The unmistakable buzz of tattoo machines fill the parlours that whose artists wield the tattoo guns that mark their clientele. However, the art of tattooing existed before electricity, its roots more than skin deep, tracing back to cultures and beliefs since Neolithic times.
Modern tattoo machines puncture the skin anywhere from 50 to 3000 times per minute. Hand-poked tattoos however, dial it back, like all the way back.
While the speed of hand-poked tattoos won’t ever match up to that of a machine, the process is more intimate and by no means limited to lines and geometric pieces. The only limiting factor? The skill and imagination of the artist.
It can be hard to find anyone that inks without a machine in Singapore, not impossible but definitely harder. Unlike the Maori, Japanese, Thai and Borneo natives, there is a distinct lack of traditional tattoo culture deeply ingrained in Singapore.
If you’re looking for something to buy into, there isn’t one. This speckle of content that’s floated into your feed and earned the honour to be read is meant to open eyes, if only just a little. While we did find an artist in Singapore who practices the hand-poke method, we couldn’t coax her into allowing us to reveal her identity.
No social media handle to be linked, and without a name to her voice in the video, she refuses any sort of personal publicity. A true embodiment of a “starving artist” but, this is as much a lifestyle as any other, a conscious decision — creating art for art’s sake.
No strangers to needles and ink, we walked into this confidently but, with a tinge of excitement from the unknown. Always getting inked in parlours and by the modern conventions, getting hand-poked opens your eyes.
The process of getting a tattoo is already an intimate one. Yet, the hand-poked experience offers even more.
With a single (sterile) needle, sans the buzz of a tattoo machine and a melodic instrumental flowing from the laptop in her bedroom, the artist got down to work.
“What would you like done?” she asked in an almost nonchalant manner. Taking a disposable razor, I shaved the spot on my hand just above my thumb and presented it.
A spot on my hand — I had given her free reign to do as she willed. “I’m really good at lines” she said, and immediately asked if I didn’t want to get it done on another spot. Perhaps the confidence I had placed in her shocked her. But, my mind was made.
With some India ink the needle burrowed into my skin. Every jab is distinct when getting hand-poked. A vastly different experience from a machine.
Now, a single black line runs along the area I gave up, in tune with the shape of the canvas — my hand. We think little of the skill it takes to draw a straight line with rulers, gadgets and software at our disposal. But the artist’s obsession with straight lines has made her a bit of a specialist.
We wouldn’t recommend just picking up any sterile needle and hand-poking yourself. Not without some knowledge and experience at least. While seemingly foolhardy, we placed trust in the artist only because she has done an apprenticeship.
As for the aftermath, because the piece was small, the healing process isn’t much of a talking point. However, hand-poking means not having to endure the blitz of jabbing needles, which means faster healing times for the most part.
A look into the art behind closed doors, and a sliver of the internet dedicated to a little known and appreciated art form in Singapore.
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