Mosaic Tries Something New: Stick ’N Pokes
Getting a stick and poke tattoo defies every aspect of common sense. Detractors of the do-it-yourself art form claim that without using proper tools, one cannot get a proper tattoo. The internet is littered with threads of stick and pokes that got infected, and everyone’s friend of a friend has a story of a stick and poke design gone awry.
However, the art form persists. There is a special fascination surrounding it, especially with teenagers. Perhaps it is the inexpensiveness of stick and pokes, how the unprofessional nature allows minors to brand themselves with (sometimes regrettable) designs or the popular idea circulating around the internet that stick and pokes do not technically last “forever.”
Whatever it is, it is reason enough for people to keep poking, even when every source of authority is staunchly opposed to it.
After seeing so much talk about stick and pokes on social media and among my friends, I knew I wanted to try it. Initially, I was nervous, but my excitement outweighed my apprehension. On a Thursday night, I tried my hand at the trend that everyone had seemingly dipped their toes into. The design I chose held no special meaning to me whatsoever. Knowing that I had limited artistic ability, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go for the aesthetically pleasing flowers, animals and human figures that populate stick and poke tags on Instagram and Tumblr. I settled for a very basic flower bud on a stem with two leaves — something so small and basic that I was positive it could not be messed up.
In terms of supplies, everything I used could be procured in a craft store for under ten dollars. Websites dedicated to the art of stick and poke recommend using India ink; it is non-toxic and said to be the best alternative to real tattoo ink. I was able to pick up from my local Michaels.
Many websites also advise readers to attach a sewing needle — the makeshift tattoo needle — to a pen or a pencil for stability, which I did use thread and tape. A lighter or match is also necessary to sterilize the needle, a crucial step that marks the difference between a safe stick and poke and a potentially harmful one. Lastly, paper towels and water are always handy in case of ink spills.
I drew my design using a fine-tipped black pen, and immediately regretted it since my ink was black as well. As I began poking, I became worried that I was either poking too deep or not poking deep enough.
However, I quickly figured out through experience and a peek on the internet that when the skin gives a slight bit of resistance as one pulls the needle back up, it typically means that one she or he has poked deep enough.
In an answer to the obvious question, yes, it hurt. However, the pain was not quite as bad as I expected, probably due to my choice of stick and poke location. I tattooed the area about two inches above my ankle, where the skin was fleshy enough to provide some sort of cushion for the needle.
A few pokes left me wincing and wiping tiny droplets of blood, but for the most part, it felt like being repeatedly pinched.
Surprisingly, the experience was not as difficult and excruciating as I had anticipated. While finished stick and poke did not quite measure up to the delicate tattoo I had idealized, I was still happy with it. I was proud that I hadn’t completely botched the tattoo, and that it had come out more or less resembling what I originally intended. It was a little rough, but in my opinion, that gave it a raw and authentic quality.
For aftercare, I wiped off the excess ink and I covered it with a bandage. Most websites agree it is important to leave a stick and poke alone while also keeping it moisturized and clean, a plan I will adhere to in the following days.
Admittedly, there was a social quality missing from my experience. The activity brings to mind groups of friends giving each other stick and pokes as mementos of their unbreakable bond. Splayed out on the destroyed carpet of my floor at ten o’clock on a Thursday night, completely and entirely alone as I repeatedly stabbed myself with a needle attached to a pen — there is no tactful way to say it — I initially felt more than slightly pathetic.
However, as time wore on and I became more invested in the tattoo, I had a change of heart.
There was a bit of an empowering quality to giving myself a stick and poke: I was both an “artist” and a “canvas.”
Will I regret my stick and poke years from now? Only time will tell, but even though it’s fresh, I’m thinking the answer is a solid no.