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Back in 2009, Jake Silva of Los Angeles was ready to begin law school in San Diego when he started to have doubts about his chosen profession.

“I was really going to be a lawyer for the money,” he said. “What I loved to do was draw, and my girlfriend was encouraging me to continue with my art, but I didn’t see that as paying the bills.”

But then Silva acquired his first tattoo.

“I loved the tattoo, talked to the artist for a few hours and that was it. No more law school.”

Like thousands of other artists around the country, Silva decided to become a tattoo artist. He hung out in tattoo parlors soaking up the knowledge and was able to assist after asking a few owners of local tattoo businesses if he could try his artistic skills on a friend’s arm.

Before he knew it, he was a tattoo artist.

The amount of money you can expect to earn as a tattoo artist will be determined in part by what the current hourly rate of service is, and what hourly rate is charged by the studio you work for. In 2010 the typical hourly rate for tattooing was between $80 and $125 per hour. However, increased rates may apply for custom designs or tattoos created by well-known established artists in the field. Celebrity artists such as Kat Von D, Paul Booth, and Brandon Bond are known to charge between $350 and $500 per hour and have waiting lists of up to three years.

Most tattoo artists get their start working for owners of shops who pay them a small hourly rate. Professional tattoo shops usually offer 50 or 60 percent to the employees per tattoo – 60 if the tattoo artist is responsible for their own supplies and 50 if they are supplied by the owner. Sometimes the only pay artists get are tips.

“I worked for a long time on tips only, so I had another job,” said Melanie Snow of San Diego. “The owner gets all the money and you do the work. You have to ask yourself if you love the work or do you love the money more? I love the work and the money, so I am saving to get my own place.”

Some artists take online classes and there are tattoo schools springing up around the country. In Escondido there is the Tattoo Artist Technical Training School/TATTS. Their Website – tattschool.com – advertises that the school “teaches artists various styles, techniques, and technical training, to get a solid start as a tattooist in an industry that’s hard to break into. TATTS believes that your dream of becoming a tattoo artist is just a matter of matching your talent to the right opportunity in a safe and creative environment. TATTS teaches you how to tattoo in a fun and friendly environment.”

The school even helps with financing, and the course takes three weeks to complete.

Although Silva was set to spend thousands of dollars on law school, he’s now making thousands of dollars a month inking dragons, initials, and naked ladies on arms, legs, butts, and backs.

The Job Monkey website estimates that tattoo shop owners earn $100,000 per year. Silva, who recently opened his own shop in Los Angeles, hopes to see that kind of cash in the next few years.

“The money is great, but this is a job that I love, seriously love,” he said. “People are happy when they come in and they ask me to give them something that most likely they will have forever. That’s a legacy. I don’t think I could have found a better job.”

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