Tattoos

The controversial rise of ‘stick and poke’ tattoo kits

Stick ‘N’ Poke tattoos. Everyone is talking about them, but I hadn’t yet delved further into this new controversial trend. When contributor Chloé Vaughan told me that she had various friends who tattooed themselves regularly using this method, I was dying to hear more.


Tattooing originated over 8,000 years ago. For a long time, tattoos were created using nothing more than sharpened pieces of wood (or more recently, metal) to poke ink through the skin. This has of course since been replaced by the now iconic tattoo machine developed in the 1890s by Samuel O’Reilly.

Many artists choose to honour the roots of tattooing, and specialise in a traditional ‘handpoke’ method, using specially crafted tools in order to tattoo with no electricity or machines.

But there is also a community of people, who aren’t trained and licensed tattoo artists, making their own tattoos at home… the newly dubbed, ‘Stick ’n’ Poke’.

Using online articles as a reference, the user is encouraged to use needles or long pins (along with string, a pencil or other tools) to create a quick and easy way place ink into their own skin. These typically small ’homemade’ tattoos are controversial within the tattooing community as they have the honest potential of serious bodily harm.

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The ‘Tattooing of Minor’s Act’ (1969) strictly prohibits the tattooing of people under the age of eighteen, but stick ’n’ pokes are bound by no such rules. There are cases of children as young as thirteen giving themselves tattoos without truly thinking about the potential future repercussions. This young age isn’t really shocking however; a quick Google search can bring up hundreds of thousands of stick ’n’ poke guidelines with not always accurate information, leading to the possibility of infection and the potential for worse.

However, despite these negatives, many view stick ’n’ pokes as nothing more than another form of artistic expression for a few less pennies. A quick scroll through the #sticknpoke tags on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr shows thousands of proud newly-tattooed people showcasing their new ink with positive comments and multiple likes, retweets and reblogs respectively.

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At University, I’m surrounded by people with tattoos; some done by professional artists and others by friends or by themselves. I interviewed Daisy Griffiths, an English Literature and Creative Writing student who currently has 5 professional tattoos and 4 stick ‘n’ poke tattoos. I wanted to know why she thought this practice was so popular, especially amongst younger generations.

“There’s a certain kind of liberation that comes with stick ‘n’ poke tattoos,” says Daisy. “I also have ‘real’ tattoos but I view them very differently. I also like the recklessness, like my smiley faces (pictured) which are special to me because of the experience I had doing them. Also ‘real’ tattoos are expensive, and these are not, which as a student appeals to me because I can still have this creative outlet without the price tag. I feel a lot more connected to my body when I do a stick ’n’ poke tattoo because I am in control.”

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Blogger Katie Way agrees with this sentimental aspect and says in her article, Stick-n-poke tattoos: the rise of DIY aesthetic, that these tattoos can be “sometimes more meaningful because of the memories [they] hold”.

Does sentimentality outweigh their potential for trouble? Compared to a professional tattoo, the risk of infection here is greater and the art may not always come out as hoped. After speaking to Daisy, I wondered, is stick ‘n’ poke here to stay? Could this practice become an even more popular outlet for tattoo memories? I guess we will have to wait and see…

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