Monday, December 23, 2013

I Tried...Getting a Stick & Poke Tattoo

Tradition VS Trend: Stick n Poke Tattoos:


*Disclaimer: The health risks associated with at-home tattooing can be significant, even life-threatening. I have not written this article to promote the idea of Stick and Poke tattoos, only to document some of the history of the process, and my experience with it.

My housemate wanted a tattoo, our friend brought her stick and poke gear over and it ended up being me who got to play guinea pig.

This was my introduction to the world of Stick and Poke tattooing, a historically tribal method of inking designs onto the skin. Usually, a traditional tattoo is created by dipping bamboo needles into ink and poking them into the skin. The ink takes to the skin in a dot-shape, and it is by carefully etching out the design with those dots that the tattoo begins to form.

My finished tattoo, a few hours afterwards.

This method has been used in South America, by nomadic and tribal people such as the Acapulco Indians, and countries like Thailand and New Zealand among other places. In some cultures these tattoos marked rites of passage, such as a young girl’s debut to womanhood. However these days, stick and poke tattoos have become a largely underground method of getting tattooed.

Tradition Vs Trend:

My own experience with having a ‘stick and poke’ tattoo done occurred in October this year. A good friend of mine had brought her needles (luckily for me she had proper needles, no cotton thread necessary!) and ink over, and was keen to get tattooing. We decided on a single arrow on my index finger, a symbol for my zodiac sign, Sagittarius, and drew it on with a skin marker. The process was painful, in my experience more painful than a tattoo gun (my index finger swelled to a cube-shape afterwards, and looked like it was about to burst free of the skin) but not unbearable.

The fact is, the stick and poke style of tattooing is basically stabbing the skin repeatedly – you’d have to be superhuman not to swell or bruise a little bit. As the tattoo was small our session didn’t last very long, perhaps an hour. This method is obviously more time-consuming than a gun, and it can be difficult for the tattooist to create complex designs of varying tone, depth and colour. However, there are many places in the world where the stick and poke method can create beautiful and complex designs – but it’s probably not going to happen in your bedroom with a needle and pen ink.

(note: if you end up sticking yourself, don’t use bloody pen ink, get some decent stuff – or better yet get someone with decent tattoo skills to help you, like I did.)

The needles used on me were sterile, my friend worked steadily and calmly and I ended up with a beautiful tattoo, and the awesome memory of sitting in my living room wincing while my house mates giggled at me.