If you're talented at drawing, illustration and painting and enjoy working with the public, you might enjoy a lucrative career as a tattoo artist. Tattooists work closely with their clients to help make their artwork and body-modification ideas come to life. Tattoo artists listen to client ideas, sketch designs, create artistic stencils and use needles and professional tattoo equipment to apply designs permanently to the skin. In California, you might make more than $50,000 per year as a professional tattoo artist according to 2011 wage reports.
In 2008, career and wage resources, Simply Hired and Indeed, reported that nationally, the average annual salary for tattoo artists was between $32,000 and $41,000. Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers no information specific to tattoo artists in its 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the salaries listed for "fine artists" are fairly comparable to reports made by Simply Hired and Indeed. According to the BLS, the middle 50 percent of fine artists in May of 2008 earned between $29,230 and $60,650 per year.
The State of California
Online resources report frequently updated statistics specific to tattoo artist salaries in the state of California. In 2011, Career Builder's "CB Salary" wage calculator reports the lowest findings estimating an average annual salary of $28,777 for California tattooists. Simply Hired published considerably higher earnings in California of $36,000 per year, and Indeed estimates that statewide tattoo artists can earn as much as $44,000 annually. The BLS reports show that in May of 2008 the mean annual wage for fine artists was $66,270.
Big City Salaries
Your annual wages as a California tattoo artist might vary depending on what area you live in. According to Indeed and Simply Hired, tattooists in Los Angeles and Hollywood make between $35,000 and $42,000 per year at the time of publication. Higher salaries were reported in San Francisco where position holders earned between $42,000 and $50,000 annually. CB Salary posted somewhat varied results, indicating that yearly salaries for tattooists in Los Angeles and Hollywood were closer to $30,382, and in San Francisco about $46,365.
You don't have to live and work in the major metropolitan cities of California to earn a good living as a tattoo artist. The salaries of tattooists in smaller, less populated areas are fairly comparable to those of large cities. At the time of publication, Simply Hired and Indeed estimate that tattoo artists in the small town of St. Helena, California earn $36,000 to $38,000 per year; $29,000 to $40,000 in Nevada City and about $39,000 per year in Santa Catalina Island. CB Salary reports wages of close to $34,687 annually in all three small California towns.