OPINION: Stick and poke tattoos are the next best painfully beautiful trend


Picture courtesy of Magaly Munoz. Tattoo done by Valerie Partida, who has performed stick and poke tattoos for over two years from her home.

Magaly Muñoz

In an effort to get as many tattoos as I can before my parents find out, I went on a bit of a quest to get my next piece. 

Both of my previous tattoos are relatively small and, for the most part, undetectable at first glance. 

All I knew going into my research for another piece was that I wanted it to be tiny enough for me to hide from my parents. Yes, I’m aware that I sound like a five-year-old, but until now, my mom and dad only know I have one, and I’d like to keep it that way. So really there was no specific design that I wanted; whichever piece I found that stuck out to me the most, was going to be the one I would get. 

Until this point, I’d only gotten tattoos at a local shop close to my house and I’ve never really thought of any other way that I could get one done. That was until scrolling through a friend’s Twitter account. I found out that she tattoos herself and her friends for fun.

She’s doing something called “stick and poke,” which I’d only heard about once before. Essentially stick and poke is using a very thin tattoo needle and some tattoo ink to repeatedly pierce the skin and create the intended design.

Before chickening out on getting it, I messaged my friend and asked when her next available appointment was. In less than an hour, I had an address, a time and a design ready for me. 

Knowing I had the weekend to think about what could go wrong, I decided to Google all the things I needed to know before getting the tattoo. 

First, you have to be extremely trusting of the person that is doing the piece. Obviously, with anything that is going to be permanently drawn on your skin, you want to trust the person doing it, but stick and poke tattoos can be even more dangerous than machine tattoos done at a traditional shop.

If the person doesn’t use fresh needles each time or doesn’t triple check to make sure that their ink hasn’t been contaminated, you can wind up with any number of infections. Make sure that the person permanently embedding your skin has clean and sterile equipment to use on your body.

A benefit of stick and pokes is they are more cost-efficient than regular machine tattoos. The majority of people doing and getting these types of tattoos are young adults who can’t afford the steep price of a professional setting. My tattoo, in particular, was around the same price as my other two, but I also tipped pretty heavily, which drove the cost up. 

Also, those who do this type of tattooing usually have some kind of artistic background. The friend I got mine from is a struggling young artist who just wanted to find a way to keep doing artwork and make a bit of cash from it. Acquiring the right needles and ink actually isn’t very hard; Amazon sells a kit for less than $40 with free shipping. So really, stick and pokes aren’t super costly and are easier on the wallet than a tattoo parlor.

My worst fear when planning the whole thing was how much more painful these types of tattoos can be compared to traditional tattoos. Because someone is quite literally stabbing a needle into your skin over and over again, the pain can differ. 

When I found out that my tattoo could take up to two hours, I freaked out and almost canceled my appointment. My first tattoo on my middle finger had hurt so bad that it felt like my skin was being burned off, and the last thing I wanted to go through was two hours of that sensation. Somehow I managed to talk myself into going through with it, regardless of how I felt about the pain.

After all this research and anxiety, the day finally arrived and I was ready to get my tattoo. My overall experience? I loved it! 

Everything that I had been scared about either didn’t happen or wasn’t as bad as I had thought. The pain was bearable, and it didn’t even take the full two hours. Honestly, it felt like tiny pricks of a pencil on my skin that I didn’t really notice half the time because I was so busy catching up with my friend. Even with the aversion to needles and my previous painful experiences with tattoos, this one hurt so much less than my other two pieces.

Not to mention that I fell in love with the design. I ended up choosing to get intertwining thorns with an eye in the middle; an original piece from my friend’s sketchbook. It’s simple but edgy. Just like my other two tattoos that consist of a rose on my middle finger and a morbid quote on the right side of my chest, it very much fits my aesthetic.

Through this experience, I discovered a newfound appreciation for tattoo artists, professional and independent, because there is so much hard work and patience that goes into doing each piece. Now that I know about stick and poke, it’s inspired me to look for new designs that I could get later on. If you’re a tattoo fanatic or even if it’s your first one and you don’t have much knowledge on them, I would whole-heartedly recommend getting a stick and poke. It’s a great way to support your local artists and have a piece of artwork that’s completely unique to you.