Despite only getting my first tattoo at the end of 2014, I have managed to accumulate over thirty since. It’s true what they say – it’s addictive! I was fortunate enough that the studio I decided to go to had a resident hand-poke artist, so I was exposed to this method, as well as regular machine tattooing, right from the get go. And I’m glad I was, because being the needle-phobe that I am, there is NO WAY that I would have sought this inking method out on my own, or gone through with it if it wasn’t at the forceful suggestion of my tattoo artist. I was suitably impressed.
Turns out, it’s not that scary after all, and the results are just as good and, in some cases, even better. But what is hand-poking and how does it differ from regular machine tattooing? Let me explain…
Fresh take on an old classic
Hand-poking was the first tattooing method that existed, and is still the preferred one today in various parts of the world. Most trends experience resurge eventually, so it makes sense that hand-poking has come back into the mainstream. This is partly thanks to celebs such as Kesha and Rihanna who are both fans of this type of body art. The only difference between hand-poking and machine tattooing is the way in which the ink is inserted under the skin. Machines make use of needles which are made up of many smaller needles, that move up and down extremely quickly thanks to a motor. Hand-pokes are machine-free, and a needle is dipped in ink and then pushed into the skin manually. This means that the process is a lot slower but the artist also has a lot more control.
What’s good about them?
The first hand-poke tattoo I got were some small shapes on my fingers.
This would have be over and done with in two minutes if a machine had been used. I had them hand-poked because my tattoo artist said that they would last better if they were done that way. It was excruciatingly painful and it almost put me off for good. I learnt later that this had everything to do with the bony placement and not hand-poking itself: my next one required me to sit for four hours for a neck piece and I didn’t experience any pain at all. (I usually need tranquilisers just to go to the dentist.)
I have since had more hand-pokes, and they have all been painless. The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for machine-made counterparts. They also heal a lot quicker and don’t scab and itch in the same way that machine tattoos do.
Hand-poked tattoos often, but not always, cost less then the regular kind. This is because many hand-poke artists are apprentices who have yet to qualify in using machines. Another reason is that it requires a lot less to be able to perform.
Another notable difference is the amount of tiny details that you are able to achieve using the hand-poke method as opposed to a machine. Fine lines, stippling and soft shading can look so much better with the controlled motions used by hand-poke artists. Pain-free and pretty, surely these are the tattoos of the future?
What’s bad about them?
One of the biggest problems in the tattoo industry is people known as scratchers – people without the proper credentials who set up shop (or an Instagram account) and offer tattoos in places that are not legitimate studios, often at discounted prices. It is even easier to fool people you’re a proper hand-poke artist because the materials used are a lot more basic. Regardless of the type of tattoo you are getting, the same hygiene practices apply, and you should make sure that the workplace is sanitary and the equipment new to avoid contamination and serious regret.
Another negative: they do take longer to create. About four times as long, to be honest. But I’d take a longer stint with minimal pain over a shorter, more intense session every day of the week – as would most people with a pain threshold as feeble as mine.
Back to basics
One of the main reasons that hand-poking is becoming more popular is the process itself. Many people see it as a return to craft because the artist is quite literally creating something by hand. Some people, both on the giving and receiving end, also find the whole experience meditative. I can’t attest to this personally because I am still hyper-aware of the fact that there are needles in my vicinity, but whatever floats their spiritual boat.
I would (and frequently do) recommend hand-poke tattoos to anyone who is getting new ink. It’s definitely an experience. And as long as you take the necessary precautions, like going to a reputable artist and following your aftercare instructions, you too could have body art like me or Ri.
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