Considering A Career In Body Piercing?

This was originally published on my Patreon. It replaces my original blog from this site:  "An Open Letter to Would-Be Piercing Apprentices" which is both a bad title and woefully out of date. I am sharing this updated version free of charge on my old site as a resource. For lots more piercing thought and education, join me at 


There’s an awful lot I’d like you to know about apprenticeships before you pursue getting one. More than would fit in a blog entry, if I’m being honest. Body piercing is an amazing career, and by becoming involved in piercing you also get to participate in a community I have come to deeply love and cherish. The art and science of piercing are constantly changing and evolving, so completing an apprenticeship is really just the beginning of a career-long learning experience. I’m glad you are reading this and I hope you find it insightful.

Getting An Apprenticeship

In a bygone era, a person looking for an apprenticeship would just ask their piercer. If the piercer deemed you worthy, you got the apprenticeship and you were on your way. Nowadays, I would suggest against that approach. Jewelry has become such a huge part of being a piercer that training to become a piercer usually begins with a “front counter” job. At my shop, we call those front counter folks “jewelry specialists”, because that position is all about learning the styles, sizes, and aesthetics of choosing jewelry for a piercing. Make no mistake about it, these positions are challenging, but they also have the added benefit of covering a ton of ground that will make learning the technique of piercing easier later on down the line. For example, any jewelry specialist in my shop will be able to tell you the most common sizes for almost every piercing we offer. They can discuss jewelry material safety in detail. They have learned the basics of health and safety, as well as all of our policies and the logic behind those policies. They’ve also developed the critical “people skills” that will guide them through challenging situations in the piercing room. Many people who want to learn to pierce want to skip this step, and I think that is a mistake.

What it takes to get a front counter position varies from piercing studio to piercing studio, however, a few attributes will help. I’d recommend having a well-written resume, and consider a cover letter discussing your interest in piercing and jewelry. It always helps to have been a client of the business you are applying to. Present yourself professionally. Remember, you are applying for a jewelry sales position, so familiarity with the product you will be tasked with selling is a bonus. Sales skills and customer service are a must. Above all else, understand that body art is a career for people who like people. No one can train you to be interested in the customers walking through the door. That comes from within, and I find that “genuine interest in people” to be one of the most critically important personality traits a piercer, apprentice, or jewelry specialist can have. The folks who really succeed in body art understand that their energy must be focused on the client, but it also comes naturally to them. If that doesn’t sound like you, piercing might be the wrong career choice. If you aren’t sure, figuring it out as a jewelry specialist/counter person/gallery assistant is a great opportunity to see what everyday piercing is like.

Some piercers will specifically say that a front counter position will not turn into an apprenticeship at their studio. When that is the case, they’ll usually spell it out explicitly in their help wanted advertisements. If I’m being totally honest, I think these piercers are missing an opportunity to hire motivated candidates, however it's altogether possible that these piercers have had experiences that led them to this decision. Regardless, I encourage you to take them at their word. There’s no reason to assume they’ll change their mind. That said, an opportunity to work at a good quality shop is just that, an opportunity. Just because the store is hiring someone exclusively for the front counter does not mean you can’t get some valuable learning done on the job. Any piercing shop experience has the potential to lead to other opportunities or show you that this line of work isn’t suited to you.

Want more reasons to work the front counter of a body art studio before you become a trainee? This work experience serves as valuable time to make sure that you and the piercer(s) at the shop are a good fit personality-wise. After several months on the job, you’ll have a much better understanding about the values your potential mentor upholds. Are they focused on putting out quality work? Are they respectful of employees, customers and colleagues? Do they communicate in a way that is conducive to your learning? Are they the kind of piercer that you want to emulate? Have they shown character and trustworthiness? The shop atmosphere and the teacher that will fit your needs are specific to you, and the first place you work for may be the way you learn what doesn’t work for you. By starting at an entry level, pre-apprenticeship position, you’ll get to vet the shop to see if this teaching relationship is a good fit (and vice versa). Hopefully it is, but count your blessings that you found out early if it is not. Since you started at the front counter, you now have experience that can help you open doors at another piercing studio.

