Handpoke Tattoo Book - An interview with Charles Boday

Books & Publications - Issue 18

Handpoke tattoo seems to be gaining nowadays more and more fans and supporters. "Handpoke Tattoo" book's publication could be characterized as necessary and as a natural result of the "revival" of hand tattooing outside the traditional context. HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine studied the informative and rich in photographic material "Handpoke Tattoo" book, and spoke with Charles Boday, the editor of this publication.

Interview: Ino Mei.

How did you get involved with handpoke tattooing?

A few years ago I was interested in learning how to tattoo, and a friend suggested that I start “by hand”, jokingly saying that if I made a mistake I wouldn't do so much damage and would be able to correct it more easily. So I followed his advice, and I got to like the feeling of the process. Then I also wanted to see who else was out there doing similar work.

Charles Boday tattooing. Photo by Mia Boday.

How did the idea of realizing a book dedicated to handpoke tattooing come up? 

I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, and was completely aware of traditional Samoan tattoo, as there's a large Samoan community there, as well as other Polynesian communities. So it wasn't a jump for me to take non-machine work seriously, though my awareness of it was in the background as part of someone else's culture. In my “Western” context it was all about the machine. So when I started looking to see who else was doing hand tattooing outside the traditional context, I discovered people like Colin Dale, Boff Konkerz and Hellenic Stixis, doing wonderfully detailed and powerful and often large work without a machine.

Tattoo by Colin Dale / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

I have always been interested in more graphic forms of tattooing, I guess what was popularized as “tribal art” in the '90's, and handpoking lends itself to this style. Clearly there is the “original” tribal work which continues today especially with the Samoans and the rediscovery of lost or dying cultures throughout the Pacific especially, but I was also interested in European artists who were rediscovering their own cultures, and in their tattoo art creating a “European Tribalism”, if you like. Colin Dale with his Nordic mythological work, and Hellenic Stixis with his ancient Greek work. I'd been looking at a lot of archaic Greek design before I came across his work on the web, and I was blown away by seeing a lot of the design I was interested in, going into the Classical period of ancient Greek art. It was quite a revelation. I also discovered later on when I contacted the artists, that some of them had a very clear metaphysical analysis of what they were doing. If you look at Hellenic Stixis' chapter in the book you will see what I mean!

Tattoo by Hellenic Stixis / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

What inspired you to make this book?

I was partly inspired to do the book because I realized there were all these great and varied artists out there working in a medium that, if anybody was aware of it, was often regarded as amateurish, “scratcher” work, or the gateway to machine work rather than the end technique in itself. As Boff Konkerz says, many machine tattooers don't regard hand tattooers as real tattooers at all. Of course, many of the artists featured do use a machine also, but I wanted to show that good and valid art could be also achieved by this technique.

Tattoo by Boff Konkerz / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

How long time did it take you to gather all the material for your publication?

It took about a year to pull the book together, through being in constant touch with the artists either on-line, by phone, or in person. It was a profound experience. I was in contact with accomplished practitioners of an artform and technique I love. Most people I contacted were incredibly helpful and trusting, and best of all, I got to meet a few of my art heroes and heroines!

Tattoo by Brent McCown / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

How did you practically gather all the material for your book? Which handpoke tattoo techniques are being covered in this publication? 

I contacted artists I knew, and some whose work I'd only seen online. Some of those artists recommended others, or had advice on my editorial approach, a lot of which was very helpful. I also wanted to cover what I regard the four major non-machine styles (though of course there are similarities amongst them): Japanese tebori, Thai longstick and bamboo, handtap (most notably Samoan-style work) and the revived European chopstick style. I also refer to the “fifth style”, which would be New Zealand Maori chiseling of facial tattoos, but I am not aware of a revival of this style... And the book does have artists covering all those styles. The idea was, however, to focus on contemporary artists using traditional techniques, so the idea was to cover something slightly outside work done in a traditional cultural context.

Tattoo by Cory Freguson / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Does handpoke tattoo have a “spiritual” side?

In terms of aesthetics versus spirituality in approach to hand tattooing, each artist will have their own approach. Some are very spiritually focused in the process, and some are mostly about aesthetics in the Western art tradition. I will say that most of the accomplished artists I have talked to know the roots of their trade. They know the history and where they are coming from.

Tattoo by Lard Yao Peter / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Are there quality differences between handpoke and electric tattooing? 

Questions arise about differences in quality and so on between machine and hand work. When you read the book, you'll see that there are almost as many different responses to this as there are artists. I think the consensus is that everyone wants the work to be good. Cory Ferguson says he doesn't want the “work to be good for a handpoked piece”. I do think the technique encourages certain stylistic differences. Dotwork shading is much more prevalent, and as Ferank Manseed says, “it's all about the dots”... of course lots of dots can produce a solid line too!

Tattoo by Frank Manseed / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Hellenic Stixis tattooing / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Would you say that there’s a “different” audience when it comes to electric and handpoke tattooing?

I noticed a larger percentage of women working by hand also. Artists like Goldilox and Sanya Youalli are producing amazing work, and I think in terms of appreciation of the work and those artists, more women are choosing this technique also. I think it used to be about heavily tattooed people who wanted a new experience, and those same people might have travelled to the South Pacific or to Japan for hand work in the past. But now, while all those options are still valid, I think with a revival of handwork in Europe in particular, it's all more accessible...though I still do get people referring to “prison ink”, even people in New Zealand who should know better with the wealth of traditional work around them!

Tattoo by Sanya Youalli / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Goldilox / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Nowadays tattoo is widely spread and also commercialized. Would you say that handpoke tattooing is more “underground”?

For a while I guess it will remain the punk rock of tattooing, as Alex Binnie says in the foreword... as do a few of the artists in the book. But it is a fine line between that and scratcher quality work. Ultimately of course it comes down to the quality and talent of the artist. There are a lot of DIY tattoo sites on the web, and while they're all about handwork, part of their aesthetic is largely to look amateurish.

Tattoo by Mark Mason / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

I'd say it's still a bit underground, though as the technique gains acceptance it will become less so. But I think there are aspects which are appealing in that underground way: it's more hands-on in terms of making your own tools; there's a meditative quality to the work- with the tebori or chopstick you can hear the sound of the needle entering the skin, and it has a rhythm; with tapping the rhythm is in the sticks meeting. There's an intimacy to the process for the client, which is different to that of the machine. Artists have different opinions on whether their relationship to the client changes with the technique used. It is still one on one.

Colin Dale tattooing / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Croc Coulter / The photo is courtesy of the artist.​

Tattoo by Gary Burns / The photo is courtesy of the artist.​

Tattoo by Himemiya Neko / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Igor Tangen / The photo is courtesy of the artist.​

Tattoo by Kai Uwe Faust / The photo is courtesy of the artist.​

Tattoo by Karolina Czaja / The photo is courtesy of the artist.​

Tattoo by Kristijan Pavic / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Sakura Avalon / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Lars Martinen / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Marc Pinto / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Su'a Sulu'ape Angela Bolson‏ / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Tikiroa / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

Tattoo by Tor Ola Svennevig / The photo is courtesy of the artist.

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You can buy the book from Amazon.