By the time we reach that rite-of-passage age of 18, we begin to find ourselves making decisions that shape who we are, whether it be the relationships we choose to endure, a tough class we stick out or some expression we permanently ink on our bodies.
Since the beginning of civilization, humans have sought out the art of the eternal marking we know as the tattoo. In fact, the first tattoos are thought to have belonged to Ancient Egyptian women. However, the oldest discovered mummified human known as the Iceman, found in 1991, shows evidence of ink patterns that date back even further to 3,000 BCE, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
These first tattoos would have been done with a needle and ink made from organic pigments, and despite the development of tattoo machines in the late 19th century, the stick and poke technique has stood the test of time.
University of Kansas students and alumni are no strangers to the ancient ways of body art.
Kate Mays, who graduated in May 2019 with a bachelor’s in journalism and women, gender and sexuality studies, says they were a sophomore when they decided to give themself a “K8” mark on their hip.
“I have a big DIY mentality — I cut my own hair,” Mays says. “I wanted a tattoo … and I thought, I don’t really care. I’m 19.”
Mays says stick and poke pain levels depend on where on the body the tattoos are, but doing it yourself isn’t as bad as it sounds.
“It’s a different kind of pain when it’s self-inflicted. It’s not as bad in my experience,” Mays says.
Before going into getting a stick and poke tattoo, I at least knew how it felt to be inked. My first tattoo was done with a needle gun, and the seven-inch masterpiece took about 50 minutes to complete. For my first stick and poke, I went to none other than “jail ink” connoisseur Daniel Madsen, a sophomore from Topeka studying anthropology.
Madsen says he used ground up pencil graphite in one of his first self-made tattoos, and the dime-sized dot he put on his arm still remains. However, others of his amateur designs have faded with time, so the idea of disappearing marks set fire to the newfound hobby.
“I tattooed the entire back of my leg, and it faded ... so I thought, I can start tattooing myself, and it’s going to fade,” he says. “But then I started getting better ink, and it stopped fading.”
Seemed good enough for me to give the age-old style a try, whether it stays or not. Naturally, I decided to get the word “Chalk” tattooed on my ribcage in honor of the trade — sorry, mom, I’ll have a great story for maybe the rest of my life. The word spans about two inches, and it took about an hour and a half to complete.
Instead of pencil lead and a sewing needle, Madsen had a tattoo needle, made specifically for sticking and poking, and he used India calligraphy ink.
“I figured I’d be nice, so we’ll give the tattoo needle a try,” he says. “The sewing needle is supposed to hurt more.”
I drew out the word on a notepad, and he transferred the design onto a clean sheet by penciling the back of the design. I washed my torso in the kitchen sink, he applied some deodorant to the area to help in the transfer process, and he placed the word on my skin with rubbing alcohol.
Each letter took a couple attempts for the ink to stay, but the “C” in “Chalk” refused to stick. He must have tried at least eight times. Lying on the couch I compared this technique to the professional way, and in that first tattoo with a tattoo gun, some of the marks felt like needles, but some felt like knives carving into my body. This stick and poke simply felt like individual pricks. Since the needle doesn’t go as deep, the marks weren’t that inflamed nor did they bleed, so I wouldn’t put the pain past three on a scale of 10.
It feels just as the name suggests — you’re getting poked with a stick.