I’d encourage you to trust your instincts about whether to stay in a situation or to acknowledge that it isn’t working out. It can feel like you have only one opportunity, and you have to see it through. Some folks will suffer through even if they are hurting financially, personalities are clashing, or some other issue makes the experience miserable. I don’t think you need to endure a bad situation just to become a piercer. In general, I’d expect other opportunities to make themselves available. If a shop just isn’t the right fit for you, acknowledge it and part ways.  I recommend that you avoid burning bridges, whenever possible. I have seen individuals return to a shop after a break. That space can allow for growth of both you and the folks you didn’t see eye-to-eye with. If you’ve left a shop with professional courtesy, often you can return later on down the line. Leaving that door open can pay dividends.

My last bit of pre-apprenticeship advice is this: If you can, attend the Fakir Musafar Foundation’s Basic Piercing Intensive*. I love the Fakir class, and consider it an essential part of my education, because it is the only hands-on learning available that has stood the test of time. I attended for the first time in 1999, and it was life changing. Since then, I became an instructor, and a course contributor. Over the last 20 plus years I have helped teach the Fakir classes with some of the most talented, intelligent, and articulate piercers in the industry. Every time I review the class material, I find a new nugget of wisdom. More importantly, I find the esoteric lessons to be timeless and essential to my long career. Don’t take my word for it. Ask folks who have attended the class. It is deeply beloved for a reason. One five-day class won’t turn you into a piercer, but it will give you a substantial head start in the learning ahead. It is a superb way to begin an apprenticeship or gain perspective at the end of training.

(*I teach for the Fakir Intensives. Not for the money. This is not a sales pitch. It is how I feel.)

The Learning Process

Once your foot is in the door and you move on to the apprenticeship phase, it is time to have a discussion about timelines, goals, and strategies for success. I helped develop the Association of Professional Piercers Apprenticeship Guideline and Curriculum. This document is especially helpful in collaborating with your mentor on a basic plan for what you will learn, and what you expect from one another. Many mentors, with the best of intentions, keep their trainees as “apprentices” years into training. Others dump their students into busy piercing shifts after just a few weeks. Having a goalpost that does not move, unless both parties agree it should, is an excellent way of keeping training at an appropriate length of time. Once again, this is a good opportunity to make sure this particular trainer and workplace is compatible with your needs and values.

Learning piercing skills and techniques can be challenging. You can watch a skilled professional apply clamps to skin a thousand times, and then when it is time to do it yourself, your hands will seem to fail you. Do not get discouraged. The fundamentals of piercing can (and should) be broken down and explained by a talented teacher. It will still take time to make your muscle memory work for you. Investing time on “simple” skills when you aren’t actually piercing or handling broken skin is very worthwhile. That can mean piercing silicone or cardboard, bending captive bead rings, or marking placements on friends. Practicing when stakes are low (inanimate objects), will come in very handy when you are tasked with doing the job on a living, breathing human being.

An apprenticeship can be an exercise in patience. I think it can become extremely frustrating to watch dozens if not hundreds of piercings before you ever even don gloves. This is where documentation of your work can have a twofold benefit. First, by documenting every piercing you observe, clean and mark, and perform under supervision, you can make sure your apprenticeship is moving along the agreed to timeline. This can prevent you from becoming frustrated. Secondly, while your city, county, state, province or country may not have strict training requirements right now, if that changes unexpectedly, you will be prepared with a document of the work you’ve observed and performed.

Learning to pierce will be a lot easier if you are good at convincing friends and family to let you pierce them under the watchful eye of your trainer. The store you are working at will probably have a discounted rate for clients being pierced by a trainee. Everyone involved (shop, mentor, apprentice, volunteer) should be aware of all the details, including: costs for the client, if any; who gets paid for money received in this process; if the client tips, who receives that money; apprentices skill level; mentors ability to step-in; and so on. Follow shop policies. If there aren’t written policies, ask for them so you can follow them precisely. Once money is involved, relationships like these can become complicated.

