Guerrilla stick and poke tattooing: Prison Style Tattoos

In this post our guest blogger Amber Bryce talks about getting her first stick and poke tattoo from Prison Style Tattoos

I’ve always told myself that getting tattoos impulsively is a bad idea. It’s the kind of decision that leaves you with a boy’s name on your wrist, or a dog anus for a belly button, right? But in late November, I changed my mind.

I saw that Hannah Hill (AKA Hanecdote) had gotten a small stick ‘n’ poke gravestone reading “RIP ART SKL” on her bum cheek. I’ve always loved black and grey tattoos that have a simplistic, sketchy style to them – as though they’ve been doodled on a notepad during a boring geography lesson. Hannah’s tattoo (pictured below) had that appeal.

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I clicked through on Instagram to see @prisonstyletattoos’s ink-filled page, each tattoo framed by a peace sign. I Dm’d him and we arranged an appointment for the following week.

Secret Studio is where Prison Style Tattoos (AKA 34-year-old Timothy V) operates from, a gated complex in East London. I knew instantly I’d like PST when he messaged asking if I wanted a glass of wine. He also had blue hair, wore cool trainers and loved Fleetwood Mac.

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He got into tattooing after being turned down for a pair on his hands at 18/19. “I decided to take matters into my own hands (again, literally) and buy loads of dodgy tattoo gear online and do them myself. I’m happy to say it was a good lesson. It helped me to develop and let me do my own thing.”

I was getting a small UFO tattooed on my arm (pictured below). After checking placement we sat for a bit and chatted. I asked him what it was about hand-poked tattoos he preferred.

“I love the way by hand you can slowly build up a line and watch each poke change the identity of that line. Sounds farty but it’s such a unique experience for me each time. I love it.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 15.40.25I’d always imagined that hand poking would hurt more than a regular machine tattoo, perhaps because it seems more of a medieval approach. As he dipped the single needle into ink, I laid back and so began the tattoo. Or so I was told, because I could barely feel a thing. The whole experience was ridiculously relaxed, to the point where I felt like a fraud. I’d told friends I was going to get a stick ‘n’ poke and they’d thought it sounded really bad-ass, yet in reality here I was, chilling out with a glass of wine.

“What’s the strangest experience you’ve had while tattooing?” I asked. “During a tattoo I did on my genitals, the skin around my penis tripled in size and filled with water. I actually had a bloated sea cucumber for a chap! It wasn’t until I received a response to my panicked text from the Brighton tattoo artist Adam Sage that I felt relieved enough not to go to A&E. Taxi to hospital cancelled and all returned to its sore normal the next day.” At this point I couldn’t shake the image of a sea cucumber.

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After the first round of the design was done I went to take a look in the mirror. It looked faint, like half-erased pencil. Apparently some people quite like that look, but I sat back down for another layer of ink.  There was a large graffiti beetle on the wall, which PST told me was done by his friend and co-creative @veratattoos. This is whom he started his pop-up parlour with. “It’s purely us doing what we love, low key, unique and on a need to know basis. It’s, I hope, a unique, personal and endearing experience for the client.”

After another few rounds of hand poking, my tattoo was finished. A UFO had landed on my upper arm, leaving the skin beneath it only a little red and raised. After a quick Instagram picture, PST wrapped it up and I took one last swig of wine. Getting a tattoo is always exciting, but this felt especially exhilarating.

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As an anxious person, venturing to an unknown location in London to get a tattoo by someone I’d never heard of before at less than a week’s notice was a serious step outside of my comfort zone, but it’s this kind of rebellious impulsivity of tattoo culture that PST is hoping to recapture.

“I’m a firm believer tattoos should be spontaneous but at the same time sum up something that’s fearless and ‘non-standard’.” Before heading off into the cold, I asked him what’s in store for the future. “The plan is to be a successful, fun, busy, happy, exciting, passionate maker of hand poke tattoos and give each person who is willing a lovely, personal experience. I want to play this gig full time, baby!”

I’m already planning going back for a vegan-inspired ‘RIP cheese’ tattoo.

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