Here's What Getting A Stick-And-Poke Tattoo Feels Like

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Caitlin A.
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Stick-and-poke tattoos got a lot of buzz this fall when Australian model Cat McNeil walked the Givenchy runway sporting one on her wrist. Shortly after, Style.com called them the septum ring of 2015. Following this trend means being stuck with it for life, but I’m ready for that kind of commitment.

So exactly what is a stick-and-poke? 

It’s basically a tattoo done without a machine, which means someone manually sticks you with a needle and pokes ink into your skin. “Whether it’s a semi-professional or a friend doing it in your basement, anyone can stick and poke,” says Kelli Kikcio, my stick-and-poke spirit guide who I’d tasked with giving me my first at-home tattoo.

brown medium length hair

Ready for my first poke.

For Kelli, getting into the art of stick-and-poke was a gradual process that I found similar to how a lot of girls get into makeup. About a year ago, she began by experimenting on herself (!!!) before moving on to her friends. 

“I just wanted little tattoos, and I got tired of paying $150 to go to a studio and kind of get laughed at,” she says. “I’d watched other people tattoo enough that I felt like I could teach myself how to do it.”

drawing tattoo transfer

Kelli, tracing the transfer.

Teaching yourself how to tattoo can be like playing with fire. Amateur and pro alike, there are a lot of bad tattoos out there, something a lot of us know all too well. 

“The first one I did on myself was with a sewing needle and india ink. It looks like garbage because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Kelli says. 

Thankfully, she’s had a lot of practice since then, and has developed her own signature stick-and-poke illustration style.

placing tattoo transfer on skin

Kelli, carefully placing the transfer on my wrist.

I had my own design ready when I arrived at Kelli’s live-in studio, where we listened to Sisters of Mercy while she prepped the transfer. There were no sewing needles in sight as she now only uses brand new professional tattoo needles and ink for each piece along with medical grade gloves, paper and soap. 

Some of her more unusual supplies include Speed Stick deodorant to help the transfer stick to the skin, a headlamp to see what she’s doing, and a wooden take-out chopstick taped to the needle to use as a handle. Genius.

diy chopstick needle

The DIY chopstick-needle.

The feeling of getting the tattoo was somewhere between being bitten by a mosquito and having a friend draw on you with a pen in class. 

It stung a little, but way less than my last traditional tattoo, and definitely less than any waxing experience I’ve ever had. It was only about 15 minutes before the tattoo was wrapped up in gauze. A week later, it’s almost fully healed and, if you look closely, you can see each little poke.

stick and poke tattoo process

Mid stick and poke

Trying this DIY trend on your own can be risky. It takes practice and skill to get it right, and tattoo mistakes made on your or someone else’s skin aren’t easily erased.

stick and poke tattoo after

The finished stick-and-poke tattoo.

And if all of this sounds a little too permanent, remember: It’s easy to get the look without the lifelong commitment

stick and poke tattoo

Happy with the finished results

  • What do you think: Are at-home stick-and-poke tattoos a good or bad idea?
  • Do you have any tattoos? And would you ever get a stick-and-poke tattoo?
  • Call me in 10 years. Will I regret trying out this permanent trend?

Photos by Kayla Rocca