10 Things I Learned Getting My First Hand-Poked Tattoo From Mike Love

10 Things I Learned Getting My First Hand-Poked Tattoo From Mike Love

A firsthand tale of getting a hand-poked tattoo.

Last weekend I travelled to Leicester (UK) to get my very first hand-poked tattoo from artist Mike Love. Here's why it kicked ass.

The term hand-poke means machine-free tattooing. No electricity, no power, just tools (often wooden and hand-made) which are used to insert the ink in a much slower way, one dot at a time.

I went to Brothers Ink H.Q. last week to get my first hand-poke tattoo from an artist called Mike Love. Here are 10 things I learned from and loved about my experience.

Hand-poked black heart and crystal tattoo by Mike Love.

1. One tattoo = four tattoos.

In the lead up to my appointment with Mike I changed my mind four times about what I wanted. Mike's response: "let's just do them all."

Mike blocks his diary off as AM and PM, rather than specific time slots, so he can be flexible with his clients and not feel restricted or rushed by time. This gives you a completely different experience as someone getting tattooed - extra time to discuss (and change) what you want, and no next client sat in the reception waiting for you to finish. Mike wants to give his customers his complete attention, and if they want... more than just one tattoo!

Hand-poked heart tattoo in progress, by Mike Love.

2. It hurts less. Sort of.

Poking ink under your skin with a needle that's not powered by electricity, you'd think would be more painful. Aside from the unusual sound of hearing your skin popping as each piece of ink goes in (sorry), the experience was much less painful for me than a tattoo machine.

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Single dots being added to my fingers.

3. Chill, Winston.

For obvious reasons, a hand-poked tattoo is a much, much slower process. Don't expect it to be over quickly. This makes way for a laid back, chilled-out atmosphere that you can just enjoy.

Drawings by Mike Love.

4. The experience extends beyond the tattoo studio.

Like all of Mike's clients, I was consulted every step of the way. Mike sent through drawings weeks before my appointment, and I even received an original, signed drawing of my new tattoo designs, something he often provides if the tattoo is a significant one for the customer. Little touches that allow the client and artist to come together in a long artistic process that extends beyond the time you spend in the studio.

Script R tattoos by Mike Love.

5. Immaculate lines.

These curly R tattoos were made by hand. With a stick and a needle. No, seriously. Nothing more to say about that, their perfection speaks for itself.

Husky tattoo by Mike Love and Clare Lambert.

6. Collaboration is fucking awesome.

Around the corner from Brothers Ink H.Q. in Leicester is Sakura Tattoo. Both studios aren't local competitors, but collaborators. Sharing ideas, spending Friday nights hosting drawing sessions together and sending clients to each other's studios. They're even collaborating together on actual tattoos now. Saying this is an amazing thing to see is an understatement.

Heart and rose tattoo by Mike Love.

7. Custom tattooing is at the heart of every good artist.

Tattoo artists' designs are copied every day, and it can be a truly upsetting situation. At the forefront of every good tattoo artist's mind is the ambition to give the client a truly custom and unique tattoo. My original idea with Mike was to have a heart and rose tattoo, similar to the above I'd seen on his Instagram. After many failed attempts to create something for me, he said he couldn't give me a heart rose tattoo as it was going to look just too similar to the one he had already given this lady above. A true artist.

Hand-poked dot tattoos by Mike Love. Pentacle and element symbols healed by Emma Garrard.

8. Hand-poke = control.

A hand-poke artist has control over every single tiny dot that they're slowly administering by hand. Meaning, a tattoo that requires complete precision and accuracy, like my new finger dots above, comes out awesome.

Old Gregg original drawing by Mike Love.

9. Hand-poke is an art.

Hand-poke tattooing carried out by licensed artists is not to be confused with the term ‘stick ‘n’ poke’, which are kits that can be bought illegally online, encouraging people to tattoo themselves from home… not cool.

Watching Mike's set-up pre-tattoo, the artistic style he has developed over the last few years, and how much his reputation and client-base has grown, proves even more that we should always be supporting passionate artists who have mastered an art, and not supporting any form of tattooing that's DIY.

Beetlejuice tattoo design drawing by Mike Love.
Mike Love hand-poke R tattoo.

10. People make experiences memorable.

Amazing art is made all the more amazing if you feel comfortable with the people tattooing it into your skin. Some tattoo studio experiences are silent, uncomfortable and less welcoming. A community of artists that consists of nice, friendly people is worth its weight in gold. I'll be seeing all these guys in Leicester again very soon!

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