Debra Yarian: Not My Gift To You

deb-yarian-5By Debra Yarian
We are constantly being asked by people, how either they or their family members can “get in to tattooing?” How they can obtain a license, open a shop, get a job and so-on and so-on and so-on.

In recent years I’ve had more and more people indignantly explain, that even though they or their relatives really want to become tattooists, nobody will teach them! This is often at our initial introduction… 

One person claimed in a recent letter e-mailed to our shop, that she had already been tattooing for the past 20 months, alone, in another state. She introduced herself, and then said that she had already moved to Alaska, where I currently reside and own a tattoo shop, where I work with my family. She said that she intended to get a tattoo license and she would be opening a tattoo shop, albeit in another city, and that she had heard that we were helpful, friendly and knowledgable. She went on to say that she had gotten quite familiar with our state’s requirements for obtaining a license.


Our state law requires an apprenticeship for a required period of time, under an already licensed tattoo artist, at a licensed tattoo shop! Thank you Larry Allen (and I mean that in all seriousness) for working with Alaska state legislature so that there are some laws in place, governing tattoo licensing in Alaska.

My husband Don, with our grandson, my son and daughter-in-law

She said that because of our state’s requirements, she would have to start at the bottom again. She asked for information regarding the apprenticeship program, and whether we offered it in our shop and was there a fee? She went on to ask if she could complete the required hours (roughly 400) without a further time commitment.


She finished her letter with an About Me paragraph- highlighting her other artistic interests and abilities and told me that I could look on Facebook to see her work.

So, you may be thinking, what’s the problem with this? She was cordial and forthright. Now if I am the things she claimed I was (helpful, friendly and knowledgable) why didn’t I just invite her to our shop, get her a glass of lemonade and sit down with her and fill out the paperwork to get her a tattoo license.

My husband, my son and I watch as one son tattoos another son

I did in fact politely reply, that because the state law requires the commitment be under our direction, and that we are a small family owned business, we would not be taking on any tattooists or apprentices.


Many, if not most, non tattooers are curious as to why I’d be reluctant or refuse to help someone in a situation like this. When asked “why” by one of my children, I answered that this isn’t a request for humanitarian aid. That if a stranger fell in the street I would certainly stop to offer my help, but if a stranger asked me to drive them to Florida, I would refuse! They laughed, saying how silly it would be for a stranger to make such a request.

In my opinion though, a stranger asking me to help them get into tattooing is the equivalent of a stranger asking me to drive them and their family to their vacation destination, as ridiculous or ludicrous as a stranger asking for the keys to my house or for access to my bank account! How could one not see the comparison?

And while I do think everybody is entitled to make a living. It’s not my obligation to see that they do so.

My son and daughter-in-law

I’ve spent over 30 years making a living tattooing. My husband is a tattooer. My oldest son is a tattooer and a younger son is just beginning to tattoo. It is my hope that all my children will learn to tattoo as well, and love making a living doing so. It is my gift to them. It is not something I’m just going to give away, especially to a stranger.


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One thought on “Debra Yarian: Not My Gift To You

  1. As a artist who has been tattooing on family for 2 years without a license and wanting to apprentice under someone, this article really hit home. I live on Prince of Wales Island in SE Alaska were there are no licensed tattooist in residence. I would have to go to Ketchikan or Juneau for an apprenticeship and I would be a stranger to any artist I would ask. I then would have to pay for lodging and food for the entire time I was in training. I only wish you could do some of the training online(safety, sanitation, sterilization, and aseptic etc.). I know that there are things that you can only learn with hands on training and that’s what I am lacking. It sounded as though they had done everything correctly. I’m glad you wrote this article so I would know what NOT to do when asking for an apprenticeship.

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