This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Body artists use sterilised skin-piercing equipment and ink or jewellery to decorate the skin.
Body artists usually earn
$32K-$50K per year
Source: MBIE, '2006-2014 Occupation Data', 2015
Pay for body artists varies greatly and depends on talent and popularity. Body artists usually take a lump sum payment on a piece of work rather than wages, so pay can vary weekly.
- Apprentice body artists may work for free in a studio to learn their trade.
- Apprentice body artists who tattoo clients under supervision may earn minimum training wage.
- Experienced body artists may earn between $32,000 and $50,000 a year.
If working for someone else, body artists usually pay a percentage of what they earn to the studio. Self-employed body artists can earn a reasonable living, though the cost of establishing a business can be high.
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website - information about minimum pay rates
- MoreBusiness.com website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Body artists may do some or all of the following:
- explain the tattooing or piercing procedure to the client
- help the client choose an image or jewellery
- copy or design an image for clients
- make a stencil of the image
- prepare the area being tattooed or pierced
- pierce the client's body part
- draw the tattoo with inked needles
- ensure the studio and equipment meets with sterilisation, waste management, and health and safety standards.
Skills and knowledge
Depending on their specialisation, body artists need to have knowledge of:
- different artistic styles
- how to use tattooing or piercing equipment
- human anatomy
- how to recognise, treat and prevent infections
- disinfectants and which ones to use on certain areas of skin
- health and safety standards and procedures
- first aid and good hygiene practices.
Self-employed body artists also need business management skills.
Body artists usually:
- work varied hours including late nights and weekends
- work in their own studio or an established studio or clinic with other body artists.
What's the job really like?
Very different reasons why people get tattoos
So why do people get piercings and tattoos? According to body artist Hamish Halley there’s no one single reason. "Like last year we had a whole spate of people coming wanting tattoos on the soles of their feet and it turned out there had been something on TV. Except the sole of your foot is about one of the most painful spots to get tattooed!"
Piercing becoming more and more mainstream
“When I started this work, there was only a very small group of people that were pierced, whereas now it’s quite mainstream. But there’s less money in piercing now – a lot of that’s to do with the internet, and places selling cheap, low quality piercings. People are buying them, sticking them in, and then they end up getting an infection.”
Experimentation with new designs is key
Hamish adds an experimental nature is particularly important for coming up with new designs and techniques. "Some stuff you can test out on yourself, and other times you need people to help you do it. Like if there’s a new skin-cutting design I want to try, I’m not going to get someone coming in asking for it. Instead, I’ll just mention my ideas and people might say 'Yeah, I’ll let you do that.' "
There are no specific entry requirements to become a body artist, as they are trained on the job in an informal apprentice situation by experienced body artists or body piercers. They are usually unpaid while training.
Art courses are useful for body artists. Small business courses are useful to body artists who run their own salon.
NCEA Level 1 art, maths, te reo Māori, graphics, workshop technology and health science are useful.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Cosmetic Tattooist/Permanent Make-up Artist or Paramedical Tattooist
To become a cosmetic tattooist/permanent make-up artist or paramedical tattooist, it's recommended you complete a course, such as a certificate in cosmetic tattooing, at a well-established private academy.
Body artists need to be:
- creative and artistic
- patient and confident
- able to handle criticism
- good at listening and communicating
- good with people.
Body artists should also not be squeamish.
As a tā moko artist I have a responsibility, not just to my job, but to my culture and my people as well. Any mistakes I make here diminish the cultural significance and respect for this art form.
Useful experience for body artists includes:
- work in visual arts
- hands-on arts and crafts jobs
- work in beauty, healthcare, retail or customer services.
Body artists need good hand-eye co-ordination and good physical and mental stamina, as they may need to concentrate for long periods.
Find out more about training
- Association of Cosmetic Tattoo
- firstname.lastname@example.org - associationofcosmetictattoo.com.au
- Association of Professional Piercers Ltd
- email@example.com - www.safepiercing.org
What are the chances of getting a job?
Although demand for tattoos and piercings has increased, it's still difficult to get into body artistry.
Body artists who have several years' experience and have built up a good reputation have the best chances of finding work or establishing a successful business.
However, establishing a body art business can be expensive, as the initial set-up costs for sterilising, tattooing and piercing equipment can be very high.
Limited number of apprenticeships available for body artists
As there is no formal training scheme, new body artists pick up skills on the job, so demand for apprenticeship positions with established artists is high. However, because body art businesses tend to be small, they can only take on new staff if the business expands or someone leaves.
You can improve your chances of securing an apprenticeship if you:
- make contacts in the industry and approach studios directly, as most job opportunities aren't advertised
- have a portfolio of your own designs.
Body artists commonly self-employed
Many body artists are self-employed and work on a commission basis in studios. Experienced body artists may run their own studios, or work from home.
- Bowen, N, 'No End in Sight to the Tattoo Craze', 2 July 2015, (www.smh.com.au).
- Cheesman, J, 'The Resurrection of Tā Moko Raises Questions for Māori', 15 May 2014,( www.newswire.co.nz).
- McKinnie, D, 'Beauty is Only Skin Deep So Make it Last', May 2015, (www.beautynzmag.co.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Mitchell, A, cosmetic tattooist, Skint Ink, Careers New Zealand Interview, 28 April 2016, (www.facebook.com/skintink/).
- Monckton, E, director, Skint Ink, Careers New Zealand interview, 28 April 2016, (www.facebook.com/skintink/).
- Shaskey, T, 'Demand for Tattoos Climbs but Permanent Body Art Still Divides Opinion', 28 November 2015, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Shaw, A, 'Tattoos Hit the NZ Workplace Mainstream', 10 November 2015, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
- Stephens, A, 'The New Normal: Why Tattoos and Piercings Have Gone Mainstream', 27 June 2015, (www.stuff.co.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Experienced body artists may start up their own businesses.
Body artists may choose to specialise in tattooing or body piercing, or the following areas:
- Cosmetic Tattoist/Permanent Make-up Artist
- Cosmetic tattooists/permanent make-up artists tattoo permanent make-up, such as lipliner and eyeliner, and usually work in beauty salons, studios or clinics.
- Paramedical Tattooist
- Paramedical tattooists work with people who may have had accidents, operations or illnesses. For example, they may tattoo eyebrows onto someone who has lost their hair.
Last updated 28 August 2017