Traditional, magical, & ancient designs tattooed in the simple old way using a single needle or thorn
Women tattooers have made marks upon the skin throughout time untraceable. Within the intimate space of homes or out in nature, these exchanges, between tattooer and receiver, are both deeply human and deeply mystical. The initiatory, healing, guiding, strengthening, or epiphanic nature of this ancient way of tattooing has as much to do with the love and intentions of those performing this ritual as it does with the symbols and marks themselves, often made using the simplest of tools, such as a sewing needle or thorn and soot.
Throughout my own journey of tattooing by hand using a single needle, which began in 2009 when I was taught this simple method by another woman tattooer, I have come to bow to this mysterious form of medicine in my own life and on my own skin, and on the skin of others. Most poignantly, I have witnessed, entirely unexpectedly, the ritual of tattooing as a passageway through and beyond dark night of the soul and other times of spiritual crisis. I have also witnessed, in my own tattoos, such functions as awakening to deeper soul memories or purpose, marking the threshold into a new stage of being or life, serving as reminders of core guiding truths, wisdom, or insights, and connecting to lineages of either the bloodline or soul. At the same time, brilliantly, these tattoos can function as pure beauty and adornment. Overall, I feel that conscious, heartfelt tattooing is a way of setting reminders into our precious, mortal bodies of our true identity as divine beings here to live a human life that is sacred. It is my belief that we all need help in getting there.
Image bottom left:
Victoria tattooing side-wrist of tattooee with sewing needle (wide band is an older tattoo already possessed by the tattooee)
Image top: drawings of Berber tattoos of North Africa, & traditional tattoo motifs of the Balkans.
Want to get a tattoo?
We'll chat over the phone or have a cup of tea and talk about what you have in mind.
Email me with a brief description of your idea and any images if you have them, and we'll go from there.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of tattoo designs are possible with this method?
Single needle tattooing is best suited to simple, geometric shapes and symbols. Circles, dots, lines, and repetitive motifs work best, and come to life in a magical way which cannot be replicated with the use of a tattoo machine. Subtle imperfections inherent to this old way mean that the tattoos really dance and are imbued with a personality that is distinct and unique. Conversely, large areas of fill-black, very thin curving lines, grey-tone shading, and picture based images are not well suited to this method of tattooing and are best done with a tattoo machine. For a first time poke tattoo, think about line bands, dots, crosses, runes, spirals, or astrological symbols.
Victoria does not tattoo lettering or script.
What colors of ink are possible?
Black (eventually turning a dark blue color in the skin when healed) India ink only.
How large of a tattoo is possible?
For a first time hand-poked tattoo, I recommend choosing a design no larger than 2"x2". Most tattoos within this size may be completed in one session, usually within 3 to 5 hours. Larger designs and projects are certainly possible and can be planned out over days, weeks or even months.
How long will the tattooing take?
This style of tattooing is significantly slower than mechanized methods of tattooing. Expect a half hour to an hour for a design the size of a US dime. For a design which is 2 or 3 inches long, expect at least three to five hours. A single line band around an arm or leg may take between 2 to 5 hours. This being said, the time required by each tattoo varies significantly. Lines and dots go relatively quickly. Curves typically go much slower. Your tattoo may be completed within a single session, or may require planning out multiple sessions spaced out over days or weeks.
Does it hurt?
Of course! Pain is an intrinsic and potent part of tattoos, just as it tends to be with all growth and transformation worth having. The painfulness of tattooing varies a lot from individual to individual, and on different parts of the body. It can vary from easy and mild to a bit intense. This said, of the many methods of traditional and primitive tattooing, such as cutting/slicing, threading/stitching, skin removal, and the tattooing stick, I believe the hand-held, single needle method to be the gentlest. There is often no blood at all, or only an occasional very small drop. .
What is the healing process like for my tattoo?
Tattoos on different parts of the body and on different people will heal differently and at different speeds. Overall, most tattoos should be completely finished healing within three weeks. Many will heal within one week. Keep your new tattoo covered with a natural oil (such as coconut or olive oil, or even petroleum jelly) as much as possible after the tattooing in order to keep the skin moisturized. Moisturized skin tends to scab less. Some very minor scabbing and/or peeling on a tattoo during the first week or two of healing is normal. On certain individuals, some bruising is even possible, and should heal within a matter of weeks.
What are the risks involved in being tattooed?
