▼▼▼EVOLUTION OF A COMMUNITY STICK AND POKE TATTOO  – with Vitnay, an underground Oakland, CA stick and poker, warehouser and artist.  May 2017▼▼▼

I interviewed Vitney at an impromptu party at her Oakland home that she started awhile back with some friends. It is called Home-ish. We talked life and tattooing.


She says,

“Ish is a community of people more than a space – a core group of people that moved around from place to place but as long as we were together that was home…I thought if we tattooed people in our community with ISH then 2 people sitting at a bar in a random airport that both have an ish tattoo will realize they are part of a family without even knowing each other.”

Over thirty five people have “Ish” tattoos today. Vitnay credits the Ish Stick and poke for a personal love connection. Once, a total stranger requested the “ish” tattoo from her.

“I didn’t know Brian at all – now he lives here and now we are in love because of that tattoo. It was so terrible. It was grey and blotty. It was a great excuse to sit on him and stab him repeatedly above his belt on his belly.”

I have gone to 3 dinner parties at Homeish – each on weeknights that have a soft start time of 7. Good people show at 8, make something elaborate and mostly veggie and Gluten-free and then and eating happens at 9 or 10pm. While we chatted, the mushroom ceviche was marinating next to me. The Jackfruit pulled pork simmered sweetly on the stovetop and the banter of 10 lively drinking people echoed around us. The people of Ish work in landscaping, service, woodworking, arts, and one works at Google…so sleep is clearly not being coveted for them as much as it is for me. Warehouse Life, perhaps. This unique space has no windows (a roll door) and is a house of corrugated steel cards (in a barn shape).  Clear corrugated sky lights let light in during the day –  filtered by leaves and city grime. The space has unique built “rooms” – some up stairs, with redwood fence board siding, pallets, plywoods. It is homey. Like Home. Home-ish.

We talk stick and poking and her evolution into a stick and poke artist:


If you resonate, you can get it.


“I drunkenly tattooed a heart over his nipple – I spent a lot of time making sure that i was even and symmetrical and perfect! Then I stopped and stepped back and it was not the smooth heart shape I had been working on. I didn’t know to stretch the skin!”

▼ VITNAY PRO TIP: “Definitely stretch the skin.” ▼

She used sewing needles until recently…now she uses materials from the kit.

“Actual tattoo needles are amazing. You can go so fast. Tattoo ink also nicer to use than india ink.”

She’s given over 50 people tattoos – some multiple tattoos – mostly traveling to meet friends and on friends of those friends. It is about connection. Every time she sees a certain friend, she adds a few dots to her tattoo – it started with one and now the tattoo is hundreds of dots.  She thinks that she has tattooed 12 people for the first tattoo.▼ Vitnay is the gateway tattooer in her circle.

“One time a friend turned green and had to go throw up. I now pinch people first to see their pain threshold.” She checks in with people about pain and about weird things that ink and tattooing can do with different skin and with pain.

I say tell her that it’s so painful for me (!) and she responds, “I kind of like it.”▼ Pause in conversation.

Instead of “Ish” sometimes she gives alternative tattoos with the same intention – some are pictured here. Some bruising and other reactions happen when Vitany tattoos.

“I see people’s personalities are in their skin….” On one person she thought of as highly reactive, the skin seemed to bubble up at the poking of her needle. For another empathetic friend of hers, she needed to fill the ink jar up 3 times because “the skin sucked it right up!”

“I have become more worried about infection on large tattoos – one I gave recently – and he was touching the tattoo and rolling around in ocean and sand and it didn’t get infected but I was worried. I would hate for that to happen. I am careful not to spread disease with my tattoos”

She prevents the spread of disease with new needles, safe disposal, cleanliness, new ink, gloves, etc. See the kit that helps you do a safe tattoo –  here.


“I am into shapes – geometric shapes as a collection – 4 or 5 shapes together –  I am interested in stipling – I did a tattoo based the design off of a poured steel wall in our new work warehouse space.”

She’s never given a color tattoo. She creates and thinks in black charcoal and black pen. “I don’t think ill ever give one.”


I like @BlackityBlackBlack. She is a no-nonsense person and I loved her attitude and excitement for the tattoo I got to remember my Grandma. We clicked and had drinks together after. I also like Tati Compton @taticompton and Pony Reinhardt Tattoo  @freeorgy (machine tattoo).

“For now, I want to get better and I want to be really fucking good before I get into a studio. I want to translate my illustration into tattoos. I don’t want to apprentice (later she says she would apprentice with a woman)”

The mushroom ceviche (as a fish lover and ocean-lover I have been conflicted about eating lately) is terribly good. Mushroom ceviche to the rescue – I am a convert. May fungi inherit the world! ….  A Recipe here.


“It is accessible. I would love to have thousands of dollars and have beautiful tattoos…but stick and poke is available now…there is also a reckless, fuck it all attitude about it – but being almost 30 now, maybe that part of it is less attractive….;-)”

“I get a tattoo when something significant happens in my life – and it is a signifier of that time. It is important if I am the one giving the tattoo.”

“I like feeling each poke and each poke being intentional…asking questions about favorite numbers, illustrations. It is a collaborative process. I want it to be a conversation.” ▼

Vitnay’s INSTAGRAM is @vitnay. She is an artist that creates beautiful things – check out her out at: @latch_key

▼▼▼ Our INSTAGRAM is @stickandpoketattoo_kit ▼▼▼

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