Words & Photography: Calvin Cashen

An antiquated but effective method of tattooing, known as hand-poked, has become a go-to approach for tattoo artists all over Canada. It’s recognized as a cheaper method to traditional machine tattooing, but has gained traction on social media as a quirky, aesthetically unique alternative. Montreal’s tattoo culture has spawned its fair share of hand-poke specialists, with artists operating anywhere from professional studios to DIY spaces.

The hand-poked method yields different results for different reasons, but it is an especially appealing method for newcomers. Its real selling point is accessibility – all you need is a needle and some ink. Oh, and skin ointment. Lots, and lots of ointment.

Léon Llorón is an experienced tattoo artist who works from home and was inspired to learn the hand-poke method after hearing about Sally/Homepoke, another DYI poke artist.

“My friend let me do one on him and it turned out decent, so I kept going,” Llorón says. “I practiced a lot on myself.”

León Llorón, known on Instagram as @hochelagay.

DIY tattoo spaces are a convenient way for new tattoo artists to initiate themselves in the art form. Having the option to tattoo from home gives artists a platform to both hone their craft and turn a profit. But in the grander scheme of things, it also helps counteract a fundamental issue in the tattoo industry: elitism.

“An elite has been created, and it’s oftentimes just more privileged tattooers rather than more skilled artists,” says Llorón. “Parlours make you pay a part of your earnings to the owners. It’s a very capitalistic environment. I don’t want my clients to have that kind of tattooing experience.”

Llorón’s work draws inspiration from numerous sources, resembling something of a cross hybrid between queer-cyberpunk and dystopian science fiction, akin to the work of artist H.R. Giger. Llorón’s pieces also implement several layering and perspective techniques, resulting in tattoos that have a distinctive style that is special to each client.

A sample of Llorón’s designs.

Tattooing the traditional way

Boris Granche is another local tattoo artist who works from home. He started off with the hand-poked method, but has since made the jump to machine tattooing. In addition to practicality, Granche says gun tattoos are speedier and more efficient.

“I first got started when I tried tattooing my hand in class when I was 15,” Granche says. “But the ink wasn’t staying in my skin. I was just cutting myself!”

Boris Granche preparing a stencil.

Granche’s artistic style incorporates elements of minimalism and postmodernism. Although many clients come to him with custom ideas, he prefers doing his own designs.

A sample of Granche’s designs.

Aside from adaptability and comfort, there’s one final reason Granche loves tattooing from home: “I can just sit and listen to my records all day!”

How did tattooing start?

Tattoos first gained popularity in the 1940s. Wartime soldiers would eagerly line up around the corners of tattoo parlours in the hopes of paying homage to family members or loved ones. Since then, the culture has spread across North America like wildfire. It has never been easier for novice artists to self-train themselves in the art of permanent ink.

For many, the very notion of getting a tattoo in an unregulated space makes them uneasy because they’re afraid it’s unsanitary. Rest assured, say both Granche and Llorón, every one of their clients receive their tattoos from a fresh needle.

When it comes to tattooing, the only thing limiting an artist from producing great work isn’t access to resources or top-of-the-line equipment, it’s the breadth of their imagination. And when you’re talking about a centuries-old tradition like tattooing, establishing your own artistic identity is essential.