The artistic tradition of tattooing has a prominent history that goes all the way back to the stone age. Its imagery, however, has evolved over time, from stigmatisation to a mainstream trend to contemporary art. At the core of it all, tattoos stand for expression and tattooing, an art of the skin. In Kerala, this art form has been on a rising trend with many artists exploring new forms of tattooing. One such artist from Thrissur’s Kerala is Adithyan, known as Aadi among peers, who is a handpoke tattoo artist.
Handpoke tattoo, aka stick-and-poke art, is the act of tattooing without using machines. The tattooing is done by hand using a cylindrical contraption with a tattoo-grade needle attached. The device is dipped into ink and poked into the skin in a dotted manner.
Aadi’s Tryst With Tattooing
Aadi, a writer and graduate in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad, has always been passionate about tattooing. He shared, “I’ve searched for a medium to put out my art for long. I was never keen on drawing on paper or a book. I used to like doing small things of artistic value in random places like teacups or barks. Later on, skin became the perfect canvas for me. I found that doing artwork on the skin is a very powerful statement, empowering both the person getting tattooed and the tattoo artist.”
His tryst with tattooing began with machine tattoos during college, which was really unpleasant for him. He realised that tattoo studios never felt like a safe, comfortable space. “It fills up our anxieties and sometimes we get unhappy with what we get”, shared Aadi. But, he was really keen on learning the technique. Therefore, he ventured out and made friends with tattoo artists in Manali, Kerala, and Hyderabad to learn from them.
Aadi commented, “Machine is too powerful and it takes a lot of practice to be able to do great works with the machine. Between the artist and the person, there’s a machine with a motor that runs on electricity. It is faster and modern but more painful I felt. The healing process is also complicated.” Adithyan never really synced well with this type of tattooing. That’s when he came across an artist named Mibin who passed out from Shanti Niketan in the Fine Arts Department. He added, “I will always be grateful to him for introducing me to handpoking and teaching me the basic techniques. He also has a page on Instagram called 1kg_grenade for his tattoos. He taught me about the hygiene and the process as well.”
Learning this traditional tattooing process was healing for Aadi as it wasn’t, in his words, decorative. He learned about various types of handpoking and their histories. He commented, “Every culture has had a history of tattooing. Japanese magical tattoos, Buddhist tattoos, and many tribal tattoos in various parts of India were entirely meaning oriented and believed to have special powers. From naga tattoos to trajva to pachakuth, there’s a variety of designs and habits across cultures in India.” Many of Aadi’s designs were heavily inspired by this traditional art. But he felt the need to upgrade as he wasn’t able to entirely absorb the traditional meanings, language and habits associated with it.
Now, Aadi’s handpoke tattoo works are based on the receiver of the tattoo. He makes a connection with the receiver, and try to understand their stories and the meaning of the tattoo they want to get. A deeper connection, and not a transactional connection, is made.
The Process of Handpoke Tattoo
There are handpoke needles in the market that is used only once. The needles are never reused. Aadi uses the same ink as machine tattooes from companies like dynamic and intenze. The healing process is quick as it is less deep than the machine. “Lot of my clients has fallen asleep while getting their first tattoo. It’s pretty much painless. The process is much simple and allows a wider range of movement and improvisation,” Adi shared.
During our conversation, Aadi said that many artists are slowly venturing into handpoking these days. And that, there are many people who wish to get palka traditional tattoos. “There’s an artist called tribeink who is a huge inspiration to me. She used to do machine tattooing and now does handpoke. I don’t entirely do traditional designs as they require a ceremonial approach right from the designing process. I want to create beautiful tattoos that enhance the person getting tattooed. He/she should feel a great connection with their tattoo. That’s my aim. I will keep on doing handpoke tattoos as long as I can. I aspire to take this as my only career. Just as how traditionally there used to be travelling tattoo artists inking stories on the skin, I also aspire to be one.”
If you’re inspired to get a handpoke tattoo, you can DM Adithyan on Instagram or reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He carries his studio wherever he goes.