Professional Tattoo Artists Talk About The Stick-And-Poke Tattoo Trend


If you came out of quarantine without baking a single loaf of bread or multiple batches of kombucha, we can’t relate to you. The pandemic gave birth to many DIY habits – at-home hair masks or homemade grape wine – people are a lot more adventurous with DIY than ever before. And one of the DIY trends that seem to have charmed Gen Z and millennials a lot is the homemade stick-and-poke tattoo.

Yep, you read that right. People are giving themselves rustic and amateur hand-poked tattoos at home. While we love that young ‘uns are expressing themselves with cute bunnies and florets tattooed on their ankles and knees, we do wonder what professional tattoo artists think have to say about that.

How Are Stick-And-Poke Tattoos Different From Machine Inking?

“Stick-and-poke is also a professional tattooing technique – a traditional way of tattooing which existed way before tattoo machines were invented”, revealed Illustrator, Graphic Designer and Tattoo Artist Smriti Choudhary. “The process does not require any electric tools. A tattoo needle is dipped in ink and repeatedly poked through the skin to deposit ink in the skin’s dermis layer. The dot-work technique is used to create each line. Though a much slower process than a machine tattoo, it is way gentler and causes less trauma to the skin. Because of this, the tattoo tends to heal faster.” she elaborated further.

Graphic Artist, Illustrator and Tattoo Artist Shyamli Panda commented, “Ideally, there shouldn’t be a difference between “professional” tattooing techniques and hand-poked tattoos. Stick-and-poke is just another traditional method that recently has seen a bit of a revival. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done with care and precision professionally.”

Why Are Stick-And-Poke Tattoos Trendy Now?

For Shyamli, the resurgence of the traditional tattooing technique speaks volumes about culture. She revealed, “I think tattoos, in general, have gained in popularity recently and have started to get a bit “mainstream” perhaps. I see this movement towards hand-poked or stick-and-poke tattoos as a form of rebellion or in reaction to the commercialisation of an otherwise fringe industry. Especially in the younger generation, I sense a need to separate themselves from the pack where they prefer things that aren’t “perfect” looking.”

For Smriti, the answer lies in the experience of getting the tattoo than the design itself. She revealed, “I think stick-and-poke tattoos look very unique and organic. They are less overwhelming for someone who is probably getting their first tattoo. There is no constant loud noise of a machine, which can at first be scary for some people, and the whole process is less invasive and gentler on the skin.”

Smriti’s personal experience with the technique can explain the charm of the same as well. “When I gave myself my first hand-poked tattoo, the purpose was to be able to practice on real skin. I did not want to carry around the guilt of giving someone else a bad tattoo. The whole process to me felt very meditative, and fortunately, the tattoo turned out just how I had visualised. Every time I look at my hand-poked Ginkgo tattoo, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. In Japanese culture, Ginkgo leaf is a symbol of courage, persistence and strength, and to me, it will always be special.”


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A post shared by Smriti Choudhary (@airphish)

Thoughts On DIY Stick-And-Poke Tattoos

Talking about inexperienced people tattooing themselves, Shyamli confessed, “I think it’s great that people are curious about tattooing, and the art form has become as ubiquitous as it is. However, it isn’t something to be taken lightly either. A lot of stick-and-poke tattoos that I see in India simply aren’t well done. When done by experienced artists, they are clean-looking with solid lines and smooth shading or colouring. Much like machine-made tattoos.” She further elaborated, “You need to worry about making mistakes as well. It’s a permanent piece of work on your body. Take it seriously; give it and yourself enough respect to make it well. Some good practice pieces are old school and traditional tattoos, with solid outlines and solid filling.”

Smriti commented, “Irrespective of which technique one is choosing for their tattoo, it is crucial that it is performed in an extremely sterile and hygienic environment. You need the right tools that have been properly sterilised. A needle is making multiple puncture wounds on your skin. The last thing you want is an infection, or something worse! I have seen people use all kinds of needles on videos online, even sewing needles. That definitely cannot be safe, and it can be difficult to sterilise needles on your own at home. Though it’s an entirely safe technique, it’s important to be trained about the right tools, methods, and health and safety measures before trying it yourself. Both hand-poked and machine-made techniques are beautiful and give permanent results. It’s all about personal choice.”


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A post shared by Shyamli Panda (@shyamli)

Risks Involved With DIY Stick-And-Poke Tattoos

Shyamli cautioned, “There are real dangers to not paying heed to proper and stringent hygiene measures. You can seriously damage your skin or injure yourself if you do this unsupervised. Not to mention, not everyone can draw. A lot of hand-poke tattoos I am seeing are objectively unattractive and badly done. So, tattoo yourself all you want, but first, take time to learn under someone experienced. Apart from the fact that you could well be left with a blurred or fading tattoo, you could also go too deep and scar yourself. If you’re not taking strict, industry-standard hygiene measures, you could catch various diseases and infections as well. If the inks aren’t good, you could develop severe allergies. Learn and apprentice under an artist – this isn’t the place to pick up tips!”

Shyamli also touched upon the aftercare of the same and said, “There isn’t an entirely different way of taking care of stick and poke tattoos; keep your tattoo clean and minimally moisturised. Don’t expose it to too much water, and wear soft, loose-fitting clothing. These are some basic things; the rest should be explained to you by your artist or mentor.”

Smriti elaborated on the same and said, “Stick-and-poke tend to heal faster, but daily care is prime till it heals completely. The tattoo should be covered for the first couple of hours to avoid contact with any kind of bacteria. Wash it daily with a gentle cleanser and apply a thin layer of tattoo aftercare ointment to keep it moisturised. When the tattoo starts scabbing, do not touch it or try to peel it.”

How To Do A Stick-And-Poke Tat At Home?

If you are really passionate about learning this technique and are an artist, first perfect the basics. Smriti revealed, “Start by drawing with pen or pencil on paper. Being a skilled artist is definitely an essential requirement if you want to start tattooing. Only after you are confident in your drawing skills should you move to the next step. Tattooing is like any other art; only the canvas is different. I personally starteManyctising on fake skin, a rubber sheet that absorbs ink similar to human skin. It helped me get accustomed to the needle, the angle, the amount of pressure, the depth it needs to deposit the ink, the placement of the hand and basic hand control. It does not give the actual feel or texture of human skin, but it can be strapped on the body to get used to the contours. It is also necessary to learn about sterilising the workspace and pre and post-care steps from a professional. The internet is full of contradictory advice so pay no heed to those!”

Smriti also elaborated on how to pick a design for yourself and revealed, “Stick-and-Poke tattoos are very time-consuming, which is why most people choose small and delicate designs. Though dot-work artworks, tiny motifs and geometrical patterns are more common, they have their own unique look and can be experimented with to create different styles. As far as making mistakes is concerned, it is extremely important to learn how to draw and have the right control over your hand movement before even getting into tattooing. Tattoo is permanent art on your body, and it should not be taken lightly.”

Photos: Instagram

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