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Ink’d Up: Artist Roxy tells us how to land a tattoo apprenticeship

Ever wondered what it takes to land a tattoo apprenticeship? In this series, I’ll be interviewing tattoo artists on the come up. If you’re thinking about getting inked or looking to start your own tattoo artist journey this is the series for you.

For my first interview, I met up with an old high school friend and IG mutual Roxy. I knew Roxy back when she went by Elsie and had a knack for drawing, sharpie tattoos, and intricate henna designs.

Since then her IG had started to populate with real permanent artwork on flesh.


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It wasn’t surprising to learn that Roxy had begun an apprenticeship with Manhattan Tattoos under the tutelage of Nicholas Pablo Jones. She has 20 tattoos and counting. She even got another since the last time we spoke.

An artist from the start

I asked Roxy how we got here; her tattooing an original band along a client’s wrist as I watched.

“In HS I was switched into a class, beginning drawing. From there, I discovered my talent. […] my teacher told me that there was an open space for free pre-college enrollment.”

Roxy continued,

“I got into that for one semester and that’s where I basically learned all about life drawing and I was super disciplined there, just five hours of drawing non-stop with only one half-hour break.”


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It’s clear Roxy had an insane talent for art and drawing but how did the path towards tattoos begin?

“I would do a lot of sharpie tattoos on my friends in High School. And I was always told that ‘Oh if you ever become a tattoo artist, I will always come to you.’  And that motivated me to actually pursue it.”

I remember being one of those people, and as a woman of my word, I have to get a tattoo from Roxy.

The bumps along the way

Still, it’s been quite a few years since high school, I asked Roxy what her journey towards working in a tattoo shop looked like in the years after that.

Like many creatives, there were some obstacles and detours along the way. Tattooing even took a back seat for Roxy, for a little while.

“During college, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do set design, costume design. Still in the art realm but never tattooing.”

Like many creatives, Roxy had trouble staying on track with her goals and wishes she hadn’t given up along the way. She explained that if it wasn’t for her gap-year she might be further along in her career.

Still, she acknowledged that it takes strength to get back on track.

“It wasn’t until I had self-motivation, I was just looking up a lot of tattoo videos on YouTube it just pushed me to go out and buy a machine.”


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I asked Roxy what it was like when she first started tattooing people with a machine and her initial reaction to the experience.

“I think it was probably, it was maybe the needle to flesh feeling. The first time that I ever did a tattoo on anybody, it happened so fast I thought it was a whole process.”

She continued,

“I guess that’s what surprised me the most, the fact that it’s like not like stick-and-poke at all, you’re working with a machine so of course it’s gonna work faster.”

Landing an apprenticeship

Even with talent, a willing and awaiting clientele and equipment, it took a lot of hard work and rejection to get an apprenticeship at a tattoo shop. But Roxy wasn’t willing to give up.

“At first I was going from shop to shop just asking if they needed a receptionist. And I was hoping to wiggle my way into being an apprentice.”

Apprenticeships are a serious business in the tattoo world.

Tattooing is one of the oldest professions in the world and with that comes prestige. Its history informs the way tattoo artists pass down and teach the craft.

Tattoo artists value their time, talent and craft deeply as they should. This makes getting a tattoo artist to mentor you a difficult feat.

“They wont necessarily offer you something like an apprenticeship unless they feel that they’re in the same niche as you or they have some sort of connection with you. It is something they’re willing to teach and this is a craft that has been around for years.”

So how did Roxy do it? She had several tattoos of her own so she knew a few artists and worked with what she had.

After going from shop to shop and getting rejected multiple times, she hit up the artist that gave her one of her first tattoos and was just honest with him.

Her persistence is what finally landed her a tattoo apprenticeship. And with a tattoo machine in hand, she went under his wing.

“It was really trial and error.”

Tattooing as a spiritual experience

I asked Roxy what it was like when she started apprenticing and what surprised her about the experience. Roxy’s love for tattooing transcended just her love for art.

“The way that the flesh feels, especially the vibrations from the machine, it’s really a spiritual connection…”

Roxy continued,

“It felt natural, really organic. You feel the vibrations and because it’s in the now it feels really intimate. It’s a transfer of energy between me and the client.”


Roxy had several tattoos and got her very first at the age of 14.

“I was really young and it was on my foot, and it faded away. But the first tattoo that actually stayed on my body was a small Saturn symbol on my pinkie done by Nick at Manhattan tattoos.”

Client Misconceptions

I also asked Roxy what misconceptions clients might have about the tattoo process. The main one was that clients often don’t understand that transferring a concept from paper to flesh requires modification to the art to fit the human body naturally.

Roxy listed writing as a recurring challenge on human flesh. She explained that because the human body moves and bends and skin stretches and shrinks, with time some tattoos can become unrecognizable especially small phrases.

“A lot of the time clients want something that’s super small, because they’re scared. It’s their first tattoo, or they want a tattoo but they don’t know what they want.”


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To get the most out of your tattoo Roxy advised those interested in getting inked up and ways she, as a professional avoided these issues.

“I always say less is more and the bigger the better. Whenever I would design up a tattoo, a custom piece I would try and modify it so it would look best on any curvature of the human body”

It was obvious that Roxy lived by her words, as she took extra care placing the band stencil perfectly around painter Sheridan Rose before beginning the actual tattoo process.

The band had tribal influences, a style that Roxy is looking to do more of apart from her usual style.



“I love doing anything floral. Plants and anything that is very delicate and flamboyant. I love anything that’s “classy” and fits on the body like jewelry. I like very vintage style. Anything that gives me a melancholy feel.

Roxy continued,

“I definitely want to learn more tribal. I know that’s something that requires a lot of skill, a lot of time. It’s something I would wanna do in the future, I wanna do really big pieces, tribal style.”


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Tattoo Inspo

Roxy listed two main tattoo artists she looks up to. Spider Saint Claire and Alexis Hepburn.

“Those two are my staples, they’re both from New Zealand and they have a very authentic feel to their pieces. Also anybody from Fun City tattoo in New York. They also have that style that I wanna go for, very delicate, very fine line and it looks airbrushed.”


Many tattoo artists go the route of apprenticing then eventually traveling around the world. Roxy envisions herself doing the same.

“I have been in my apprenticeship for a year now. I’m looking forward to where it takes me. If it takes me to Canada or Alaska, I know a lot of tattoo artists travel and I see myself wanting to do that with it.”

Roxy left aspiring artists and creatives with straight to the point advice. Hint: Not being able to afford an actual tattoo machine is not an excuse.

“Just start. Doesn’t matter where you are, how much money you have, just start. Because eventually, that would give you the motivation to go out and buy an actual tattoo machine.”

Roxy concluded,

“If you don’t have enough to afford it I would just say continue drawing. I would say just start and don’t give up.”