Fashion: Stick ‘n’ Pokes Are Legit


By Kenneth Miller

Photo courtesy of Jessie Jacobson.

In an age when body modification equates to a particularly high degree of coolness, ink enthusiasts embark on routes in and outside of professional shops to adorn their bodies. What comes with the constant crave for ink is the practice of the good ol’ stick ‘n’ poke tattoo.

If you’re unfamiliar with the at-home, traditionally disaster-ridden practice, you might not be for long. With select artists cultivating the once exclusively DIY practice into some of the most high-end shops around, these gun-free, hand poked tats are emerging into mainstream tattoo culture–and no one seems to be batting an eye.

Some may recall sprawling on top of a kitchen counter–probably drunk–over empty pizza boxes when they think back on their first stick ‘n’ poke tattoo. The image of being approached by the “artist,” equipped with a sketchy needle attached to a pencil with corroded India ink dabbed on its surface, is hard for many to disassociate from. It’s scary, and oftentimes unsafe.

For Bustle Fashion Blogger Meg Zulch, the mention of stick ‘n’ poke tattoos bring her back to a chardonnay flowing Sunday night when a friend inked a “GRRRL” banner on her forearm, which eventually began displaying unfavorable symptoms.

Photo courtesy of Meg Zulch.

“It started to blow up, [becoming] really itchy and swollen,” Zulch tells me while proudly showing off the (now) healed tattoo. “[Stick ‘n’ pokes] are fun and almost necessary when you’re obsessed with tattoos like me and [have] no money.”

In the end, the practice is derivative of a “Grab a needle, and some ink, and start jabbing my skin ASAP!” sensation many seem to feel when in party-like environments. Yet, when tattoo artist Jenna “Slower Black” Bouma picked up on this scene vibe, she told me she knew there was a place for these designs within the professional market.

After years of hand poking tattoos exclusively on her friends, Bouma began developing her style, gravitating a hefty load of fans for not just her pristine hand poked designs, but also technical precision necessary for executing quality stick ‘n’ pokes.

Stationed out of East River Tattoo in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Bouma has an incessant number of fervent fans and is often wholly booked for a couple of months in advance. What’s most shocking to ink fanatics is Bouma’s hourly session rate: $300. Nevertheless, patrons are seemingly certain it’s worth the cost when considering the level of expertise and cleanliness with Bouma’s pieces.

“The majority of people I’ve tattooed prefer hand poking to machine,” Bouma notes on Tumblr. “[It’s] completely subjective.” According to her, some prefer the naturalness of the hand and needle; others simply find the gun too loud, potentially ruining the euphoric moment taking place.

A shift towards a more zen tattoo experience is something hand poking critics struggle to combat. When done with diligence and practical safety measures, stick ‘n’ pokes can look as detailed as–if not better than–a machine-driven tattoo.

It’s not clear if the stick ‘n’ poke trend will be a reoccurring one, but it’s worth a gander. After all, they’re legit tattoos; they deserve a degree of respect.