So….You want to work in a Tattoo Shop? 
Here’s a few things you should know.
Angela Diller c 2004

Many of us henna artists have either been offered an opportunity to work in a tattoo shop or a beauty salon. Working in a shop/salon environment has its ups and downs. It can open doors to gigs that are very fun and profitable, it can also be frustrating at times. Most henna artists who go into a shop setting are leaving a totally “self employed” situation that is easy to become accustomed to. But it can be rewarding. Some of the main questions are: What is a fair percentage? Do you hang out all day or take appointments? Do you get a lot of clients? The answers to these questions are varied. 

Starting in a tattoo shop can be difficult. 

When I first started at the shop where I work, I pounded the pavement, with pictures and flyers in my beautifully hennaed hands, only to be told over and over “We NEVER get calls for that!” Usually followed by a loud slam which was the door practically hitting me in the butt as I left. I knew this couldn’t be true because each client that eventually did find me would invariably say  “I’m so glad I found you! I called every tattoo shop in the Yellow Pages”.  But if you can find the right shop, one that understands what henna is, and what it isn’t, it can be a really great experience.

Is the percentage fair?

When thinking about your income in a shop, there are many factors to consider. What are the ink artists making? Does the shop provide their supplies? (this affects the percentage) Do they pay rent? Do they even get calls for henna? In my shop the ink artists make a 60/40 split. 60% goes to the shop, 40% to the artist. My shop provides all their supplies, answers their calls, rings up their sales etc. I, on the other hand, make a 60/40 split the other way. I get 60%, and the shop gets 40%. But I provide all my own supplies, I don’t need to use their ink, needles, gloves, etc. but they advertise for me, take my calls, have a great reputation, and get the traffic, so I find it to be fair. Many people online make a 70/30. If you can get that, GREAT! It’s just not the going rate around here.
Appointments or walk ins?

Do you take appointments or walk ins? The answer is both. Fridays and Saturdays are great days for walk ins. I wouldn’t miss em’. But it’s going to take some time for people to realize you are there. I sat in my shop for a month of Saturdays before I ever got my first client. It was frustrating to say the least. But it will take awhile for people to realize you are there,  and another little while for them to come see you, and yet a third while for them to tell their friends. It takes time and you need to patient. But business WILL pick up. I personally believe you do need to do a bit of “sitting around all day” before you get to the point where you can work by appointment only. And if the shop sets all your appointments for the same day, why not stay and take the walk ins too? But it takes time. And after 2 years at the same shop, it’s still not even close to full time. Be clear with what you are expecting from the shop and get a realistic idea of how many requests you'll really get, how much advertising do they do, and how they will promote YOU. If you’re looking for full time work with full time income, stick with festivals. 

Pros and Cons

I have found that large corporate clients and such that are looking for artists will call the tattoo shops first so it will also bring you business away from the shop that you may not normally have gotten. Most of which pays VERY WELL. This is a big pro. You will have days that you sit and do no henna when there is a big festival down the road that would have made you some money. This is a big con. Like anything else, there’s good and bad. One thing I have found is that a tattoo shop (if it’s the RIGHT one) will respect your art. My shop really appreciates henna for what it is, and understands what it isn’t. That is key! Clients, family, and friends all like what I do. They think it’s cool. But the shop setting is the first place where I really felt like what I did was respected.  A big pro. No long hot days of bugs, sweat, and lugging your crap. A big pro. Tips! (remember them?)  Pro! S…L…O…W…days with no money, a BIG con that lasts all winter. Tat shops die in the winter so be ready to put up with that.  Each person has to decide what’s best for them. I personally wouldn’t trade my shop gig for anything. But the money in the winter time can be frustrating at best.


When I first started at the shop, I couldn’t believe the prices that they expected me to charge. And they couldn’t believe that I would “give away” my skills so cheap. There needs to be a happy medium. They pushed me up, I pushed them down, and we met in the middle. I still think I charge too much for my work in the shop. They still look at each client and say you did THAT for $35?? Try to set your prices so that you can get the same amount that you were getting out of the shop setting after paying out your commission. And don’t forget, people will pay a bit more in a salon or shop. They see it as more of a luxury service than they do at a festival. The phones, the air conditioning, the fancy chair, are all added luxuries that people aren’t getting when they see you at a festival or fair. Don’t gouge, but don’t sell yourself short. And make each client feel special and like they are getting their moneys worth.


Be prepared to do a lot of non traditional henna in a shop. Even though you bring your design books full of gorgeous designs, be prepared to do your fair share of tribal armbands and butt cracks. Be prepared to do astrological signs and kanji. Be prepared to do lots of big backwards Eminem “E’s” if you’re in Detroit. This is where I have to be careful not to be a henna snob. With all the flash that is invariably on the wall in every henna shop in the country, people will inevitably gravitate towards it. 

In a shop setting you definitely have to keep in mind that it’s about what the client wants and not necessarily what we all know henna SHOULD look like. If you can’t live with that, a shop isn’t going to be the place for you. But try to keep in mind that if the client gets exactly what they want, and they LOVE it……then that really IS what henna is all about. Loving your henna. If THEY think it’s great, then it is. And they will be back for more. Ease them into it and that stupid “E” will eventually turn into a cool hand. But it will happen when they are ready and not the other way around.

Working in a shop can be a great addition to your other henna work! It has its good and bad points like anything else, but if you find the right place it can be a great thing! So get out there and pound the pavement. You might just like it!!

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