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Business and Mindset: The Mentors Role for Apprentice Success Kurt Jacobsen EP 277

The Mentor's Role for Apprentice Success | Kurt Jacobsen | EP 277

The current landscape of tattooing is inundated with a surge of new and untrained tattooers, facilitated by the accessibility of resources like YouTube tutorials, Instagram, and online courses. The once formidable barriers to entry have crumbled, resulting in a heightened demand for mentors. But what does it mean to be a mentor? What does it look like to give someone a good apprenticeship?

This brings us to a conversation with one of our esteemed mentors, Kurt Jacobsen, a cherished member of the Fireside Tattoo Network. In this article, we delve into Kurt's perspectives on the significance of apprenticeships, the qualities of a commendable mentor, and the nuanced disparity between knowledge and understanding in the realm of tattooing.

This episode was made possible thanks to:

Interview by By Jake Meeks —

Writing By Daniel Pushcarich —

Topics: Tattoo Apprentices, Tattoo Mentorship, Tattoo Apprenticeship, Paid Apprenticeship, Tattoo Shop Management, Tattoo Education, Learn To Tattoo


Kurt Jacobsen Last Of Us Tattoo Leg Sleeve

“You gotta go out and find your own thing. So, I don’t view an apprenticeship as a chance to collect somebody permanently, Right? We have a period of time where we help each other, and then you flourish. So you have somebody else ready to go because it’s a walking system.”

— Kurt Jacobsen

Kurt Jacobsen (@kjaketattoo) has been tattooing for 14+ years is an undeniable wealth of knowledge and an expertly skilled tattooer and draftsmen. Kurt has taken on many challenges including mentorship, running a shop, and 36+ hour marathon tattooing at conventions.

Kurt has a unique style of tattooing that blends beautiful painterly textures with soft bright and bold atmosphere. It’s a bit like staring at a gouache painting on someone’s skin.

Kurt is based in Rolling Meadows, IL and owns Unbreakable Ink

Please enjoy!

Kurt Jacobsen Sleeve Tattoos Flowers and blue herron



  • Connect with Kurt Jacobsen:

UnBreakable Ink | IG

80's leg sleeve lightning portal lady face Kurt Jacobsen Tattoo


  • [00:00] Intro
  • [03:03] Enter Kurt! The Story of a Mastermind!
  • [06:11] How It Started
  • [07:36] Knowing Your Goals Early On
  • [09:32] The Difference Between Knowledge and Understanding
  • [12:34] Having Some Skin in The Game!
  • [17:28] Self-Discipline is the Key To Success
  • [21:57] Modern Learning Tools For Modern Apprentices
  • [23:20] What Does the Apprenticeship Look like?
  • [25:13] Teaching Apprentices Client Control Early
  • [26:35] Teaching Apprentices How to Stay Established
  • [27:16] The True Value of An Apprenticeship
  • [31:30] The Wheat From The Chaff
  • [37:45] 2 Apprentices Means Divided Attention
  • [39:58] Be the Stepping Stone for the Apprentice
  • [42:12] A Cooperative Business Model
  • [47:16] What Makes a Great Mentor/Mentee
  • [51:35] Where to find Kurt


The Difference Between Knowledge and Understanding

[09:32] “The Goal isn’t to keep somebody forever, the goal is to give them the tools to have their own career”

— Kurt Jacobsen

Consider an apprenticeship like a tattoo business training program. Just as a mechanic needs a general understanding of internal combustion engines, an apprentice benefits from a broad education, akin to community college.

An apprenticeship shouldn’t just be about tattooing; it's about understanding methodologies and practical applications. A mentor’s aim should be to instill deeper understanding of tattooing past the physical act, focusing on critical aspects like consultation, client management, and time management and marketing skills. The goal is to equip apprentices with a foundational understanding for running a successful tattoo business.

The True Value of A Tattoo Apprenticeship

[27:16] The first is time. Everything that a mentor’s gonna teach you, you can learn on your own easily…but not quickly. And it will cost you every mistake you will make in your reputation. And the second is, you’re borrowing your mentor’s reputation. I’m not building Kurt clients, I’m building the shop clients so when I train somebody they get the client’s who don’t want to pay MY prices.

— Kurt Jacobsen

Learning to tattoo independently is possible but often slow and costly, with every mistake impacting both the artist and their reputation. Apprentices leverage their mentor's reputation, gaining access to established client bases, experience, and knowledge as they progress in their own skills and experience.

Apprenticeships offer more than just technical tattooing skills; they embed core values like care and professionalism. While these principles may seem basic, they form the foundation of a successful tattooing career, shaping behavior and client interactions.

Toast and Egg One Shot Tattoos

“That’s how learning to tattoo by yourself is, You just waste your time in areas that don’t help until your figure out the areas that do help. And then once you dial that in, you have to clear through all the brush of what’s helpful to get the nugget that works well for you.”

Mentors play a crucial role in guiding apprentices through challenges. Understanding the struggles each apprentice faces— draftsmanship, personality, boundaries, personal management, etc.— helps mentors select candidates and tailor training methods to suit individual needs.

Be The Stepping Stone For Your Tattoo Apprentice

[39:58] “The right person who is going to succeed well, over the long-term, is almost never the person who’s not gonna want to do things for themselves. So when you make it to a certain caliber, almost always, you’re gonna end up wanting to do your own thing.”

— Kurt Jacobsen

Choosing apprentices should be a deliberate process, focusing on individuals who seek long-term success and independence. Rather than viewing apprenticeships as a means to permanently collect artists, successful mentors nurture talents for a period, creating a rotating door that continually fosters growth.

The essence of apprenticeships lies in nurturing talent until it's ready to soar independently. Artists evolve over time, often gravitating towards specialized niches or styles that may diverge from their mentor's focus. Through apprenticeships, artists can find their unique paths, enriching the tattooing community with diverse skills and perspectives.

The walking system ensures a perpetual cycle of mentorship, allowing apprentices to flourish and move on to bigger endeavors. Recognizing that quality individuals often aspire to more significant responsibilities and hopefully taking on apprentices of their very own. 

plague doctor tattoo




Want more tattoo education and resources?

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Transcript for this video can be found (here). All transcripts can be found (Here)

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The Fireside Tattoo Network is home to the Fireside podcast, Fireside Technique video series and our Fireside Weekly blog.

The Fireside Tattoo podcast is hosted by veteran tattooer Jake Meeks, check out our episodes where we discuss, argue and wax philosophical, from tips for all levels of artists to trends in the tattoo world. Many guest artists have sat down for interviews and in-depth conversations and many more are planned…check back often!

Our Fireside Tattoo Overview video series offers informative, short, and detailed videos geared towards helping artists understand the science and nuances of tattoos and make more informed decisions to improve their work. We often take some of our more technical topics from our Fireside podcast and film an in-depth, narrated, time-lapse video showing exactly how Jake or our featured artists handle certain issues.

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Business and Mindset

Running a tattoo business requires a completely different skill set than putting tattoos into skin. As tattooers, we tend to put all of our emphasis on the technical aspects of tattooing. Unfortunately for shop owners and tattoo entrepreneurs, tattooing is only one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to the business of tattooing. 

Fireside is here to help:

  • Tricks for ordering supplies for your crew
  • Creating goals for your shop
  • Upholding tattoo shop values 

We also have plenty of Business and Mindset Deep Dive content to help you avoid the most common pitfalls of shop owners.

Check these pages out

Stuck in a rut? Successful but looking for the next challenge?

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