The Newfoundland Herald sits down with Fredericka Jessica Coffey, owner and operator of Bespoke Poke, to learn about hand poked tattoos, the art and the misconceptions.
Hand poked tattooing, sometimes referred to as “stick and poke”, is a style of tattooing that involves using a sharp point needle and tattoo ink. Hand poking is an ancient form of body art that has shown various significance in the long history of human experience here on earth, including ancient Egyptian mummies, Julius Caesar’s historians, and Indigenous cultures. A common misconception? Hand poked tattoos are done in a basement or a prison yard.
While there may be tons of people out there fulfilling this misconception, as there are always people fulfilling misconceptions, this isn’t the case for receiving quality hand poked tattoos from one incredibly talented artist here in St. John’s.
Fredericka Jessica Coffey is the owner and operator of her own hand poke tattoo studio, Bespoke Poke, in downtown St. John’s. After spending time in Toronto, Coffey and her partner returned home to Newfoundland in order to both pursue their careers in their homeland.
“I was living in Toronto when I started hand poking. At the time, it was still not very accepted, but it gradually became more popular. I had friends who were practicing it, more as a hobby, and it was really intriguing to me. The first tattoo I ever, ever did on anybody was actually on myself,” Coffey explained in a sit down with The Newfoundland Herald.
A Welcoming Space
“Once I realized it was what I wanted to do, I took it upon myself to make sure I was doing everything the right way. I reached out to a few tattoo artists, and they gave me a bit of guidance. Then I found my way into a shop briefly which was a really cool experience. I didn’t do an apprenticeship, I’m self-taught. I realized one day that I just want to finally be my own boss and have my own private space to be able to create the environment that I want for my clients.”
With her own studio up and running, Coffey has been dominating hand poked tattoos around the city for months. With clients from all over, she strives to keep her space comfortable and inviting.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for me to have my own studio. I’m really happy to be here in this building because this building has a lot of very strong, intellectual women in it. It’s really awesome vibes and I really like being in a positive female oriented space. It’s a bit of a personal transaction. — I tattoo a lot of women, I tattoo a lot of indigenous women and I’d like to just keep making sure that everyone feels comfortable when they’re in my space.”
Discrete & Unique
Hand poked designs are built up dot by dot, to create discrete and unique tattoos. With a different vibe from machine work, hand poking is a much more intimate experience than machine tattoos.
The process does tend to be longer, with each poke of the needle being delicately placed, showing a true form of dedicated art.
“You can do almost anything with hand poke that you can do with a machine, it just takes longer. Certain styles and techniques with the machine, it would be ridiculous to try and recreate with hand poke,” Coffey explained.
“Machines have certain needles, or like certain whip shading and different types of shading techniques that you can do with each. It’s not that you necessarily can’t do everything that you can do with a machine, they’re just completely different. Two very different styles of tattooing.”
Misconceptions and stigmas come in swarms regarding hand poked tattoos. Although the technique dates back centuries ago, in modern day society hand poked tattoos have only become popular in recent years.
“Some of the misconceptions are that you aren’t using sterile equipment. That it is just kind of like, at a party where people are drinking or you’re unprofessional I guess. A lot of people are a little hesitant, but then they see that it’s just like a regular tattoo studio, it’s the same process,” she shared.
“Everybody is different, I’d say majority of people find it way less painful than machine tattoos. With hand poked, you’re slowly putting each dot in, it’s not as intense, it’s not as quick.”
Coffey continues to make a name for herself amongst the tattoo community and beyond. With plans on travelling to learn from other talented artists around the world, her end goal is to find her own personal style as an artist, and to provide a most positive experience.