A Stick & Poke Tattoo Artist In Gurgaon Tells Us About This Labour Of Love - Homegrown

A Stick & Poke Tattoo Artist In Gurgaon Tells Us About This Labour Of Love

The fear of pain that accompanies the thought of getting your first tattoo can be very real for some people, but there are others that will attest to the fact that once you start, it’s really hard to stop at just one. If you’re like me, that one will turn into three, and then six. Shreya Josh felt the same way when she played with the idea of Stick and Poke (SnP) tattoos, which is why she bought all the supplies she’d need to start in bulk from the get-go. 21-year-old Josh is a SnP tattoo artist based in Gurgaon that has been practising her art for over 7 months now. It all started when she was studying sculptural/functional art at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“It was a very DIY environment for everything, cutting your hair, dyeing it and so naturally we all gave each other tattoos as well. I saw a few friends give a stick and poke at parties in the most homemade style with sewing needles and India Ink but that wasn’t for me,” she says. She never really gave much thought to it and after dropping out at the end of her second year she started off with internships, the idea was to start working, doing her own thing and get real hands-on experience. While interning with a textile designer in New York she saw that her boss had a lot of SnP tattoos which really caught her fancy. “There was such a big culture of SnP’s in New York so I decided in April, my birthday month, to buy all the supplies in bulk because I knew once I started I wasn’t going to stop with just one tattoo,” she explains.

She taught herself the technique watching YouTube videos and practising on fruit – “I actually first gave an orange a tattoo, it makes for good fake-skin” – but after a point, she wanted to get started on the real thing and gave herself the first SnP tattoo of her professional career. “ And the next morning to my boss [in New York] and the other intern. I was very lucky to be in a space where people felt comfortable getting tattoos from a complete amateur. Without their support, starting would have been very hard,” says Josh. When she started in New York she would upload all her work on Instagram that peeked the curiosity of her friends back in Delhi. When she returned, she already had a couple of bookings in hand. “Some part of me thought it would die down after the first month but gladly I still keep getting clients every month just through word of mouth,” she adds.

Shreya with a client (L) and (R) the first tattoo she gave herself. Source - Shreya Josh/Instagram
Shreya with a client (L) and (R) the first tattoo she gave herself. Source - Shreya Josh/Instagram

Josh creates her own designs and puts them up on her Instagram page, under the name Tender Pokes, the platform is where a large part of her client base is drawn in. Her tattoos designs are simplistic in nature, with clean linework, some shading and a dash of colour. Josh only works by appointments and is selective of her clients. Either they selected a design from her own drawings or even if they pose their own design, she sees if it is a piece and style that she can do full justice to, otherwise recommends other tattoo parlors that could do it well – something that I personally appreciate about her as a tattoo artist, considering that this is something that you’ll have inked on your body for a long time.

As you may have already guessed, SnP’s are hand-poked tattoos, so it is a comparatively slower process than getting one from a gun machine. Josh explains that rather than a machine doing the stabbing, her hand manoeuvres up-down and left-right simultaneously. “. I mostly give small tattoos (2x2inch), and it’s primarily single-colour linework these take me about 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I even give quarter-of-an-inch tattoos, people really enjoy getting very very tiny tattoos, those just take 5-10 minutes. Some tattoos I have give which are medium-sized where it lasts about 2 hours, it’s a good bonding session. Currently, my friend and I got a little ambitious and I’m doing a big scenery on her rib along with leaves and a big red coloured sun which took us a few hours so we had to take a break and I’ll be going over it next weekend to finish it.”

Shreya's work; source - Shreya Josh/Instagram
Shreya's work; source - Shreya Josh/Instagram

The stick and poke form of tattooing is an age-old technique and tradition that has often been very ritualistic. Be it as a rite of passage, births and deaths, health, wellbeing and a number of other ceremonies occasions. Even in India, it’s very likely that you’ve come unknowingly come across someone, even if it’s just on the road in passing, that has one. Averse to technology, preferring to write things down rather than tapping them out on an iPhone screen, draw by hand than use a graphics tablet, Josh’s attraction to SnP came naturally. “I really like how I can give tiny tattoos with thin lines and detail in them, it gets a little tedious but I think I work better this way. I also enjoy how you can do dot-work in this method, so for tattoos with stippling SnP’s works well. Another thing I like is how personal it feels, it is a little more intimate than a gun tattoo. There is no buzzing sound of the machine which also removes a layer of fear from my clients. I get so so many first-timers because they say they feel more comfortable getting a Stick and Poke over a machine which to me is very special to hear,” she shares.

Tender Pokes has only started to pick and will only grow with time. Josh hopes to soon travel around India to further the trend of safe and hygienic SnP tattoos, as well as conduct workshops in different cities on how to give SnP tattoos. “It’s something that has been in India for many years but often a very unsafe method using thorns and plant-based dyes, so it has sadly gotten a bad name,” she muses. What comes with SnP tattoos is their accessibility – “Easy to learn, of course, you might suck at it in the beginning but if your friend doesn’t mind, you can give them a simple silly tattoo so easily!”

You can view more of Josh’s work at Tender Pokes and who knows, you may sit down with her for your own stick and poke tattoo! She also gives SnP’s at festivals and art markets; she will be at an art market in Safdarjung, Delhi, on December 2-3. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram for updates, and check out her website for more information on her SnP work.

If you enjoyed this article we suggest you read:

8 Indian Tattoo Artists Share Their Tales of Ink & Skin

15 Tattooed Mavericks Share The Intimate Stories Behind Their Own Favourite Ink

We Profiled 8 Of India’s Best Tattoo Artists For Your Next Work Of Ink

Feature image photographed by Lavanya Bhakri

Related Articles