What is a hand poke tattoo and should you get one? Meet four such stick-and-poke tattoo artists who introduce you to their art.

Tattoos present a unique opportunity to turn your skin into a work of art. Coined ‘stick ‘n’ poke’ tattooing, non-electric hand poke tattoos are having a major moment, ironic to the fact that it is an ancient art form. The process originated from traditional forms that were generally used in connection to community or religion, and also has its roots in indigenous cultures, and has been practised by tribes and communities across the world. Over the years, the art form has been associated with the ’70s punk scenario, and is now gaining momentum during these two years of utmost change in the pandemic world.

Hand poke tattoos tend to be the minimal ones, but can range from a simple dot to an intricate design. We introduce you to four tattoo artists, their tattoos, and their journeys.

SHIVANI (@STICKITYTATS)

Who: Shivani is a hand-poke tattoo artist from Mumbai. Her practice experiments with ideas that explore the timelessness of being. This practice is more than just a career path or a job for her, it’s a sacred experience and an emotional journey. It’s understanding the impermanence of permanence.

How it started: When I was in college, I had a friend’s sister tattoo me for the first time, and it was a surreal experience. It made me question the relationship between permanence and a momentary feeling of rebellion. About one or two years after that, I had a junior make a hand poke tattoo on me and my friends. It changed my perspective towards tattooing completely. How could something so technically complex suddenly get so simple? More so casual and accessible?

Their style: I don’t exactly have a signature style of tattooing, but I am definitely inclined towards dot-work. In simple terms, it’s like stippling shading on paper, but on the skin. I absolutely enjoy playing with shading using the dotwork style, and creating interesting silhouettes that can redefine the subject I am tattooing. I am drawn to flora and fauna, and I really like working with concepts that can incorporate the same. For someone who loves the idea of beauty, I was wondering how I could incorporate that into my work. I wanted to make beautiful things.

SIMRANH (@RATATTOOILLE_ )

Who: Simranh is a professional hand poke artist based out of Bengaluru. They picked up a tattoo needle for the first time at the beginning of the pandemic and have now been practising professionally for a year and a half.

How it started: I was first introduced to hand-poke tattoos when I came to art school. There were a couple of artists in my own batch, as well as my seniors, who had been practising for a couple of years. I really loved the art, and when the pandemic hit, I decided to try it out for myself. It began with just me wanting to tattoo myself, but I ended up falling in love with the practice, and decided to take it up professionally.

Their style: I view hand poke as an extension of my art practice, and like to combine it with different mediums I enjoy. So far, I’ve made tattoo stencils using wood blocks that I carved, plants, seashells, and freehand paint brush strokes painted with stencil ink directly onto the skin. I also make illustrative flash and custom pieces, which are usually inspired by my own daily life and surroundings.

SHREYA JOSH (@TENDERPOKES)

Who: Shreya Josh is a self-taught hand poke tattoo artist from New Delhi. She has been promoting the craft in India for over four years now, and has taught more than 400 people in the country. A student of the School of Arts Institute of Chicago, a multidisciplinary art college, she believes that you don’t have to pick any one medium or niche for the rest of your life.

How it started: I was introduced to stick and poke tattoos in college, my friends would poke each other at after-parties, it was very liberating to see other kids have “bad” and silly tattoos on their bodies. I enjoyed the idea of using meaningless tattoos as a tool to take my body and the idea of permanency less seriously.

Their style: I would like to say I don’t have one, but it’s always a compliment when someone sees a tattoo on a stranger and asks them if it’s been tattooed by Tender Pokes. I can’t stick to any one style for too long, I find that very limiting, and I want to keep developing my practice constantly. But over the years, I have learnt that when I am at my happiest making a tattoo, it reflects in the healing of the tattoo as well. So I only do designs that make me happy, and what makes me happy is organic lines and lots of colours.

SAFA (@SARVAJAGATH)

Who: Safa a.k.a @sarvajagath is a stick-and-poke tattoo artist, and a visual artist, who works with both mediums — traditional and digital. She’s also the founder of Bioserp Hemp.

How it started: I got introduced to hand poke tattoos in 2015 when I was backpacking around India, and landed in Hampi. I was shocked to see old women and young kids with so many hand-poked tattoos. It was so fascinating.

Their style: My work mostly revolves around styles like circuitry, sacred geometry, ancient symbolism, Indian-inspired pattern work, oriental, and ornamental. I don’t have one style. I have many styles. But I guess you could call my style bold? I prefer tattooing bold lines and bold dotwork. I personally like having and creating bold tattoos that last forever and don’t fade or need touch-ups every now and then.