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What Tattoo Artists Can Do During COVID-19

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The entire world is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and social distancing measures have forced the closure of tattoo shops across the country, putting tattoo artists and shop owners in a precarious position. The independent contractor status of the vast majority of tattoo artists, combined with the hand-to-mouth nature of the business even in the best of times, has left thousands of us wondering how we will cope in the coming weeks and months.

Below we’ve put together a list of things tattoo artists and tattoo shops can do to make up some of the shortfall they’re surely experiencing right now.

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File for Unemployment Benefits

Although independent contractors are ordinarily ineligible for unemployment benefits, the emergency $2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law on March 27 has expanded unemployment eligibility significantly, extending coverage to self-employed and part-time workers for the first time.

Under the law, workers who qualify for at least $1 of unemployment insurance from their state or the federal government under the expanded coverage rules will receive benefits determined by their past income, as well as an additional $600 per week for the duration of the crisis. The law also extends the duration of unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and includes a $1200 one-time payment for all U.S. workers making less than $75,000 per year.

It sounds complicated, but chances are good that if you’re a tattoo artist out of work due to the coronavirus, you are eligible for unemployment benefits under the new law.  For more complete information, see the New York Times’s COVID-19 stimulus FAQ and the Federal Department of Labor’s COVID-19 unemployment insurance site.

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Sell Commissioned Tattoo Art

You can’t put your art on people right now, but you can still make tattoo art to sell. Even if they can’t come in for a new tattoo, customers can support their favorite artists by buying a custom piece of their work on paper or canvas. Use some of this time in isolation to sharpen your tattoo art chops and sell practice pieces or commissions online through an online marketplace or your own social media accounts.

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Hold an Online Tattoo Art and Merch Raffle

If you’re a shop owner with branded merch in stock or an artist working on new pieces while in quarantine, you can raise funds and engage your customers by holding a raffle through your website or social media account. Tickets can be as inexpensive as $5-$10 and sold through your existing online purchase system or through convenient money transfer apps like Venmo. Let your followers know what good stuff will be available, then give them a week to purchase as many tickets as they want. To up the excitement, you could live stream the drawings for winners online.

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Strengthen Your Social Media Presence

We’re all consuming more digital content these days, so it’s a good time to tidy up the social media accounts you use to promote your tattoo art or tattoo shop. Take the time to post highlights from your past work or create an online portfolio from your physical one. This epidemic isn’t going to last forever, and if you reach a new audience in the meantime, you may have some excited new clients waiting for you once shops open for business again. If you’re interested in the project, check out our blog about promoting on social media.

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Sell Shop Merchandise or Gift Cards

For shop owners, sales of existing merchandise like shop-branded shirts or hats can make up a bit of the income shortfall. You can also accept prepayments for future tattoos or sell tattoo gift certificates to be redeemed later, perhaps at a discounted price, in order to make some income in the short-term. Some artists are also offering digital consultations for customers planning their perfect post-isolation piece.

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Thousands of individuals and businesses have turned to crowdfunding platforms like Gofundme for assistance in recent weeks. Even though millions of us are facing lost or reduced incomes, industries and communities are showing up for each other and helping each other weather the storm. Even if it’s only a little, it’s something, and it gives friends, clients, and followers a way to show their support and solidarity.


It’s an unprecedented time, but we’re going to get through together. Tattooing has been around for thousands of years, through every calamity that has faced humanity before, and it will be here when COVID-19 is done. Stay strong, do what you can, and keep checking the PainfulPleasures community page and blog for tattoo news and content.