You may have seen, or even have, a "scratcher" — a tattoo a buddy of yours or maybe a drunken band-mate crafted with a sewing needle and a bottle of india ink. While these dark-room, late-night, questionable-choices tattoos are timeless in their own right, the age of the scratcher is being eclipsed by the steady rise of hand poke, where talented artists such as TeaLeigh are garnering legitimate success (and a six month long wait list to prove it).
Armed with nothing more than a fine needle, a stencil, and some raw talent, TeaLeigh manages to create exquisitely detailed pieces. At first glance they look as if they’ve been created with a standard machine, but once up close and personal, you’ll note the meticulous intricacy and beauty of each piece. I recently sat down with TeaLeigh to find out what inspires her, how she got into hand poking, and what artists inspire her most:
Tattoodo: Did you always find yourself drawn to hand poked tattoos, or were you ever a machine gal?
Tealeigh: I've always loved hand poked tattoos ever since [I] could remember. I've never used a machine before, but I am interested and have a lot of respect for machine workers and builders. I get work done by machines all the time, but I do prefer the method of hand poke when getting tattooed.
What about the hand poked style to do you love?
I really love the quietness of my work. My favorite part about tattooing is engaging with the person while working. I've always been really interested in people and their stories, and I don't have to listen over the humming of the machine. I think it's a bit more relaxing to some people as well, which relaxes me and makes my [work] even more enjoyable. The line quality is obviously a bit different and I enjoy that as well. Sometimes you can make a line that looks exactly like a machine, and sometimes the line is a bit more warm and hand made.
I feel like sometimes hand poked tattoos can get a bad rep. Does it ever bother you that any old Joe off the street could pick up a needle and ink and poke himself? Do you think it demeans or discredits the style?
Thank you [for] asking this. I think [it] often gets looked over! The accessibility of hand pokes doesn't bother me, but what does bother me is the lack of cleanliness that these "Joe's off the street" practice. I think there is something great to say about the accessibility of the style. It allows people who are often queer and women that don't fit in the industry standards to create their own safe space to work. This of course, like anything, can be good or bad when it comes to health safety and that's a bummer. I do wish more people cared for and respected cleanliness guidelines. It does bother me a bit that people willy nilly slap horrible "tattoos" on one another, and that does give what I do a bad rep. However, there are a lot of people who are not traditionally trained tattooers who are practicing hand pokes in a way that is both clean and professional, and who are passionate and dedicated about the craft. These people are moving hand pokes away from the scratcher reputation that the style has.
What’s your favorite piece you’ve poked so far?
I recently did some hands surrounding a misty moon I'm quite fond of but it's really hard to pick a favorite. I treasure them all so much.
To see more of Tealeigh's work, visit her Instagram!