Hand Poke Tattoo

Hand poked designs are built up dot by dot, to create discrete and delicate tattoos, which just look somehow different from machine work.

Needle groups (like a machinist uses) bound into the end of a short hand-held stick tool are 'poked' into the skin from close quarters to create the hand poked tattoo.

Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo
Means for hand poked tattoo

The history of hand poked tattoos

Even a short history is impossible here, but the hand-poking pursued today has a long and ancient history. It is what Julius Caesar's historians recorded being done by Britons (Britons were the people who spoke the insular celtic language known as common brittonic. They lived in Great Britain during the Iron Age, the Roman era and the post-Roman era.) and Picts (The Picts were a tribal confederation of peoples who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the late iron age and early medieval periods), and still in the Victorian times right up to the invention of the electric tattoo machine in the 1890's. The art of tattooing has been around for centuries with every major culture doing the process. In today's world tattooing is most of the time left to experts, resulting in very beautiful works.

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Many think hand poke tattoos is like hand-tapping tattoos or like traditional japanese tattoos but it is not. Some tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents; some cultures continue this practice, which may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by hand-tapping the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones (made like needles) with clay formed disks or, in modern times, needles. Traditional Japanese tattoos (irezumi) are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel. This method is known as tebori.

Traditional Hawaiian hand-tapped tattoos are experiencing a renaissance, after the practice was nearly extinguished in the years following Western contact. The process involves lengthy protocols and prayers and is considered a sacred rite more than an application of artwork. The tattooist chooses the design, rather than the wearer, based on genealogical information. Each design is symbolic of the wearer's personal responsibility and role in the community. Tools are hand-carved from bone or tusk without the use of metal. Hand poke tattoo: The artist have one needle, that he/she pokes in to the skin by hand. Hand Tapping tattoo: The artist have needles and instruments that he/she taps the ink into the skin with.

Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo

The strengths of hand poked tattoos

Different dot sizes and more or less dense spacing gives the different shading effects. The artist can join the dots together to make continuous, unbroken (machine-like) lines. Small areas of solid are as well possible.

Obviously stylized and abstract designs using large fields of dots are one of the main types of hand poked tattoo design, but Hand poked tattooing is suited to many other styles too. Many tribal tattoo styles are suitable and translate well to hand poked tattoos, and portraits can look good rendered in a sort of dotty stencil art way. Handling lots of fine detail is also a real strength of the technique.

Some things are not practical for hand poked designs (sizeable areas of solid black or color), while other things are not possible at all like smooth shading and color blending (like a machine). Customers certainly needs to be told by the artist whether their design is more suited to machine work over a hand poked tattoo, if that's what's needed. Also text should be considered to be done by machine.

Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo

How does it feel?

People expect hand pokes tattoos to hurt a lot, but they don’t. The main reason why people think that it hurts more than a “Machine” tattoo, is because they see the needle going into the skin and there's nothing to prevent them from seeing it – but they forget that the machine does just the same, only many, many times more per second and you don't really see the machine doing that – it's sort of hidden from view. It is often a lot less painful than machine work. A common description is that it is a bit like having hairs, maybe the eyebrows, plucked.

Certainly it is a low-level tattoo pain, not at all unpleasant, and without the highs and lows of sensation that come with the tattoo machine. If you have never experienced tattoo pain before it is natural to ponder such questions, but I can assure you the experience is quite different to machine work, which some people find difficult to cope with. But again remember - not two people are alike, no two people will have the same "pain" or lack of the same when they are getting a tattoo.

The feeling is very consistent and almost rhythmical throughout. Another often spoken comment is that it is very relaxing, and certainly a Hand-Poking Tattooist gets a fair share of customers dozing off -  It certainly should be seen as an opportunity to switch off, forget the time, and just enjoy the unusual experience.

Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo

Healing and Aftercare

Part of the great feeling is how trouble-free healing is. The ease of healing is the biggest advantage of hand poking. The hand tool causes so little trauma to the skin, compared with even a well-controlled tattoo machine. No swelling, no inflammation and no bruising - the skin rarely reacts in any way that prevents the artist from tattooing for long sessions. In fairness very few customers get localised raised 'blisters' around each mark, but these go down after a couple of hours. This seems more likely to happen with skin that naturally stretches a lot all the time. - Keep it moist, and don't forget it's there, because there's none of the afterburn or ache of new machine work. Healing is straightforward, and, although hand pokes tattoos may not heal much faster than machine tattoos, there's much less skin irritations afterwards.

I hope you enjoyed this little information about hand poke tattoo - Enjoy the next few pictures of beautifully hand poked tattoos

Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo
Hand poked tattoo

©Colin Dale - Skin and bone Tattoo. Lars Krutak has made an article about Colin.

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