Dec 8

The Stick and Poke Tattoo

I saw a question on the best way to undertake the stick-and-poke method of tattooing and rather than respond in the limited matrix of the “ask” column i thought i would go over it here in greater detail.

The Stick and Poke Tattoo

instructions eloquently rendered by J Lafferty


*Isopropyl Alchohol

*Vaseline Jelly

*Dettol or Speed-Stick Regular Deodorant (the green kind, with distinctive musky fragrance)

*saran wrap

*clean(ish) pencil

*clean(ish) embroidery thread in a BRIGHT COLOR

*two rubber bands

*ink cups (super cheap online, WORTH IT for proper method)


*proper tattoo needle, sold in bulk. (a 3 or 4 round liner is best - big needle groupings are harder to work with by hand and tend to chew up the skin, preventing a good tattoo instead of imparting bold lines) (edit: i have used guitar string, acupuncture needles, and plain old sewing needles. they do not produce NEARLY the quality results you can get with a good needle made specifically to tattoo. in addition, one must know that tattoo needles are delicate and will bend easily, which will destroy your skin. be careful with the needle.)

*spirit transfer paper


*gloves (optional if tattoing self)

*lots and lots of paper towel

1. select the design. designs should be extremely simple for beginners. peace sign, cross, a few letters. once you begin you will see how even a pot leaf or a yin-yang requires oodles of patience, sweat, and hard work.

2. once the design is the right size, create the transfer. take the transfer paper and remove the annoying piece of onion skin inside. place the design close to the edge of the sheet (we want to make this valuable tranfer paper stretch as much as possible) and tape it downmaking sure you are using the good side: there should be a layer of paper you are working on, then the carbon sheet with the carbon facing up.i like to use a wood stylus but a sturdy pencil will do - press hard to get the carbon on the paper. when finished, cut out as close as possible to the design. KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN!! if you wash your hands, begin to draw, then pet your dog or touch your hair YOUR HANDS ARE DIRTY AGAIN AND NEED TO BE WASHED. WASH YOUR HANDS.

3. Wash your hands again.

4. assemble the rig. fun fun, right? take the eraser end of the pencil and your needle. (tattoo needles are soldered onto a bar in round (liner) or flat (shader) configurations. spread the needles a little for maximum penetration [haha] by touching them lightly to a lighter flame. melts the solder, but works fast so watch out don’t ruin the needle.)

a.lay the bar flush to the pencil with the needles on top of the eraser end. b.rubber band through the loop on the end of the bar TIGHTLY and again farther up close to the eraser.

c. cut a length of embroidery thread the length of your arm, stick it between the bar and the pencil and begin winding it around the needle, working your way toward the point and making layers of thread. you will need to leave only a nickel-or dimes-depth of needle left sticking out of the thread. secure with a knot and VOILA you have in your hand an ancient tool - the tattoo needle, ready to use.

5. assemble the work station. a glass surface is preferable, but make it work whatever. CLEAN the surface.

a. take a two foot length of saran wrap and lay it over the table, avoiding bubbles.

b. a fingerful of jelly to hold your ink cups, a big fingerful for working with.

c. fill a clean dish or bowl two tbsps distilled or boiled water, add two tbsps rubbing alchohol. this is for cleaning.

d. fill the inkcups. i like to add a drop of alchohol for sterility/to thin the ink. AS REGARDS INK: i use Yasutomo Sumi ink, japanese ink made from plant soot. India ink works fine. Stick to black for now.

6. Place the transfer. having shaved the skin (if needs be) and washed it with hot water and soap, apply a thick layer of deodorant to the area. center the transfer and press down with the palm of the hand. when it sticks to the skin, carefully rub the transfer with more deodorant. peel it off and the transfer is complete. (i like to check a mirror to see how it looks.)

7. Begin the tattoo. with the fingers apply a layer of vaseline starting in a spot close to you working away. STRETCH THE SKIN with the non-needle-holding fingers - this is essential. take the needle rig and dip it in the ink, and poke-poke-poke… there is really no way to describe this, it is trial and error and feel. remember the rig works best when the skin is TAUT and it is at right angles to the skin - gravity, you know. i like to think of my arm moving wrist, hand and fingers like an old-fashion sewing machine.YES it hurts a little at first but don’t be a pussy. give it ten minutes and i think you will find you could do it all day.

8. Poke a while, and as needed dip paper towel in alky/water solution and wipe the vaseline-ink-blood mess away. i use a wet-then-dry wipe. apply more vaseline and begin to poke again.

9. This is pretty much it - - remember to take deep measured breaths from the belly and think happy thoughts and by the way you should have eaten before you began - - did you take a break to eat? WASH YOUR HANDS. When in doubt, WASH YOUR HANDS. Don’t think because you are an arrogant hipster little crust-punk poseur you are immune from infection. infection sucks, its never not going to suck. ever. be wise, be clean. Contamination+Control=Containment

10. When finished, wipe down with alkywater paper towel and apply a thick coat of vaseline. Dispose of the work station by putting all trash INCLUDING NEEDLE RIG (don’t be an idiot and try to reuse it) in the middle of the saran wrap. Take all your paper towels and put them in to absorb the liquids (alkywater, inks). Wrap up from the edges and throw it away in the garbage outside.

11. AFTERCARE: tricky subject. i say it varies from person to person - your skin will dictate the best method. personally i think that less care=good care - i wait 10-30 minutes then wash the tattoo thoroughly with hot water and liquid soap (dr. bronners) removing all gunk; pat dry with a towel and then forget about it. Trust me lots of artists will tell you you can pretty much walk out the shop with a new tattoo bare to the world and do nothing to it at all and its probably the best method.

And there it is your new tattoo. looks like shit doesn’t it? as with any skill or craft (and this is a noble craft, an art-form with an ancient heritage), hand tattooing takes practice. but consider that folks have been getting and giving tattoos since cave-man times and only recently have we had electricity and those lovely, beautiful machines. Once you do your first one it is only a matter of time before you move on to bigger, more elaborate stick and poke designs and then you can totally be a tattoo shaman mand, just live in truth off the grid and take ayahuasca and give fellow vagabonds your spiritually empowered tattoos in those heady post-campfire-butchugging sessions. idiot.

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