Hand poked work has seen its fair share of bad press, what with any kid in a punk house able to pick up a needle and some Indian ink and fashion themselves an artist. But truth be told, hand poking is derived from one of the oldest methods of tattooing — there's no electricity or machine involved here. For as many grimy stick and poke scratchers as there are out there, there’s twice as many hand poked artists whose level of talent rivals or surpasses any machine artist, and Berlin's Bregs is a hand poke artist you really ought to know.
Initially trying her hand as a printmaker, Bregs traded in her love of printing for a tattooing apprenticeship three and a half years ago. “After trying it out on myself and a few willing friends, I fell in love with the slower process of creating something lasting and permanent as well as the control I was able to quickly grasp after having dealt with the heaviness of a machine,” she explains. “I really enjoy how nicely the ink sets into the skin shortly after. The process itself is meditative for me, and I am able create this safe, mellow atmosphere to share something permanent with another person.”
Tattooing exclusively in black ink, her signature illustrative style tends to err on the larger side of hand poked. Through bold outlines and impeccable shading, her tattoos are more like a hand carved relief than anything. But Bregs wasn’t always a hand poked kinda girl. “I didn't make it past fruit [with a machine]," she explains. "The friend I was apprenticing with ended up moving away and another tattoo artist friend of mine suggested I try hand poke because of my background in printmaking, which is equally as labor intensive. I felt I had found my medium which still somehow links me to my love of printmaking.”
Through her take on hand poked work, Bregs says that more than anything, she hopes to bring a sense of reputability and artistry to the style. “That reputation will always be there, and I can’t control what others will do. I can only push myself to show reverence toward this medium I call home. The fact that anyone can pick it up, I think shows how tangible the medium can be, as well as the wide scale of possibilities that can be accomplished with different tools and practice.”
Hand poked work might be slowly creeping its way into the western mainstream, as we begin to figure out what the rest of the world has already known for quite some time — there is a methodical beauty in hand poked tattoos, and artists like Bregs are on a mission to prove it.