The following feature appears in the October 2017 issue of NYLON.
Jade Taylor sat down with Brooklyn, New York-based hand-poked tattoo artists Tea Leigh and Kelli Kikcio at their studio, Welcome Home, to discuss the therapeutic side of tattooing, feeling comfortable in their own skin, and breaking the stigma of hand-poked tattoos once and for all.
Jade Taylor: How did you both get started tattooing?
Tea Leigh: I started tattooing my friends, which is definitely a no-no in our industry, but there weren’t apprenticeships available in the method that Kelli and I wanted to work in, so we were stuck between a rock and a hard place. We wanted to do hand-poked tattoos, but we didn’t have access to any fucking information. We completely figured out everything on our own. It was the most anxiety-ridden, terrifying experience, because we knew we were gonna get shit for it, but we loved it, and we knew that if we pushed past the stigma, we would eventually be taken seriously and have the potential to really help people love their bodies.
Kelli Kikcio: It’s one of those rare industries that there’s no serious school for, you can’t easily get an apprenticeship without experience, you’re not supposed to tattoo at home, and you’re not supposed to be self-taught. So what are you supposed to do?
TL: A traditional machine apprenticeship was definitely an option, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for, plain and simple. I love machine tattoos and I completely respect the practice, but it just isn’t my essence. I need the intimacy of hand-poked tattooing.
KK: I would go to my day job, come home in the evenings, and tattoo myself. Hand-poked tattooing wasn’t that popular at the time, but for me, that process was all about reclaiming a sense of autonomy. I was dealing with feelings of being really disconnected with myself, so tattooing became an outlet. Like, this is how I’m going to present myself. This is how I can reclaim who I am and feel good about who I am as a person. So many of our clients struggle with those issues as well, so I want them to leave feeling that they were listened to, that their opinions and needs were honored and that they felt comfortable and safe here. The bonus is that we get to mark them forever, and that is beyond humbling.