Posted on September 30 2020
Zoe Hope Kolln, also known as Poking Hope, is a licensed machine free tattooist based in Olympia Washington in the USA. Kolln has been tattooing in the handpoke method since 2011, learning from a variety of mentors and also self-teaching through observation, experimentation on herself, and reading about the methods and work of others within the niche. Kolln’s tattooing practice began as a way to recover from self-mutilation, and turn tattooing into a self-care practice. Since then, Kolln has continued her practice as a way to spread a self-love ethic to others and create meaningful connections between tattooing and body image. Kolln works in a variety of media including woodcut, copper etching/intaglio, serigraphy, graphite, charcoal, pastel, watercolor painting, oil painting, and acrylic painting. Kolln is currently working towards her Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis on printmaking, painting, and illustration at The Evergreen State College.
What's so special about this way of tattooing?
Handpoke work has been around since people began tattooing without the aid of electricity, which we know was at least 5,000 years ago according to the oldest recorded mummy discovered with tattoo markings. I find something special about continuing this tradition, and finding room for innovation in our contemporary take on tattooing. The tattoo machine was only invented within the last 140 years, so I seek to continue the ancient technique of machine free methods and create unique body arts. I also find that slowing down a bit can be a nice change of pace compared to the rest of our modern world. Of course, I still work quickly in my handy work, but the method itself can be a bit slower than machine work overall. I enjoy that handpoke is a minimal form of tattooing, the tool being made from only a tattoo needle that is sometimes attached to some sort of stick (I use chopsticks), and it can be taken anywhere as it does not need electricity.
Does it generally hurt more or less than a machine tattoo?
The majority of my clients have said that the method hurts less than machine tattooing, that being said, everyone experiences pain differently. Many of my clients have reported that their new skin art doesn’t feel as sore after the session as when they get a machine tattoo. Tattoos made using the handpoke technique typically also take much less time to heal than a machine made tattoo, as the skin doesn’t experience as much trauma with machine free work. But of course, this is all anecdotal and based on my experience as a tattooist observing my own machine free tattoos heal and observing my clients healing processes.
Tattoo trends are so popular now, what sort of process do you have when getting a tattoo?
When thinking about receiving a tattoo, I really like to choose images or designs which I find beautiful. I find that as I age what I find beautiful remains the same, or the range of what I find beautiful only expands. Rarely do I stop thinking something is beautiful, so by choosing something I find beautiful I am not concerned about living with it for the rest of my life. For me, I try to stay away from trends and just get the tattoos I want based on my life and what I like or find aesthetically pleasing. It’s great to use the internet and social media for inspiration for your tattoos, but it’s important to me as an artist and a tattoo collector to be creative and think beyond other people’s tattoos and create a collection special to myself. I also just like to have faith in my artists, rather than asking them to tattoo an exact design on me. I tend to just give my artists a subject matter and an idea for size and placement and then let them make their work. I find that the pieces always turn out exceptional so long as I liked the artists’ work before deciding to let them tattoo me.
Can you recommend any studios or products you've used when getting tattooed?
Personally I really love the Hemp Tattoo Balm by The Merry Hempsters and I also like to use pure aloe vera gel, coconut oil, and Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps – those are all really great aftercare products that I like to use for my skin type. As far as studios go, I have mainly been tattooed outside of studios in private spaces so it’s hard to speak to that so far in my tattoo collecting journey.
What style of tattooing does handpoke work well with?
I personally love to use a dotwork, linework, and blackwork/filling style. But to be honest, I have seen such a wide range of styles done with this technique, ranging from the traditional styled work of @blame_max_tattoo , @joe_at_home , and @charlie.horse.tattoos (on instagram), to the watercolor style work of Holly Snook aka @boo_tattoo to the fine line work of @pokeeeeeeeoh and @catewebb - and everything in between. It’s truly quite wonderful that machine free tattooing can be done in a wide variety of styles. Different needle groupings can be used to create smooth shading vs. dotwork or stippling, which seems to be the most popular style for handpoke work, as it is the most obvious style to use when poking into the skin one dot at a time.
Can you do it with all skin types? With all ink colours?
Yes, handpoke can be on all skin types. Skilled artists can even tattoo over stretch marks, scarring (depending on the severity and type of scarring), and on all skin tones. It is always best that tattooing is done on skin that doesn’t have any open wounds or blemishes on the area to be tattooed. When considering a tattoo, it’s always best to take good care of the skin where you want your tattoo, pumas and remove any dead skin cells a few weeks prior to the tattoo, and moisturize any dry skin. Technically speaking, pigment can be tattooed on any skin regardless of the conditions, but the results of the image may vary depending on how well the skin heals from the tattoo and the condition of the skin at the time the tattoo is made (and of course how well the artist knows what they are doing, haha). All colors can be used so long as you are using good quality tattooing ink from a trusted source or a decent company. I like to use Intenze tattooing inks for my practice.
Do you have a favorite?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite as each have their own lovely qualities and memories. I truly adored getting to do the Loon taking flight out of water. It was a great experience and I truly loved drawing up this design and bringing it to life on my friends skin.
Do you have a memorable/ funny tattoo story?
I think my most memorable times getting tattooed were whenever I have received work by my friend and fellow handpoker, Hannah Philips, also known as @theneedlewitch on Instagram. I’ve also made many great memories with my sister, when first learning to tattoo a while back and to this day whenever she commissions me to do a piece for her. Me and my sister, Stephenie, first found out about how to do stick and poke from some random hippy strangers doing a class on it in Olympia. While they didn’t truly teach us much about the technique or about sanitary precautions and blood borne pathogens, they still introduced us to the technique and it was a fun experience. Me and Stephenie brought some oranges to tattoo the skins of, which was quite successful. I don’t have any pictures of the orange skins from that night, otherwise I’d share them (I’ve shared a more recent image of lemon skin practice below). I continue to practice new techniques on fruit skins, particularly grapefruits, limes, lemons, oranges, and banana skins :)