Stick ‘N Poke: Tattoos for Impulse

Mekenna Wilson preparing her ankle for the tattoo.

Mekenna Wilson is a first year sociology major at California Polytechnic State University. On Wednesday, the first of May, she traveled to downtown San Luis Obispo to compare walk-in tattoo prices.

Wilson is looking for a Stick ’N Poke artist.

Stick ’N Poke tattoos are also know as hand poked tattoos. They use a single, sharp needle and ink, not a machine.

While this may seem like a new trend, Stick ’N Poke used to be called ‘prison tats’.

The three tattoo parlors downtown include: True West, San Luis Tattoo Company and Traditional Tattoo.

Artist Eddie Molina inside True West.

True West was Wilson’s first stop on her journey. It is a relatively new parlor in downtown San Luis Obispo. They opened shop two and a half years ago. Unfortunately for Wilson, True West does not participate in the mainstream Stick ’N Poke trends. The artists at this shop specialize in specific areas of expertise.

“[Our shop gets customers] who are looking for specific artist and styles– lots of collectors,” said Eddie Molina a fine line, black and grey, photorealism artist at True West. He mentioned they also see the occasional college student.

The main entrance of San Luis Tattoo Company.

Next was San Luis Tattoo Company, a private studio in downtown. According to their website, the art they specialize in is traditional, black and grey illustrative and black and grey portrait. However, Wilson was unable to enter the facility.

Close up of the doorbell.

Traditional is an older shop in the community, and the final stop downtown on Wilson’s list. Traditional Tattoo has existed for 15 years under the current owners. They have a residential handpoke tattoo artist named Matt Southwood. But, he was not at the studio at the time Wilson went.

“We have a large Cal Poly population [in our customer base], but we also cater to many locals,” said Louie Campopiano an artist of 10 years at Traditional.

“[It’s a] 60-40 split between locals and Cal Poly students, with the locals in the latter,” Campopiano continued.

Both True West and Traditional Tattoo have an 80 dollar minimum. San Luis Tattoo Company does not accept walk in clients and has no listed minimum.

“The main reason I do not have more tattoos is because they are way too expensive for what I can afford as a college student,” said Wilson.

So, she looked for alternative options.

Mekenna Wilson’s DIY piercing is the stud at the top of her cartilage.

“In the past, if I wanted something and couldn’t afford it, I would get them anyway,” said Wilson. In her room, she has pierced her own ear and branded herself along with her roommate “because we were feeling that crackhead energy.”

These alternate and cheaper options for her body modifications will now include a ‘dorm tat’.

“I was kinda terrified, because I didn’t know the guy and it is an at home thing,” said Wilson going into the tattoo.

Easton Elting is a first year computer science major and a dorm based Stick ’N Poke artist. His own adventures as an artist began only in the fall of this year, fall 2018.

“I got the [Stick ’N Poke] kit the first or second week at college because I was in a weird place and I felt like permanently altering my body for the worst,” said Elting.

Elting began the tattooing process by asking Wilson, “Do you want a needle others have used or a new one?” Jokingly Wilson replied, “Surprise me!”

This is Wilson’s third tattoo, but first ‘dorm tat’.

Both artists, Molina and Campopiano, mentioned in their interviews the trend of tattoos they see college students follow, in their shops.

According to Molina “starter tattoos” are what college students get. For girls it is “something simple. Something they can keep hidden. Usually by the side of the bra or something down on the ankle, if the are not really worried about mom and dad. But, something small and dainty, so it won’t mess with how they look with a dress on.” While “boys tend to get the slogans: ‘Stay strong’; ‘PMA’. Or they got into a drinking game with their buddy and lost the bet.”

Campopiano said, “lately, the pinterest-y style of tattoos, that are simple and black and very straightforward are the most notable style item,” along with geometric dot style.

Easton Elting giving Mekenna Wilson a tattoo.

These simple, dot tattoos are the extent of Elting’s experience.

Elting said, “I’ve done like a ‘W’ maybe; an airplane, but it kinda looks like a dolphin; an ‘N’ which is supposed to be a ‘N-H’; and a penis,” but he notes the only pattern he has seen when giving tattoos is the reaction of the person.

“They are like ‘OW!’ for however many pokes I did and then they are like ‘Thank you!’,” said Elting.

While Elting’s Stick ‘N Poke endeavors are in sharp contrast to the artist seen downtown, Wilson notes, “I should get a kit, so I could do my tattoos myself. That way I wouldn’t need to pay for them.”

But Molina said for those planning to get a tattoo like Wilson, “Do your research. Don’t just get tattooed by anybody. When you choose an artist, talk to people who have been tattooed by them and ask about their experience. Look at the portfolios. Don’t just jump into it like ‘hey imma get a tattoo now.’ That’s how you end up with a bad tattoo.”

Which is not Wilson’s personality. “I’m very impulsive. I already have two tattoos that I regret, so what’s a third? I decided about both [of my previous tattoos] a week before I got them. Really, my second one I decided a day before. And this one I decided a couple hours ago.”

Elting’s final piece.

Wilson’s tattoo is a sun on her heel.

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