Give ‘er the ol’ stick ‘n poke : tattooing myself

IMG_1297

Still red in this photo

I gave myself a tattoo.

Stick ‘n pokes (aka prison tattoos) have a bad rep. Most people are used to associating home tattoos with safety pins and broken open ink pens. They’re thought of as insanitary and generally, pretty awful-looking.

My boyfriend has been watching a lot of Ink Master and is pretty fascinated with the concept of tattooing. He joked often about getting a tattoo gun or trying a stick ‘n poke, but I always shut him down.

But as all bad ideas do, the thought really stuck around with me. My douchebag brain asked, ‘What if this is my art?’ My vanity replied, ‘Of course it will be! We will make it so!’

So I did my research. In the end, I ordered some black tattoo ink and pre-sterilized bugpin 3RL tattoo needles (that is, in layman’s, three very small, very tight needle heads that form one complete tattoo needle). I grabbed some citrus fruit and started practicing!

Pro tip: while this is a very essential step that you should not skip, it actually bears no resemblance at all to human flesh and why do they say it is a good starting place? Why?

We sterilized a spot in our room. We wore gloves, we prepped everything with alcohol, we covered every surface with plastic wrap and sterilized that. We kept it clean, in other words. I always knew I wanted a negative space crescent moon. I drew it on the inside of my left foot. I took a deep breath. I set to work.

And ow.

I’ve got two tattoos. A big, purple, cursive “mea culpa” on my inner arm and a red flower behind my ear. Those hurt, sure, but nothing compared to sticking myself with a needle slowly and repeatedly. There’s something about the rhythm of the tattoo gun that makes it more bearable. Yes, gun tattoos hurt, but it’s a consistent hurt. Sticking and poking is like ow. IMG_1280exhale. ow. inhale. ow. exhale. ow. ow. inhale.

And you always hit a stride where you think ‘Man, this doesn’t hurt as much anymore. I’m in the zone. Here we go.’ And that impression is false. Instead, what’s happening is that you’re just barely scratching yourself with the needle and depositing exactly zero ink. My boyfriend did the same, exact thing.

Another lesson? You have no idea what the eff is happening. Ink sets on your skin and spreads out, totally obscuring your view of what’s going on beneath. You make these solid, beautiful lines or dots and think you’re golden, but you wipe it away and realize–oh, that was just excess ink. I didn’t do shit.

When it was all said and done, my foot was a tiny bit red, but there was no hanging-around pain. That would not last. An hour or so later, the spot hurt as if I had cut it completely open. It burned. Not like an infection, but like a fresh wound. Which is all a tattoo really is. Neither of my other tattoos hurt quite like this.

The ink didn’t look very dark when I first finished, and I sighed that I’d have to go over it again in a couple weeks. That also turned out to be untrue. The ink looked darker when the redness and swelling went down.

Emboldened by my success, my boyfriend gave himself the outline of his home state, Connecticut. Actual solid lines are definitely trickier when you’re putting the ink in one dot at a time. His healing process was a bit opposite of mine: it looked very solid while swollen, but the lines look more dashy now that it’s totally healed. He’ll probably go in and touch it up.

So will I live to regret it? Nope! Doing things with sterile conditions and professional tools made my tattoo hard to hate. There are some things about the design that could be tightened up–a better scattering of the surrounding dots, maybe smooth out the shape of the crescent so it’s not mistakable for a fortune cookie–but that’s all easily done.

Knowledge and care are absolute musts. Don’t use any ol’ ink–India ink or tattoo ink ONLY. Don’t use any ol’ sharp pokey–just invest the small amount of money for a real tattoo needle so you’re not ruining your flesh. Don’t do it in any ol’ place–sterilize. Don’t share needles. Don’t share ink. Don’t share gloves. Google extensively before you try anything like this.

2 thoughts on “Give ‘er the ol’ stick ‘n poke : tattooing myself

  1. Whoaaaaaa… this sounds intense.
    I am floored at both your artistry and tenacity. In a sea of common tattoos, you’ll always be able to look at that little one and think “I did this“.

    • Totally. I’m actually itching to do another.

      Tattoos are an incredible thing. They hurt a lot during, but the memory of the pain fades pretty quickly and then it’s like “wait, why don’t I go get another?!”

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