“The first time I did a stick and poke tattoo, I didn’t even know it was a proper technique to begin with. Someone I was dating at that time and I decided to tattoo each other one day. We started off simple by just poking dots. Gradually, we progressed to slightly more advanced designs with lines – this is when we discovered the stick and poke technique.”
Kevin Elijah Tan, a passionate musician and emerging tattoo artist born and bred in KL, began experimenting with stick and poke tattoo techniques mid 2013. Over the years, he has mastered the art.
“I actually pretty much picked it up myself by practicing on voluntary live canvases. My friends were very keen to get stick and poke tattoos after finding out what I did. Soon after, word got out through social media that I was doing stick and poke tattoos for free and random people who saw my work online started contacting me for tattoos. I took every opportunity to improve my technique and expand the range of tattoo styles I could do.”
“I actually pretty much picked it up myself by practicing on voluntary live canvases.”
Currently, Kevin has turned his home into his own personal studio where all of his clients can relax while being tattooed. “I do my best to provide a comfortable environment for my clients. There’s a TV as well as a Play Station 4 for my clients to use whilst getting tattooed. I let them choose any movie, show or video game to entertain themselves.”
“I use only high-grade sterilized tattoo needles and ink. I get all my equipment from a tattoo supply shop in Sunway,” says Kevin.
Stick and poke tattoo artists are rare to find in KL. But what exactly is the difference between this technique and a regular tattoo? “The stick and poke tattoo process is done completely by hand as compared to a regular tattoo that uses a tattoo machine. Every single dot which makes up the lines and shading is poked by hand. This makes the tattooing process slightly slower as tattoo machines poke faster compared to doing it by hand.”
For tattoo fanatics who have a design in mind, Kevin takes the time to understand exactly what the client wants and helps draw out a uniquely illustrated image prior to proceeding with the permanent mark. “I’ll help them build their ideas into a solid design before personally tattooing it for them. I love getting to know my clients. This helps me innovate custom designs that are more personal and relevant to them.”
“I’ve managed quite well in sharpening my skills and offer different styles of tattoos that include various types of shading, dot work as well as brushstroke tattoos.”
Although it may sound like the process of a stick and poke tattoo may be more painful to that of an ordinary tattoo, Kevin claims that, “contrary to popular belief, stick and poke tattoos do not hurt more than getting a regular tattoo. In fact, many of my clients have told me that getting a stick and poke tattoo hurts less than getting a regular tattoo.”
Tribal tattoos have traditionally used the stick and poke technique, including within Borneo. But for KL-ites, the technique is rarely seen since there are so many established tattoo parlours around. In recent years, however, stick and poke tattoos are seeing renewed interest around the world, with renowned “stick and pokers” from Copenhagan to Auckland. It’s even been listed as a fashion trend on Style.com.
Kevin hopes to share his knowledge on the technique to keep the art alive and running. “I honestly wish there were more stick and poke tattoo artists out there so we can compare techniques and learn from each other. I would happily teach others who are willing to learn the technique to keep this form of art, alive and growing.”
The price of a tattoo by Kevin depends on the size and detail of the design. For really small simple designs, Kevin charges a minimum of RM50 but for more complex larger designs, the price can go up to RM500.
Words by Kathryn Rao, photos courtesy of Kevin Tan.
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