Stick ‘n’ Pokes : An Ancient Technique’s Gone Chic

We all know DIY culture is making a comeback. This is especially true in the tattoo industry, where an ancient technique’s gone chic; Stick ‘n’ Pokes are back!!

Stick ‘n’ poke?

Stick ‘n’ Poke tattoo’s are done by hand, dot by dot, with out without a stencil, and at the artist’s own pace. Because it’s more of a DIY art-form, you almost have to partner-up and practice. In my own experience, I’ve had the pleasure of being able to S’n’P over a friend’s self-inflicted scars and saw their confidence soar! 

Having been around for centuries, hand-poke tattoos may represent an individual’s rank within a society or group. Though this ranking system is mostly found in prisons, nowadays kids just want ’em it for the f_ck of it.

Like many other freshly-fifteen year-olds, I found an article on how to do your own “Prison-Style” tattoo at home. And so naturally the next day my bestfriend and I were somewhere in the woods, starting on our first ink. What I have since found out, after countless trials and errors on my own skin, was that I still regret none of my ink. Whether it’s over a covered-up a part of me that I’m too fond of (or any other part I do like), every piece I’ve ever inked has allowed me to look down and smile.

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My inspiration board


***The first and foremost thing to learn when practicing these tattoos is to be incredibly cautious about sanitation and cross contamination. Always wear plastic gloves, cover & clean all surfaces being used, and use LOTS of anti-bacterial soap. A non-scented lotion can be applied for the lining and for after-care.***

With the materials costing an overall of roughly 20$ for roughly a years worth of stick n poking, and most of these materials being household products, it’s pretty easy for us to get our grimy little hands on it. The first time I attempted mine was with a sewing needle, thread wrapped around it to hold the ink, tapped on to a pen or pencil with leadless India Ink from my local art supplies shop. Maybe a sip or two of Guinness to take the edge off…

Using these minimal tools, and lots of sanitation (as shown behind the Ink), a tattoo can be done within the comfort of your home.


Practice makes pokefect
Many aspiring tattoo artists often start their stick ‘n’ poke technique, practicing on orange, grapefruit or lemon peels, and then themselves, and then the willing recipients. Remember, practice makes pokefect.

Examples from my Portfolio


Fishbone poke
Little anchor 🙂
Picture of the self-done stick ‘n’ poke on my knee

I love this last hand-poke. It represents the year I was “established”, May 21st, 1997. Being the youngest in my family and friend group, I always forgot my age and tried to grow up faster than I should. We all do this to some extent, but now I realize that I’m still young and I have quite a lot of time to kill before it’s too late. I cherish the memory of this stick’n’poke and the people I was with then, and even if we stop talking or I end up hating it (doubtful), it is part of who I am today and always will be.

Picture of Conor A's Ocarina tattoo
Picture of Conor A’s Ocarina tattoo
Logo of Jrock band ‘Tricot’
Devan’s Pussy Stench tattoo

These 3 pictures are all very important to me since they all came out of crustlove and friendship . The first 2 are from Conor A of The Costanza’s & The Barrel Heads. He wanted an Ocarina from Zelda & a Tricot logo. I wasn’t familiar with the Jrock band, but I dug the Ocarina idea being a Zelda fan myself. We ended up doing the tattoo at his jamspace. He lay on a car seat while people jammed and music sounded; and I poked.

When my friend/co-stencherette Devan came by the next time, we committed to getting matching P.S. tattoo’s (see above). And whether it was having her there, the smoking-up, the listening to good music, the great people around, we ended up staying much later than expected.

Largest tattoo done so far on David’s forearm

When our drummer (still Pussy Stench) David F asked me for something, without much of an idea, I went over and we brainstormed for a bit. What came of that was we ended up meshing a couple of my drawings together and came out with this (see bellow). The outline took about 30-45 min while the tattoo itself took about 3. (It went by fast with some blues in the background and our packs hallowing-out quicker than expected.)

last one 🙂




As an experiment, I posted a status on Facebook that I was writing an article on the hand-poke culture and would like to hear people’s experiences with stick ‘n pokes. I got great responses:

“It hurt for the first 5 minutes and as my first tattoo it was less painful than I thought it was going to be. My artist was this cool blonde lady who took beer as currency so it worked out, I enjoyed it and still do. It was quality work and didnt need to be touched up. ”

-CC, (a good friend, and ‘TC’ chiller)

“I got my first stick n poke 2 years ago when I developed a friendship with someone. This friendship meant a lot to me at the time because the day I met them I had just received news from my best friend stuck in Algeria. This new friendship I made was with someone who shared the same birthday as me. Exactly the same. Same day, same year, same time (different time zones though 3h difference) but on paper it’s the same. Both of us are Gemini’s who just wanted good company. She herself had just had to lose a close friend as well and we had bonded that night we met. A few months into our friendship they bestowed upon me this crown. It’s a glowing Samo signature tag. She let me choose what I’d like as my first tat and I decided on it because Basquiat is an inspiration to me as an emerging artist. His era in art is a big influence in the way I think about art. This glorification of street art and it’s rise to high art level in Brooklyn galleries in the 80’s has moved art forward to the contemporary styles we see in galleries today. It is as iconic as Cubism, Dada, Colorfields and so on. Later on in our friendship we decided to both get our birthdays tattoed. She tattooed it on her hand and I tattoed it onto my foot. We did it to show each other how much we mean to each other. It’s not everyday you find your birthday twin. You know? 0530 represents may 30th” Submitted by AAA (artists & student, hella sweet person) (1/2)
Submitted by AAA, artists & student, hella sweet person (2/2)
“Heyy saw your post and I have two stick and pokes done by my friend! I thought the experience was so awesome. I thought that it was great because like the whole experience is a great memory not just the tattoo, having it done by my friend and also hanging out with friends all night and it was really relaxing and comfortable.” – SB (1/2)
Submission by SB
Submission by SB (artist, student, writer) (2/2)
Submission from Thomas P of Dep Wine.

Words by:
Grace M Karam

Music Editor, and Staff Writer