How to do tattoo by yourself

Dec 26, 2020

“Simplicity is really key in tattoos,” says Talia Migliaccio, a tattoo artist. “It’s about making a mark and how those marks relate to the world around us.” Migliaccio suggests starting with a couple of lines or a meaningful number, something basic, small and easy to execute. Like most people who give tattoos for a living, Migliaccio recommends going to a professional if possible. But if you’re going to do your own stick-and-poke tattoo — which is not unlike a prison tattoo — practice first on fake skin or a piece of fruit to get the feel for needle work.

Make sure your work environment is clean and well lit (strap on a head lamp if necessary). You will need sterilized latex gloves and single-use tattoo needles, ink cups, tattoo ink, paper towels and waxelene to remove ink from the skin’s surface. When ready, clean the area with isopropyl alcohol (90 percent). Use a nontoxic marker — Migliaccio prefers Faber-Castells — to draw the image directly onto your skin. (You might want to tape the needle to something like a pencil or a chopstick, giving yourself a larger grip with which to manipulate the needle.)

Dipping the needle repeatedly in ink, poke a dotted outline into your skin — what Migliaccio and her friends call “stargazing, because it creates this constellation of dots.” Go over the entire pattern once. Migliaccio says you should insert the needle into the skin at a 45 degree angle, as if you’re sewing the ink into the surface of the skin, and not poke it in too far — less than an eighth of an inch deep. Apply the waxelene over the tattoo and wipe away the tattoo ink with a paper towel. “Go over the tattoo three to four times with ink, until the design looks solid.”

Clean off the tattoo with a green soap and a slightly wet paper towel, then spread a salve over it. “I don’t cover tattoos because I find that hand poking is so gentle on the skin that it doesn’t require that,” Migliaccio says. “I would never recommend numbing the skin because the physical aspect of it is a huge part of the experience.”