The Ancient Art of Stick and Poke Tattooing

Stick and Poke tattooing is a traditional method of tattooing that has been practiced for centuries. 

In this article we’ll be looking at how this ancient method of tattooing has evolved over time, and why it has suddenly gained renewed interest and popularity. 

 

Origins of Stick & Poke Tattooing

Stick and poke tattooing, also known as hand poke tattooing, has been around for centuries.  Here are some early examples of the practice can be found in indigenous communities around the world who used natural materials like bones and plant thorns to create tattoos:

Hand poke tattoos have a rich and diverse history spanning across different cultures and civilizations.  Egyptian mummies, dating back to 2000 BC, bear some of the earliest evidence of this art form.  The Greeks, Romans, and Persians have written about the practice of hand poke tattoos, while the Polynesians honed their own unique style known as "tatau" through hand-tapped tattooing over thousands of years. 

The Maori people of New Zealand developed their own tradition called "ta moko," using hand poking techniques. Similarly, the Cree and Inuit tribes in North America utilized bone needles and natural pigments for their distinctive skin art.

In Thailand, the revered "Sak Yant" technique involved hand poking sacred designs onto devotees using metal rods or bamboo sticks.  Cambodia practiced a form of hand poke tattooing known as "Yantra" in accordance with their Buddhist beliefs.  Meanwhile, Japan has a longstanding tradition of tattooing called "Irezumi," and Celtic and Nordic cultures also engaged in stick and poke tattooing using natural ingredients like woad for their ink.

This rich tapestry of hand poke tattooing highlights its widespread presence and cultural significance throughout the ages.  The cultural significance of stick and poke tattoos varied in different civilizations.  In some cultures, tattoos were used as a form of identification or protection, while in others, they were viewed as a symbol of status or a way to commemorate important life events.  Many indigenous cultures saw tattoos as a way to connect with their ancestors and spiritual beliefs. 

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in stick and poke tattooing, with many people opting for this traditional practice over modern machine tattoos.  One reason for this is the personal connection that comes with hand poking a tattoo, allowing for a more intimate and involved experience. Additionally, stick and poke tattoos can also be less intimidating for those who are afraid of the noise and pain associated with machine tattoos.


Techniques Used in Stick and Poke Tattooing

Stick and poke tattooing is sometimes described as a DIY method of tattooing that involves using a needle instead of an electric machine.  Stick and poke tattooing is relatively easy to learn, and it doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment. 

In this section, we'll discuss the essential techniques used in stick and poke tattooing. 

Supplies Needed: 

Needle: The needle is the most essential item in stick and poke tattooing.  You can buy a needle online, or you can make a needle by soldering several needles together.

Ink:  You can use any tattoo ink for stick and poke tattoos.  It's advisable to go for ink that is designed for stick and poke tattooing. 

Gloves:  You must wear gloves to prevent contamination.  You can use either sterile or non-sterile gloves. 

Petroleum jelly:  You can use petroleum jelly to help the needle slide easier on your skin while tattooing. 

Cotton swabs or sponge:  You can use cotton swabs or sponge to clean excess ink and blood while tattooing.  

Preparation & Sterilization: 

- Before you begin tattooing, you'll need to prepare your workspace. 

- Sanitize your hands and the work area.

- Clean the skin thoroughly using soap and water. 

- Remove any hair in the area you intend to tattoo.

- Prepare the ink. 

- Put on gloves. 

The Stick & Poke Tattooing Process

The process of tattooing involves more than just dipping the needle into the ink and puncturing the skin. It requires skill, precision, and proper technique to create a well-executed tattoo. Here is a more detailed description of the process:

1. Prepare the equipment: Before beginning the tattooing process, ensure that you have a sterilized needle and high-quality tattoo ink. Prepare a clean and sanitized workspace, and make sure you have all the necessary tools and supplies within reach.

2. Set the needle depth: Adjust the needle depth on your tattoo machine to the appropriate level. The depth will depend on various factors such as the location of the tattoo, the type of skin you're working on, and the desired effect. It's important to have the needle at the correct depth to ensure the ink penetrates the skin evenly.

