The Different Techniques Of Tattooing And Their Origins
In previous blogs, we’ve shared our insights on the different styles of tattoos that have emerged over time and in different countries. Today, we want to talk about the techniques used in tattooing throughout history.
Tattoos are an ancient practice dating back to 3000 B.C. Ink wasn't discovered until much later, so of course, there were no tattoo guns or needles! So, how were ancient people able to create all their ink works?
There was a time when you couldn't just walk into a tattoo parlor. Other hand-used and traditional methods were utilized. And through the years, many different regions and cultures have adapted their own tattooing techniques. Let's take a look at some of them.
The Ta Moko Technique & The Maoris Culture
Maori tribe was an indigenous people from Polynesia who later settled in New Zealand, where they still live today. Maoris have a long tradition of tattooing, and they typically have it on their face and all over their bodies. The technique they use to engrave is through the cutting of the skin, creating incisions using chisel-shaped instruments made from greenstones or animal bones.
The first step involved in designing these tattoos was to make a cut into the skin with a sharp instrument to make a design and then fill the open cuts with dark ashes.
The process is excruciatingly painful as it sounds and takes several hours to complete. It would be just as painful the next few days, as the face and/or body would swell as a result of the essential abuse the skin has endured. Tattooed individuals would lose their vision for a few days until the swelling subsided. In severe cases, the markings could get extremely infected and have even been known to cause death.
Bamboo Handle Technique & The Japanese Culture
Japan has its own unique style of tattoo making. This bamboo handle technique comes from a Japanese tradition, but it is also widely used in China, Thailand, and other countries of Southeast Asia.
You may have associated an actual bamboo handle with the technique but guess what. Fun fact: This tattooing method does not use bamboo. It's a hand-poked procedure that entails threading needles into the end of a long metal or wooden pole. Up to two dozen sharpened points are added to the end of the handle and act as tattooing needles, simultaneously pushing into your skin. And when the artist requires finer or thicker lines of ink, more or less sharpened points could be placed to the ends of the handles.
This procedure requires two persons; A person stretches the skin while the artist dips the brush into ink to create the tattoo. Needles are put obliquely just far enough into the skin to allow the ink to set in place with minimum violence; a little painful anyhow. Bamboo tattoos fade faster than machine-applied color tattoos because it can be difficult for an artist to create enough speed and power to penetrate the skin deeply enough.
Rake and Striking Technique & The Samoan Culture
Traditionally, in Samoa and other Polynesian cultures, tattoos were created by tapping a needle into the skin with a mallet. The rake and striking tattoo technique makes use of wooden hand tools. Tattoo artists use two basic tools: a bone-tipped rake and a striking stick. A needle is placed at a right angle on a stick to make the rake. The ink-dipped rake is pressed against the skin. Following that, it is whacked with the stick, causing the skin to be punctured.
It is worth mentioning that there is a basic difference between the puncturing of the skin and piercing of the skin. It all comes down to the angle at which the tattooing instrument enters the skin, as well as how and where the force is applied and delivered. The force and effort required for puncturing is great, while the effort and force involved in piercing is much less. Patterns are created on the skin as the artist moves the rake.
A group of assistants helps maintain the skin taut while the artist develops the designs. A quite laborious and painful method with a significant risk of infection that may be fatal.
Metal Tube Technique & The Ancient Thai Culture
The metal tube tattooing technique is the forerunner of the electric machine tattooing technique. It originates from Southeast Asia, especially the Thai culture.
This method uses a tube, usually made of metal (normally brass) with a needle running through it. A hollowed-out tube houses a smaller and thinner metal rod that is slid down through it (a sliding pointed rod). This thinner rod has a very sharp tip at the bottom.
The artist dips the point into ink before proceeding to carefully place the tube over the required area of skin and firmly and manually pressing down on the tube repeatedly, piercing the skin, much like how a sewing machine works.
The ancient Thai tattoos revolve around Buddhism and have religious symbols as main designs.
Stick and Poke Technique, Tattoo Machine Technique & The Western Culture
In western countries, current tattooing techniques are actually thought to have originated from the metal tube tattooing technique.
Stick and Poke Technique
Needles and ink are used in stick and poke tattoos the same way they are in machine tattoos. How are they different? They're entirely done by hand. The stick and poke practice is also known as hand tattooing, hand poke tattooing, machine-free tattooing, and DIY tattooing. It's basically what it sounds like: stick-and-pokes.
It is the technique where artists deposit color pigments into the lower layers of the dermis with a single sterile needle covered in ink, that they poke into the skin repeatedly, forming the dots and lines that eventually make up the tattoo design. They attach the needle to a stick utensil, much like a pencil and thread (professionals use a tattoo-grade needle) to create something analogous to a tattoo machine but manually.
Several well-known celebrities like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Cara Delevingne, possess stick and poke tattoos and display them publicly.
Tattoo Machine Technique
The electric tattoo machine really marks the moment of tattoos becoming available for everyone, getting rid of the associated pain. And that's where the vast majority of the world is today.
In the late 1800s, the tattoo machine was invented in England. And yes, the preferred industry term is “tattoo machines” not “tattoo guns”. A motorized array of solid needles connected to an ink reservoir. As the needles pierce the skin moving up and down very smoothly and rapidly, the tips pull ink from the reservoir into the skin and deposit it there. The outline of an intended design requires only one needle, while coloring and shading require groupings of needles arranged in even-numbered flat configurations.
Have you ever been to a tattoo parlor? Do you remember the buzzing you kept hearing? Well, that’s the noise that tattoo machines or guns make when they inject the ink into your skin. While it is quicker, safer, easier, more precise, and arguably the most accurate technique of the ones listed above, and while it causes warm and vibrant sensations, but no pain, tattoo artists have to hold a license in order to handle one and operate.