I've never been interested in tattoo culture, or even getting tatted myself, for that matter. I was 16, when I gave myself a tattoo for the first time--with a sewing needle and India ink. It was thrilling, working with a new living canvas. Needle, dip, poke, repeat; just like painting: Brush, dip, stroke, repeat.
It wasn't until I moved to Oregon to finish college, when I started stick n' poking other people. I moved into a home on a property where everyone's creativity was bursting at the seams. I was surrounded by musicians, videographers, photographers, graffiti, and style! That era encouraged me to delve deeper and step into what I call a "stretch" zone (away from what's comfortable).
One time, I walked into a shop and the men behind the counter snickered when I said I was interested in learning because I stick n' poke. They looked me up and down and said "you don't look like a tattoo artist".
Tattoo parlors are historically dens of heteronormative ruggedness and toughness, populated and owned by men. Thus, entering this space not to mention succeeding in it, has been an onerous task for me as a female. This is nothing new, but it's an issue I am confronted with a lot of the time. I hope to continue to challenge the traditionally male dominated industry, to overcome real-world work dynamics, and create a safe space for myself and my clients.
I've found that there's more control [in hand-poking] because the process is slower, but the true beauty of free-handing a design is that each piece is its own. Perfection isn't an expectation. It lives in a moment and yet it's permanent. The tattoos are also typically small and delicate, displaying charming imperfections because, well, that's art! The technique offers a level of personalization that goes far beyond the content of the tattoo. That's one of the most appealing aspects of stick n' poking, even if the design is off of my flash sheet, there isn't one tattoo identical to another. When I give a tattoo, there is an element of ritual to it. Sometimes I like to call myself a tattoo therapist. I sit down with a stranger, and we delve into conversation. I end up learning a lot about people this way.
Do your research!
Don't be afraid to tell someone that you can't execute a design if it isn't your style of tattooing. It's always more appealing if someone is honest and it's going to be on them forever.
The biggest obstacle I've run into is confidence, and trusting myself. Once I learned that the most important aspect of tattooing is trust, I saw the beauty in making something so permanent in just minutes, and the relationship of trust I could create with that person.