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Matt Mancuso

I am an American hand poke black worker who’s been heavily influenced by traditional tattooing, and every other type of imagery. I’ve been doing hand poked tattoos for 4 ½ years, currently living in Brooklyn, NY.


Have you always been a tattoo artist/ How did you get into it?

I feel saying I’ve always been a tattoo artist would be kind of pretentious - but it’s been around most of my life at this point. I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil and it wasn’t too long after that I was doodling little things on my arm. My parents weren’t super thrilled about that. It was about mid high school when I started bugging the local shop’s artists about tattooing and what I would need to apprentice. It was an old school shop - old biker guys, pretty intimidating for my 16 year old self but also pretty exciting. I went on to art school a few years later, got my BFA in illustration, and in late 2009 started an apprenticeship in Rochester, NY. It was awesome, even though I was  working seven days a week for months. Unfortunately I had to abandon that apprenticeship later when I needed to move cities. I ended up working as a graphic designer in Toronto, ON for several years, occasionally chatting with local artists about getting back in a shop. The handpoking chapter started late 2013 when I saw Jenna Bouma’s (@slowerblack) work. That was huge, I saw it and thought, “Wow, those are really clean - maybe I can do something with handpoke!” Having worked in a shop I felt comfortable with the sanitary practice and I started doing them on myself and friends for fun. Eventually I crossed paths with Sally (fka Homepoke), they showed me some tricks and helped boost my visibility on social media - I tattooed more, drew more, so on and so forth.

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

The first time I tattooed ever was with a machine in the Rochester shop. It was hilariously terrifying, Christine Erickson (@christineerickson_lhmf) and Casy Diaz (@fatcasyvixi) both leaning over my shoulders with my hand rattling around under the weight of the machine. Needless to say that tattoo didn’t come out very well - but I still love it. The first handpoke I did was a little pair on nunchucks on myself and again, it didn’t come out well - but it’s all (always and forever) a learning process.


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

An early one that stands out is one of the first tattoos I handpoked on someone else. A tiny little sheet ghost with stick figure legs on a homie visiting from the West Coast. I went over that tiny design so many times that by the time we were finished I thought a tiny ghost shaped piece of skin was going to fall off of his arm on to the floor. I’m sure it’s a giant blob on his arm at this point.


Why do you prefer hand-poking to machine tattooing?  

I think handpoking is the first taste of tattooing for a lot of artists working today. So many amazing artists got their start in some form of DIY tattooing. Handpoke however is a format of tattooing that’s way safer for both clients and artists to explore tattooing on their own. You can take your time with handpoke and refine things slowly to make something good.


What would you recommend to someone who wanted to start tattooing?  

The first thing is to draw. A lot. All the time. Even if it’s scrambling an idea on the back of a receipt for later days, just do it. Even if you spend hours on something and it fuckin sucks - it’s still progress. The other first thing is to get educated about sanitary procedures. There are tons of bloodborne pathogen courses and certificates available online. Do that, buy the proper supplies, whether it’s from a medical supply or a tattoo supplier - green soap and madacide aren’t that hard to find. Even a proper massage table doesn’t run for that much. Then, practice on yourself a lot, accept the fact that you’re gonna have a lot of shitty tattoos on your legs and thighs. It’s part of the fun, a catalogue of your progress.

Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to handpoke tattooing?

Oh man, people ask me these types of questions a lot. I usually tell them the same thing - I use professional tattoo needles, I use professional black tattoo ink, and the brand doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because what I use may provide very different results than what you want with how you work.  Adding to that though, I’d say, go get tattooed, maybe ask some questions, watch what the artists do, and try it. If a technique or tool doesn’t work for you - tweak it and try something else. Also don’t be offended if the artist doesn’t have an answer or want to give you one for that matter.

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?

Totally. People will continue to do this, now more than ever. With handpoke there is nothing used in a single session that shouldn’t be disposed of. Use that shit once, and throw it out. Sharps containers are also super important for the disposing of needles and are pretty easy to find (usually free of charge at pharmacies, etc.). At the very least you can use a tall beer can - just don't drink out of it.

@deathandaxes /


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