3. Dip the needle into the ink: Gently dip the tip of the needle into the tattoo ink. Make sure the needle is fully saturated with ink, but avoid overloading it to prevent excessive bleeding and smudging.

4. Position the needle: Hold the tattoo machine firmly and position the needle at a 45-degree angle to the skin. This angle allows the ink to flow smoothly and ensures that it enters the skin effectively. Start with a light touch, gradually increasing the pressure as you work.

5. Begin tattooing: With the needle in position, gently and steadily puncture the skin using a controlled up-and-down motion. Work in small, precise strokes, following the outline or design you have prepared. Take your time and maintain a steady hand to ensure accuracy.

6. Monitor the ink flow: As you tattoo, pay attention to the ink flow. It should be consistent, neither too heavy nor too light. If the ink flow is inconsistent, adjust the speed and pressure of the tattoo machine accordingly.

7. Continue until completion: Repeat the process of puncturing the skin and depositing ink until you have created the desired image or filled in the designated area. Take breaks when needed to rest your hand and allow the client to adjust their position if necessary.

Remember, tattooing is a skill that takes time and practice to master. It's important to prioritize cleanliness, proper technique, and client comfort throughout the entire process. After completing the tattoo, follow appropriate aftercare instructions to ensure proper healing and long-term satisfaction with the finished artwork.

Aftercare Instructions: 

Clean the tattoo thoroughly once more. 

Protect the tattoo's surface with a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a sterile, non-adherent bandage.

Wash the tattoo several times a day and apply petroleum jelly for about a week, or until the tattoo is entirely healed. 

Avoid exposing the tattoo to direct sunlight or swimming for at least two weeks after the tattooing. 

The Significance of Stick & Poke Tattoos

Unlike traditional tattoos, often done in a tattoo parlor, stick and poke tattoos are typically done by hand using a needle and ink.  This method allows for a more personal and intimate experience, as the recipient is often tattooed by a close friend or family member. 

For example, in Thailand, stick and poke tattoo inks have gained popularity as an alternative method of body art.  Stick and poke tattoos, also known as hand-poked or hand-stitched tattoos,  involve manually inserting ink into the skin using a needle or other sharp object.  Traditionally, this technique has been practiced by Buddhist monks and tribal communities in Thailand for centuries. The inks used in these tattoos are typically derived from natural sources, such as plants, minerals, or even ashes from sacred rituals.  These natural pigments are believed to possess spiritual significance and are often associated with cultural symbolism.  In recent years, stick and poke tattoos have also gained traction among younger generations and tattoo enthusiasts, with artists experimenting with a wide range of ink colors and styles.  While this method offers a more intimate and personalized tattooing experience, it's crucial to ensure that proper hygiene and safety measures are followed to avoid any potential risks or complications.

The process getting a stick and poke tattoo can also be seen as a form of self-exploration and growth, as the recipient takes control of their own body and creates a permanent mark that represents who they are and what they believe in.

Safety Concerns With Stick & Poke Tattooing

As the popularity of stick and poke tattoos increases, so do concerns about the safety of the practice. 

There is a risk of infection if the equipment used is not properly sterilized, and improper technique can result in scarring and other complications. 

In addition, the ink used in stick and poke tattoos may not be regulated or safe for use on the skin, which can lead to allergic reactions or other adverse effects. 

It is important to carefully consider the potential risks and take steps to minimize them before getting a stick and poke tattoo.

Conclusion

Overall, stick and poke tattooing has a rich history and cultural significance in different parts of the world.  Its recent resurgence proves that people crave a personalized and traditional approach to tattooing.  They also tend to be less expensive than machine-made tattoos, which is a pull factor for many.

Whichever type of tattoo is your cup of tea, always ensure that you take the precautionary steps mentioned above.  Your health is just as important as your right to artistic expression.

 

We Make Ink Do More

Paul Park, The Xtreme Team

For more information on our TATTOO INK sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections.

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