratchers

What better way to discuss major tattoo topics than to have one of the leading faces in the industry share his thoughts? Meet Joey Tattoo, host of Spike TV’s Tattoo Rescue and acclaimed tattooist at Bella Arte Tattoo. Once a month he will be voicing some of his opinions on the tattoo and art worlds right here at So make sure to listen closely, because he has a lot to say. If you any questions you'd like to here Joey answer in the future, send them to

I was asked to write about something that I felt strongly about in the tattoo industry, and it just so happens that lately I have been thinking a lot about “scratchers.” There are a lot of mixed feelings about scratchers in this industry and what I am about to write are MYfeelings. I do not claim to know it all, but I do know how I feel and that is what I say and write. What I write about has nothing to do with the fact that I was on TV, the only thing I learned from that is that there are a lot of scratchers that work in and own tattoo shops. I write about my own personal experience in this industry, so if this bothers you or vulgar language bothers you, I suggest you stop reading now.

When I say scratchers I don’t necessarily mean someone who is tattooing or trying to tattoo out of his or her house. I also don’t mean someone who is trying to learn without an apprenticeship. I believe a scratcher is a lazy piece of shit who has no respect and thinks that tattooing is an easy way to make money. Scratchers learn to tattoo by buying garbage equipment and fucking people up. Tattooing is a lot more than just picking up a shitty Chinese machine and some needles and drawing a design on someone; it all starts with being clean and knowing how to prevent cross contamination. You need to learn about all the tools you will be using, why to use each one and what their purposes are. Take the time to learn as much as you can about the industry before you even look at a machine, learn what a good tattoo is and pay attention to the people who are doing them. Make sure you learn about the people doing the great work that is out there and understand that is what your customers will expect. If you cannot find an apprenticeship at a reputable shop from someone who can teach you, maybe step back and ask “Why?” Is your artwork good enough? Are you personable? Did you show respect by asking with a professional portfolio or did you bring a bunch of your shit from high school in a binder, lined paper and all? If you want someone to teach you this craft then you better go in like you were trying to get the best fucking job of your life!

You need to understand that the person you are asking probably lives and breathes tattooing and does not take it lightly. Don’t walk into a shop without respect because you think you are a great artist, that doesn’t mean shit to a lot of us. After all, if you are a cocky asshole no one is going to want to work with you. If someone says “no” ask them “Why?” Maybe they will enlighten you. Don’t just complain that you went to two or three shops; go to every shop that is reputable and keep trying. No one said it was easy. If you still cannot find an apprenticeship then keep drawing, start taking some classes at tattoo conventions and get tattooed by people you admire so you can watch and ask questions.

In the end, remember that as long as you learn all you can and practice while being clean and showing respect, no one will ever think of you as a piece of shit, lazy scratcher–no one that matters anyway. So remember, go learn all you can about the industry from the beginning. Learn about the old timers who made this industry what it is and paved the road for us. Learn about all the tools you will use and which ones are the best. Buy the good stuff because if you buy shit your tattoos will look like shit. Learn all you can and never stop drawing. And most of all, show respect to everyone from your customers to other people in the industry. Always remember, “You are above no one.” Always stay humble and never stop learning. The minute you think you know it all, you are done. I have been in this industry for over 20 years and can honestly say I started tattooing the right way two years ago. Before that I had my hands in everything and just worried about doing solid tattoos. Tattooing is more of an art than it has ever been and if you want to last you are going to have to keep up with other people in the industry. So good luck to all that are willing to put in the time and hard work, those that respect the beautiful art of tattooing, and those that truly know what respect is. Remember you can be the best artist in the world, but if you do not show respect you will not get respect!

Thanks for listening,