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how to stick-and-poke (rebloggable)
don’t be a dumbass. i want to make it very clear that this opens you up to the risk of bloodborne pathogens (or vice versa for the person you’re tattooing), infection, loss of/inability to find gainful employment, regret for shitty tattoos later in life, loss of attractivity, angry parents, etc., especially if being done in unsanitary conditions or the following instructions aren’t followed exactly. i am not responsible for what you do with this information, you are- so when you get scar tissue because you didn’t wash your hands, or you think it looks like shit, or whatever, don’t come crying to me.
SO here’s the basics.
- sewing/quilting needles (i recommend pretty thin ones)
- cotton thread
- india ink (i use Higgins non-toxic waterproof pigment-based; most art shops should carry it in their fountain pen/calligraphy sections)
- rubbing alcohol
- A&D ointment
- sterile gauze (optional)
- medical tape (optional)
- paper towels
- pot of boiling water
- non-permanent pen (optional)
- latex gloves (if you or the other person has a bloodborne disease, etc.)
- a disposable “well” for the ink (i cut the bottom off of a solo cup and use that)
- booze (optional)
STEP ONE: STERILIZATION
- first boil the needle(s) you plan on using in water for ten minutes. they should be ideally fresh needles, or at the MOST only used on the same person before. when ten minutes is up, carefully drain the (probably steaming) water, and WITHOUT TOUCHING THEM drop the needles onto a sterile surface or in a sterile container.
- soak the needle(s) in rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol… (again, i use the above-mentioned bottom of a solo cup)
- apply some rubbing alcohol to the surface of the skin you want to tattoo. additionally if you want to draw your design on beforehand so you have something to trace along, here’s where you do it (the alcohol will rub off the non-permanent pen ink, so you’ll want to draw the design on after rubbing down the skin)
- and now wash your hands, you filthy fucking animal! make sure you use an anti-bacterial soap. ideally your fingernails should be trimmed and you should have no cuts, etc. on your hands (otherwise gloves are recommended- see below)
- after you’ve now “scrubbed up”, squirt some rubbing alcohol into your hands and rub it all around and let them air-dry. if you’re using hygienic latex gloves, now is when you put them on.
- grab the needle(s) soaking in the alcohol and dry it/them off.
- USING A DIFFERENT PAPER TOWEL or some other grip, hold the needle(s) over a lighter until it/they glow a bright red/orange colour (someone else should light and hold it for you so you don’t have to worry about transferring any microbes). unless you’re super-tough and/or a dumbass, you’ll want something to grip the needle(s) because the entire length of the needle will get pretty hot. i use a folded up paper towel to grip it- i mention to use a different one because rubbing alcohol is flammable so don’t be stupid and start a fire.
- okay, things should be pretty dang clean by now, so let’s move on.
STEP TWO: PREPARATION
- now we need to do a bit of thinking. how “thick” do you want it to look? if you want to do some shading or plan on doing something wider than.. well, one thin line, you might want to take three (or more) needles and “bundle” them together. otherwise if you’re just doing a quickie or trying to lay down a basic design, one needle is fine.
- run the cotton thread through the eye of the needle(s), and begin wrapping it around the needle. if you’re using one or more needles bundled together, you might need to do a bit of squashing and fiddling, but you usually want an even distribution of needles- all points should be even, and if (for example) you’re using three needles they should be in a pyramid/triangle shape. the thread should wind down (and up) the needle leaving no more than 1/8” at the tip of the needle. tie off any excess. the thread acts as a reservoir for the ink.
- pour some of the ink into your “well”.
STEP THREE: TATTOOING
- FINALLY. for good measure, slather down your hands one more time with rubbing alcohol, let them air-dry, and grab your weapon of mass seduction (the needle(s).)
- dip the needle(s) (still wrapped in thread) into the ink AND….
- start poking! don’t go too deep; you aren’t trying to stab the skin, just “poke” into it. “lightly jab” it, if you will. you don’t want to draw blood, but you should feel the skin “pop” a bit and give to the needle, and “stick” to it a bit. for the visually inclined, this should help. be sure to keep a paper towel soaked with rubbing alcohol handy so you can wipe off excess ink and get a clear picture of your progress. you may also want some dry paper towels handy too to blot up any blood that may rise up in case you have a bleeder.
STEP FOUR: CLEANUP
once you’re done and they’re satisfied with the work (or not. hey, stick and pokes are pretty shitty-looking, let’s be honest- you want quality, you need a LOT of practice or just go to a parlor. primarily stick and poke tattoos are done for the shared experience and bonding.), it’s time to clean up. be sure to safely dispose of any unused ink, paper towels, needles, thread, etc. and wash your hands thoroughly. lightly coat the tattooed skin with a THIN layer of A&D. cover with gauze and tape down if you so wish.
for aftercare, i VERY HIGHLY suggest lishd’s tattoo healing doc. most if not all should be applicable- stick and pokes generally require less healing time than parlor tattoos as it’s less traumatic to the skin. some flaking/peeling may occur, but it should be a very small amount if at all. be sure to keep it clean and make sure it doesn’t get infected.
how much does stick-and-poke hurt?
i’ve heard that the stick n’ poke process is more painful than getting a tattoo professionally, but i can’t compare the two from personal experience.
it’s pretty painful, but depending on the size of your tattoo the pain is so concentrated that it’s easy to distract yourself. my friend went over mine last night and it hurt more than i remembered, but we watched arrested development and i held my other friend’s hand really tight and i just kinda let it happen.
but the pain is temporary — you won’t remember it. instead you’ll remember your friends and their voices and their laughter, and what’s hanging up on their bedroom walls and how nice it feels sometimes to be alive, breathing in the carbon dioxide-soaked giggles of the people ya love.
I'm not sure if this is common knowledge or what but, how is stick and poke done?
good question! my mind is too tired to thoroughly explain the process (albeit simple) but i think that a bullet list explanation will suffice, so here goes:
- skin is cleaned with unscented soap and/or rubbing alcohol
- outline of desired tattoo is drawn onto the skin with a basic pen
- a medium-sized sewing needle is disinfected with rubbing alcohol or held over a flame
- optional: the needle is wedged into the cap of a pencil so the tool is longer and easier to work with
- the needle is wrapped in string so only the tip can be seen
- the needle is dipped into black ink (india ink or calligraphy ink from an art supplies/craft store, NOT standard pen ink)
- the inky needle is poked into the skin following the outline
- excess ink is wiped away as the poking continues
- sometimes the skin bleeds a tiny bit
the end! so basically stick and poke tattoos are super stupid and super cheap and super fun, and cool if you want your future kids to think you had an exciting/rebellious life as a youth.