Becoming a Piercer

When segueing out of an apprenticeship and into full-time piercing responsibilities, I have seen two common mistakes befall young piercers.

The first is intense feelings of impostor syndrome. You should know that there is no one person that knows everything about piercing. On the other hand, you should feel prepared and confident on all the piercings you are offering. If you haven’t completed your training on a piercing, wait until you have before you offer that service to the public. There will always be piercings that you have been appropriately trained on, and that you're fully qualified for, that you won’t enjoy doing. Determining whether or not you should offer those piercing services that you struggle with should be a conversation between you and management, with an emphasis on education and client safety.

The other pitfall can be overconfidence, with the new piercer feeling a sense of ease with everyday piercing that leads them to try harder and harder techniques, as well as more extreme types of body art that they aren’t trained in. It is not weird for these younger piercers to have the following experience: after their first year of piercing, it feels quite “easy”. Then, something happens that shakes their confidence. All of a sudden, everyday piercings seem like they are getting more and more challenging. What these folks are experiencing is the slow development of a more critical eye. The piercings that you deliver in the first year or so of full-time work are often good. Great, even. That said, as you perform these services, your eye becomes more critical faster than your hands become more skilled. A portfolio review every six months can be helpful in seeing the things you had missed all along.

Once you are piercing full-time, there will be a lot of temptations to travel and pierce in far away locations. Provided that these opportunities are not a detriment to your responsibilities at home, seeing how other shops work can be insightful. That said, guest-spotting is not the ultimate goal of a quality piercer. Being a consistently successful and ultra-reliable piercer is what we are striving for. If you show up on time, treat your clients well, support your coworkers, and are there to help when someone needs a day off - these are extremely valuable to a business and it will seldom go unnoticed. The contrary is also true, so be careful not to let your successes turn you into a source of conflict within the store. Confidence and healthy boundaries are great, but egotism and a flare for the dramatic are not.

I would encourage pursuing learning as much as possible. I’m involved with and support Association of Professional Piercers classes, Fakir Musafar Foundation classes, and APP-sister organizations outside the US (GEP, LBP, UKAPP to name a few)  as well as seminars from individual trusted professionals. In this era of Patreon, you can get access to piercers like myself and Ryan Ouellette. Often, just a few dollars gives you access to lots of information, as well as the ability to ask questions and participate with piercers outside your own facility. When you support these organizations and educators, you encourage piercing education to continue and improve, and this can help the entire piercing community.

Finally, I would encourage positive participation in the piercing community. That participation can take a lot of different forms. The folks contributing positively often give safe piercing advice on social media, volunteer for piercing nonprofits, or simply just foster a community of sharing with other piercers outside their own shop. One of the things that I have found profoundly touching about this industry is that there are so many people who are eager to lend a helping hand or share what they know. That’s not to say the world of piercing doesn’t have its share of problems. Every group has internal conflict, drama, and issues to work on - and piercers are no different. A word of caution: don’t confuse “critique” with “service”. There’s no lack of people out there that want to point out the failings of others, while seldom lifting a finger to make things better. These are the minority, though. Piercers tend to be creatures for whom service to others is a forgone conclusion. This community consistently impresses me because so many of us give so freely of our time, our knowledge, and our energy. Countless members of our community put intense effort into making piercing safer. It's a great thing to be a part of, and if you choose to join us, I hope you’ll continue in those footsteps.

In conclusion, the road to becoming a professional body piercer is different for everyone. Make use of the educational tools you have access to, and never stop learning. Involving more colleagues, getting expanded perspectives, and being open to knowledge from the widest amount of sources possible will work in your favor. Learning this craft is not easy, and will involve hard work and persistence. Not everyone is cut out for this career. Trust your instincts, wash your hands a lot, and don’t stop trying.


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