How to “Make It” as a Tattoo Artist

Here at BookedIN HQ we’re constantly trying to learn more about you (our lovely software users) and how to serve you better. So lately we’ve been reaching out to some of our long-time users for catch up calls and I think it is high-time we started sharing more of this with you here on our blog. We have some incredibly talented people using our software and we want to showcase how awesome they are!

This week I spoke with Kari Yocom, a Portland, Oregon based tattoo artist. She’s been at it since 2009 and using BookedIN to schedule her clients since 2016. Kari has a gorgeous artistic style. Her colorful designs depicting nature and magic jump out at me as I browse her Instagram. I seriously scrolled all the way to her very first post… (Creeper alert!) Checking out her work I knew straight away why her clients book with her by name.


I phoned Kari on her day off and we spoke for over an hour about how she got started in the industry, the challenges every tattoo artist faces, and what it takes to make it past the 1-year, 3-year and 7-year entrepreneurial hump. Below you’ll find some more of Kari’s amazing tattoo work, as well some practical advice on how to “make it” in the tattoo industry.

Get ready for a learning curve 

Kari has always been interested in art, drawing, and face painting, so she decided to study to get her tattoo license and make a career out of her passion for art. Once she finished her studies and became a licensed tattoo artist, she quickly found out there was much more learning to be done.

If you’re a fledgling tattoo artists reading this post, know that there is a steep learning curve to go from “artist” to “tattoo artist”. Kari estimates the quit-rate is around the 3 year mark, and mentions there are a lot of things they don’t teach you in schools. It’s not just about tattooing. You need to learn business management skills, communication, appointment scheduling, and of course, how to translate your artistic skills onto skin. They don’t teach you any of these things in school. You’ll need to pick them up along the way.

People in pain can be a pain

Something else Kari mentioned that really stuck out to me was that as a tattoo artist, you have to be really good at working with people. Getting “gently stabbed with pigment” can be quite painful. And when people are in pain, they will respond in all kinds of different ways. Some people get upset, some get quiet and just tough it out. Some people will laugh too much making it tricky to tattoo them!

And then of course there’s that client who brings their really loud friend along to the session…

As an artist, you’re managing a person and a relationship, which is a completely separate skill. Being good at managing people is essential to the job of a tattoo artist.

Related Post: 14 Time Saving Tools for Busy Tattoo Artists →

Advice on how to make it

I asked Kari if there was one thing she wished she knew five years ago. She said, “The sooner you can get your services looking professional the better. If you want to make it in the tattoo industry, you have to get organized”.

Most tattoo artists are independent contractors, and so being responsible for communicating with clients and scheduling is an area where she said you’ll need to get professional. Kari confessed that many artists in the industry are are actually quite bad at replying to emails. Some will lose information, and some don’t even accept credit cards. Yikes! I was shocked to find out how disorganized things could get.

Be organized = be your own boss

Kari explains another huge benefit of being organized; by taking ownership of client communications and getting everything online, you’ll also get full control over your client list. Then eventually if you have to move to a new tattoo shop, your clients move with you.

“When you move shops, if you don’t have a client list and your own system and online presence, it’s hard. I’ve moved shops three times now, and since I use online booking, my client list moves with me.”

Kari explained, “The more professional you can be the better. That means scheduling, communications, paying taxes, and being organized with drawings and emailing clients. You’re setting up as an independent contractor most of the time, you’re working for yourself, working out of a shop. You’re in charge of your own clients.”

Know your S*!%

After speaking with Kari I felt completely blown away by the depth of knowledge she had about her profession. We talked about all the different types of inks, what they’re made of, how different skin types react to being tattooed, the equipment she uses, the speed of the needle and so much more. This lady is bad ass and she has a real passion for her art form.

By the way, if you’re reading this thinking, “I need a new tattoo” and you live in the Portland area, you seriously need to hit up Kari for a consultation.

Kari reiterated that so much of what she knows as a tattoo artist was learned on the job. She picked things up along the way and this is just the nature of the industry. But she cautioned that it’s not always good to rely fully on what everyone else is doing. For example, the lotion Lubriderm is commonly recommended for tattoo aftercare. But after a bit research into the lotion itself, Kari found that it contains alcohol which isn’t great for helping to heal a fresh tattoo.

Thank you @pdxraincloud!

Kari most definitely has “made it” in our eyes. She has an impressive portfolio of beautiful work, a nicely booked up calendar and thousands of social media followers. She was such a fascinating person to talk with and we’re stoked to have her as part of the BookedIN family. Thank you Kari!

Check out Kari’s website

Follow Kari on Instagram


Thousands of tattoo shops, hair salons, barbershops & beauty professionals around the world trust BookedIN for their appointment scheduling. If you’re a tattoo artist, click here to try BookedIN for free.
Are you a BookedIN user wanting to get featured on the blog? Please email leanne.schmidt[at]bookedin.com to set up an interview. 😎