I got my first tattoo when I was 16 and have been collecting them ever since. I use them as mile markers, badges of accomplishment and talismans. When things are good, I need a tattoo, when things are bad I really need a tattoo. Problem is, for the most part, tattoos require a full wallet or serendipitous connections with talented artists. I say “talented” because more than a friend or two have recommended some person who, like, tattoos out of their living room for free, only to find out their work blows. Knowing someone with a gun doesn’t mean you know someone who can tattoo. I have thousands of dollars in tattoos planned and sketched, but no scratch to afford the jabbing needles and ink. However, the chaos of writing a few blogs and a book while running my own business, trying to be present for lovers and friends and still looking for that pot of gold that will finally make all the struggle pay off, or pay rent, is a constant nudge, nudge toward the needle that I can’t ignore. So, I’ve recently taken to collecting a shit ton of that good ol’ punk standby, the Stick n Poke with the frequency of an angsty teen.
If you aren’t in the know, you will be soon, because I am going to tell you all about it!
Stick n pokes have been around forever, they aren’t just a punk thing. While the modern association is with that scene, the most traditional techniques for tattoos are essentially stick n pokes. A needle or sharp tool is dipped in ink and the skin is repeatedly punctured with the needle until enough ink has been deposited into the deeper layers of skin. It’s a much, much slower process than getting tattooed with an electric tattoo gun. The difference is, a mechanical gun holds several needles at once at goes in and out of the skin thousands of times a minute. A stick n poke on the other hand, takes hundreds of deliberate stabbing with one sharp sewing needle. I can never decide which method hurts less, I try not to think of the pain in that way. Pain is just electric currents telling my brain what’s happening. I find the coping skills used to reach an almost meditative state when you are enduring hours of poking to be almost as big of a draw as the resulting new decoration on my skin. It centers me and focuses my thoughts and energy in a way nothing else does.
Stick n pokes are an intimate experience. I have a collection of them from many friends and jump at the chance to get a new one whenever I hear that someone is good at the inky stab. I actually have a section of my right arm reserved for just such an occasion. My most recent slew of ink is credited to teaching my gorgeous and talented partner, Ally, how to do them. Now, Ally, up to the night we did this, had never had a tattoo. Totally “clean” as she used to say. She suddenly decided a couple of months ago, as she sat watching my best friend tattoo me, a friend and herself, that she wanted one. So we bought all the supplies a few weeks later, popped in some Twin Peaks and got to the jabbing. Now almost a month later, it turns out that she is really good at them! She’s given me 3 in as many weeks and has started needling friends.
The last one I got, a tiny gay triangle behind my ear, was the oddest sensation I’ve felt while getting tattooed. I could actually hear my skin give into each puncture, like popping grapes. Yum! I am always planning my next one and just lured my Brooklyn friend into doing one for me while I am here this month. Haven’t quite decided what I want yet…any suggestions?
If one of you readers sends a good idea for one, I’ll totally get it and post the photo here!
While I was sitting here blanking on what to write for my first post and trying not to itch my healing tats, I decided this would be a fun one. So, let’s do some stickin’ n pokin’ !
-the tiniest, thinnest, sewing needle you can find
-a pen for drawing the image onto the skin
-thread, the less synthetic the better
Start by setting up your needle. You can tattoo with just the needle, but attaching it to a pencil gives you more control. Take the pencil and hold the needle, sharp side down against the end of the pencil. You want about half of the needle’s length to be supported by the pencil. Begin wrapping the tape around the pencil and needle a few times, until the needle is pretty steady. Now grab a length of thread. Starting on the pencil, begin wrapping the thread tightly around the base of the pencil where the needle is attached. Keep going down until you are just wrapping thread around the needle itself. I wrap up and down the needle a few times, going all the way down to just the point. You just want to leave the very sharp end unwrapped. As you start wrapping back up the needle, you’ll finish by wrapping the thread around the base of the pencil again. So basically, you start on the pencil and end on the pencil, got it? Now, wrap some more tape around the pencil to keep the thread in place and your needle is done! It should look a little like a weapon, really.
Dip the needle into alcohol and let it rest, making sure the needle itself isn’t touching ANYTHING, while you finish getting ready for the pain and beauty part of this process. Wipe the area of skin to be tattooed with alcohol then draw the design onto your skin with a pen. Once you are set, pour a little ink into a dish or cup that have been cleaned with alcohol. Pick up your needle and get to work!
You’ll dip the needle in ink, then jab a few times, dip and jab, repeat repeat. You’ll get a feel for how deep to go. How many passes it takes really depends on the skill of person who is doing tattooing and the way the tattooed person’s skin accepts ink. Everyone is a little different, so it’ll take some experimentation.
Have fun, and if you’re a cute queer kid who still lives at home, don’t tell your parents I taught you how to do this!
Send your tattoo ideas to email@example.com!