Any wound created on the body creates the potential for infection. Strict sanitation practices before and during tattooing, and proper care during healing make this risk very slim. Of the many tattoos on my own body, and all those individuals I have tattooed over the years, I have yet to experience infection. While I will do everything in my knowledge to ensure your tattoo heals impeccably, please understand that in any form of tattooing, you as the receiver are assuming some risk.
Is this type of tattooing the same as "stick-and-poke"?
Yes. "Stick-and-poke" is a contemporary term which generally refers to tattooing the skin using a single hand-held needle. Some stick-and-poke tattoo artists may tattoo using fine, multi-pronged machine needles held by hand, and thus tattoo at greater speed and with more possibility of grey-tone shading than using a single, simpler needle. Thus there can be much variation in the methods of stick-and-poke tattooing, and great variation in the styles, materials, and specialties of each tattooer.
How much does a tattoo cost?
The payment exchange for a tattoo reflects the amount of time and labor required by that design. This can vary a lot depending on the design, its size, and its location on the body. In general, most tattoos can be divided into three tiers: 1) tiny tattoo (within the size of a nickel) - in the range of $40 - $50, 2) medium tattoo (up to 3" and of simple to moderate complexity) - range $80 - $130, and 3) other tattoo (a medium sized dense motif, large, or very large) - which vary too much to give a generalized price range.
What about touch-ups?
Normal touch-ups are offered as a part of every tattoo. Touch ups take place after a tattoo is fully healed (usually 2-4 weeks after completion of tattooing), to add very minor amounts of ink where needed. Many tattoos will not need any touching up. For some tattoos, touch-ups may be recommended. There is no extra charge for touch-ups, unless you have directly gone against instructions for after care of the tattoo and need significant amendments.
My tattooing experience with Victoria was magical and moving. Using a shell to hold the ink, we sat in the sun, listening to the creek and the birdsong, and I felt the medicine going right into my tattoo! A forever memory of a magical afternoon.
The Perfectly Imperfect Circle:
There is an undeniable intimacy when one agrees and submits to have their skin marked forever by another. I couldn’t imagine going into a shop and having this kind of experience with a stranger. I came to Victoria with a general idea and we worked it together to come up with blessed imperfection.
For me, a tattoo is a tool. A visual symbol of something that one needs to be reminded of when feeling indirection. What I didn’t anticipate is it serving as a frequent reminder of how genuinely fortunate I have been to find powerful teachers. Carrying the marks of my teacher has been a gift.
This teeny tiny starfish is a tool that I use almost everyday. It’s a reminder that what I’m doing is enough. It’s a reminder to stay aware and to feel when I want to shutdown. It’s a symbol of moving forward even when I’m scared, and that flaws are okay. I thank Victoria for the knowledge and strength to assist me in giving myself my very first tattoo.
(reflecting on two occasions, one of receiving a tattoo and another of learning to tattoo herself)
Two years ago, in the early summer, I heard that Victoria was giving one last traditional tattooing workshop before leaving town. The workshop was tomorrow.
Instantly, and without any hesitation, I KNEW that I had to sign up. It’s funny how little thought I gave it. I signed up for the workshop with no planning, no particular prior interest in a new tattoo, no idea where or what it might be… But my soul was insistent: "You need to learn this skill and you need to learn it from HER. She is a master.”
And I’m so glad I did! I ended up with this little beauty that I created all by myself in the traditional method, WITH A THORN for crying out loud, under Victoria’s expert guidance. It was exactly what I never knew I needed. And I’m so appreciative to have let myself jump on the whims of my soul and into Victoria’s energetic embrace for the evening. It was fantastic. It was delightful. It was nourishing. And it was totally badass.
French photographer Marc Garanger's war-time portraits of Algerian women, 1960s (link to an article)
The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women, by Lars Krutak (book)
The Last Kalinga Tattoo Artist of the Philippines, by Lars Krutak (link to online article)
The Last Kalinga Tattoo Artist, Documentary (link to Youtube)
Algeria's dying art: Berber women with facial tattoos tell their stories (link to online article)
Chaouia Tattoos: An Honors Thesis Exploring Symbolic Meaning, Contribution to Identity, and Reasons for Disappearance of Traditional Chaouia Tattoos (link to online thesis)
Egyptian Mummy’s Symbolic Tattoos are First of Their Kind, Live Science, May 2016 (link to online article)
Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History, Smithsonian (link to online article)
Lucienne Brousse (links below to two articles about Lucienne *articles are in French*)