Stick-and-poke tattooing remains alive among first-year students

A tattoo of a lizard wearing a party hat and cowboy boots on a person's chest.
Photo by Alexandra Flory

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new students are missing out on countless quintessential college experiences. Luckily, the art of stick-and-poke tattoos remains alive and well at Lewis & Clark. 

College is the time to get the piercing your parents always said no to, the crazy haircut you have been considering and an opportunity to wear your funkiest thrifted piece of clothing around town. However, among avenues of self expression, getting a tattoo is the ultimate rite of passage for college first years. Current LC safety measures prevent students from getting professional tattoos in Portland, so stick-and-poke tattoos are a more accessible way to express yourself this year. 

Although the spring semester has barely begun, many first years have already collected quite a few stick-and-poke tattoos. Lewis Summers ’24 already has four and plans to get many more. 

“I have the Hebrew word for life on my ankle, a tree on my wrist, mountains on my ribcage and a lizard with a party hat and cowboy boots on my chest,” Summers said. “I don’t regret any of them except for the lizard with a party hat and cowboy boots.”

He admits it is not his favorite tattoo, but it certainly is an amusing story.

“The lizard was just because I said the dealer’s choice,” Summers said. 

Stick-and-poke tattooing is an activity that can be done safely within pods. It requires tattoo or sewing needles, a flame to sterilize the needle, rubbing alcohol to clean the skin and non-toxic ink. 

A good artist is not required but recommended. Thankfully, there are many talented artists on campus, such as Alexis Chomyn ’24.

“I love tattoos,” Chomyn said. “I think they’re so beautiful. It’s a real skill.” 

Chomyn has been giving herself and her friends tattoos since high school. It was hard to get the supplies without alarming her parents, but going to an art school helped that problem.

“I would be like ‘I need more school supplies,’” Chomyn said.

While in high school, Chomyn wanted to be a professional tattoo artist. She considered going to art school for college to explore this career path but ultimately opted for a liberal arts education at LC instead. For now, giving her friends small, yet exquisitely drawn, stick-and-pokes makes her happy. 

Other students on campus actually have tattoo guns, none of whom could be reached for comment. 

Brandon Apresa ’24 got a tattoo of a small tomato from one of these students, which was inspired by a story from last fall, his first semester at LC.

A friend of his would sometimes drop off fresh produce from her family’s farm at his dorm. Once, next to the other vegetables, there were three huge bags of tomatoes. 

“I’m like, dude, there’s no way I’m gonna be able to finish all these tomatoes,” Apresa said. “So I took that as an opportunity to … kinda meet new people by giving them tomatoes and being like ‘Hey, do you want tomatoes?’” 

Many do-it-yourself tattoos are related to and inspired by the bonds LC students have formed. Summers’ tree tattoo matches with his roommate and friend, Max Reed ’24. Reed explained that while his tree symbolizes his upbringing in Oregon, it also connects to Summers. 

“I was born and raised in Oregon, and, you know, Oregon is well known for their trees so, I figured I had to do it to ‘em and get the tree,” said Reed.

While many stick-and-pokes remain the spontaneous product of hanging out with friends in a dorm on the weekend, it does not mean that they are not meaningful and purposeful. The combination of spontaneity and personal significance is what makes stick-and-pokes a true representation of college students and young people. If the tradition of stick-and-poke tattoos can survive a pandemic, then LC first years will no doubt be getting them for years to come. 

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