Hunter is a hand poke tattoo artist based in Buffalo NY, USA. They began tattooing them self in 2014, and once confident they wouldn't completely ruin someone's body, began tattooing friends. "I'm originally from Boston, so there were a ton of art kids willing to let me practice on them." Hunter has committed them self to creating a safe and comfortable space for queer folk to get tattooed. "You don't have to be queer, I tattoo all kinds, but so many tattoo parlors are dripping with intimidating macho vibes that it's nice to walk in here, touch a plant, smoke a bowl, just get comfy." For now, they tattoo out of their home, but plan to open their own studio in the coming years.

Was Hand Poke tattooing something you went to after machine tattooing, or has the hand poke style always been your preferred method?

Hand poking has always been my preferred method. I've practiced with machines, but really what it comes down to is the environment in which I'm tattooing. Machine and hand poke are just different mediums, but each have very different communities.

After moving to New York in 2015, I found a small shop's Facebook page advertising hand poked tattoos. I couldn't believe it. This was ultimately the goal, and to my delight, the artist took me on as an apprentice. He said I could do hand pokes in the shop, but he also wanted to teach me to use a machine. I agreed. But the next day I discovered the shop owner was passionately anti-hand poke, and "what?? You want to do WHAT in my shop?" I was confused, felt somewhat lied to, and generally uncomfortable given the heavy doses of sexism and transphobia. Every day was a new jab at the legitimacy of the method. Every day was biting my tongue. "Tattoos are made with machines," he told me, "Period." I stayed for as long as I could bare, then took what I had learned and ended the apprenticeship.

Even now, I'm not disappointed about how it all went, in fact, I'm grateful. It only filled me with determination to press on and continue growing and learning. It made me think long and hard about what kind of artist I truly am, what I want to be; what I want to provide to my clients, and also myself.

Community is important, and I love the hand poke community. I love hand poke artists and the diversity we offer; the knowledge we share to other hand poke artists. We connect and lift up each other, not try to claw our way to the top. Our tattoos are unique and so is the process. I love that.

(Disclaimer: I respect the hell out of machine artists. Different doesn't mean wrong.)

What was it like the first time you put needle and ink to skin? 

Exhilarating. I tattooed a bluejay feather (a symbol of good luck and protections in my family's tribe) on my leg. I was so excited at how successful it was that I called my mom halfway through. And when I was done with the feather, I tattooed Orion's belt on my other leg. And then mushrooms on my arm. It just kind of snowballed from there.

Have you always been a tattoo artist?

I've been an artist since I could hold a crayon. My mother is an artist, so I was lucky enough to have an upbringing that nurtured my artistic abilities. As far as tattooing goes, I've been tattooing since 2014.

Do you have any memorable/ funny stories you can tell?

I remember having an appointment to tattoo my friend's 2 rats on their leg, but I was knee deep in a depressive episode and ended up rescheduling for the next day. Tomorrow rolls around, and I'm still a mess. Guilty about already cancelling, I tell them to come over and we'll see what happens. Well turns out, tattooing is like a shot of dopamine right to my brain. The act of starting and finishing a project is so therapeutic and rewarding. I'll always remember this tattoo and the, for lack of a better word, relief it gave me.

That was a bit heavy.

There was a time I was tattooing on a rooftop and saw my friend behind a dunking donuts trying to lowkey bum cigarettes. That was pretty funny.

So Single Needle Tattoo Kits, I believe that home tattooing is inherently risky, but people have, and will continue to tattoo themselves, therefore making a safe and affordable kit is the way forward... What's your take on this?

As a home tattooer myself, I think it's a great resource. However, I can see the double edge sword that comes with it. People who have no interest in tattooing could get a kit on a whim and really do some damage to them self or friends. But hey, I'm not their dad. If people want to tattoo, they will, so providing sterile equipment and information to them is really important. As you said, it is inherently risky, but it's much riskier with a sewing needle and thread for sure.

Follow Hunter on Instagram - @pokeschmoke

Follow Hunter on Facebook - Handpoked Tattoos by Pokeschmoke