To Stick and Poke or to Stick and Nope? The DIY Tattoo you may love or hate

SarahJane Wardlaw shows her lightning bolt stick and poke that she gave to herself. Photo by Kaitlyn Harmon | The Signal

What screams rebellion more than someone sitting in a tattoo shop, suffering the pain of a mark forever visible on their body? Some feed this impulse by opting to stay home to commit the act.

Accessible, free and often questionable, stick and poke tattoos are do-it-yourself (or get-my-friend-to-do-it-for-me) versions of what is traditionally done with a machine, delivered one needle poke at a time. 

Attractive to some due to its unmatchable price point, like student Cole Henry, who has six of them on his thighs and one on his forearm, other students are simply drawn to the control they feel when giving them to others or themselves. 

“My mark is forever ingrained into their body,” Tanya Bedi, a student at Georgia State, said upon recalling giving her friend a stick and poke tattoo her freshman year. “I [felt] powerful.” 

Likewise, student Olivia Hopper poked the female sign (♀)  into her arm in her childhood bedroom as a literal sign of rebellion against her mother at the time. 

Student SarahJane Wardlaw was drawn to giving stick and pokes to herself and others as she “wanted to do something angsty” and it “[seemed] pretty bada–.”

Taking precaution before endeavoring in the act, she researched the topic and practiced on oranges with the “correct” materials: sterile tattoo needles and tattoo ink.

After she was handed a free Red Bull on campus one day, Wardlaw equated the energy drink as a symbol to quench her initial thirst: rebellion. She went home and poked the word “love” into her arm. 

Since that day, Wardlaw has given around 25 stick and pokes to friends, including three to Grace Repasky, a member of the band Lunar Vacation

“People constantly ask for them,” Wardlaw said. 

Unfortunately, some do not prepare with the initial steps as Wardlaw did.

“It was a mistake,” Alexa Lisenba said. “You may see the scar of where it once was.”

Those are the words of a student who was given a stick and poke tattoo by her friend with pen ink and a safety pin which ensued in a painful scab and no leftover ink from the initial pokes. 

“I was 16 and stupid,” Sydney Graves, another student, said on reflection of the pain she felt in receiving a stick and poke tattoo from her friend. 

Though the act can lead to regret if done incorrectly or sporadically, others specifically want stick and poke tattoos as opposed to tattoos delivered by machine. 

Student Rachel Isaza plans for her first tattoo to be a stick and poke by a professional artist who specializes in the act. 

“It fascinates me more than a gun going straight down dot by dot,” said Isaza.

Likewise, student Gabbi Naturman prefers stick and pokes to tattoos given by machine.

“Tattoos are art, and certain artwork is done in a certain way,” said Naturman. “With stick and pokes, it’s more of a detailed structure because you’re individually sticking someone, and it’s meaningful because the person who’s doing it is taking so much time to do it for you.”