Stick and Poke Tattoos


Written by Christina Ryan

Photos by Marissa Alper

Richmond is home to some of the most incredible artistry; from the murals that adorn our streets to the famous tattoo shops around every street corner, expression flows in every direction.  One type of artistry that has been gaining attention has been the ‘Stick and Poke’ D.I.Y.-homemade style of tattooing. The process involves using a needle and ink instead of a tattoo gun to create the tattoo. While this method is certainly cheaper than hiring a tattoo artist in a shop to execute your tattoo, it comes with a few risks. Dean has done over ten different stick and poke tattoos for friends of his and warns against amateurs jumping into the process. “Honestly, I should have watched a YouTube video or something ‘cause I just went straight into doing them (not that any of the ones I’ve done are horrible. My friend just gave me instructions at the time and I pretty much just winged it from there. Oh God, that sounds horrible, a tattoo artist’s nightmare probably,” Dean laughs. “I wouldn’t say I recommend them. I don’t know if I want to condone that, ‘cause you have to be clean and safe about it. Plus, I trust myself more than others, like I wouldn’t want them to do something wrong.”




Although this method is one you shouldn’t attempt without properly sanitized tools and having researched the dangers, it can be a rewarding process according to Dean.

“My friend introduced them to me so we looked up the process online on how to go about getting them. It didn’t seem like a bad idea nor did it seem too difficult so we went ahead and gave it a go. I’ve always wanted a tattoo and like most things that I want, I can’t always afford them. Getting the supplies to get one is inexpensive and easily accessible so why not? Initially, I never got or gave myself a stick and poke and I would only did them on others, but the first one that I caved into giving myself was just three simple dots on my hand. Simple.”

Many people choose to follow this route of tattooing because of financial reasons, while others enjoy the creative aesthetic the method gives to the look of the tattoo.


Zucco shows a stick and poke done on her thigh.


“There is a large variety of reasons people might choose a stick and poke over using a machine.  Some might be: anything D.I.Y. is getting a lot of attention, capitalism sucks, they don’t take a lot of materials, they’re cheap, aesthetics, boredom, and tattoos are losing their stigma, so why not?” says Zucco, another experienced artist in the stick and poke world. “My first one was a kitty. It was kind of an impulsive decision, seemed like a nice way to display my love for my cat. My best friend did it for me and later got a matching one (the cat is his too). It wasn’t that thought out and we made some mistakes but at least now we have stories to tell. For the most part, stick and pokes are just cheaper than professional tattoos. Sometimes it just feels really nice to change something about myself when I am feeling down. I like to do them with my friends too, for memories’ sake,” says Zucco.



Dean (left) and Zucco (right) show their matching stick and poke tattoos.


The sentimental value of a stick and poke is certainly a great reason for going out and buying a needle and some ink—but be careful if you do decide that this process is best. Zucco details some of the reasons this process is tricky, and requires that safety precautions be taken seriously. “It can be fun and it works if you do it right, but it takes a lot of time. It hurts too, if you have a low pain tolerance I wouldn’t recommend it. Your skin might reject the ink, if you don’t keep it clean it will get infected, and dirty needles can spread diseases, etc. Make sure you use fresh needles and non-toxic ink for sure. Also, keep in mind it is an open wound until it heals, so keep it clean. You should probably read up about safety tips on the internet too. Those are just my quick recommendations, I’m not a professional.”

The stick and poke tattoo process is a cheap alternative to the more common machine method of tattooing. If you opt for this intimate, personal method, be sure to buy good quality supplies and practice before trying on skin. Otherwise, stick and pokes can be a fun method of self-expression.