Self-taught tattooing gains popularity in Singapore: Low-cost trend or health risk?

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SINGAPORE - Once associated with secret societies and gangs, tattoos have over the years sloughed off their negative connotations to represent expressions of personality and art.

The latest trend is hand-poke tattoos. These gained popularity during the pandemic, when young people used the extra time they had to experiment with body ink at home. 

Such tattoos are created without a machine. Instead, a tattoo needle is dipped in ink and then poked into the skin, dot by dot.

Explaining her reasons for using this method, self-taught Singaporean tattoo artist Vanoha Chiam ( told The Straits Times that it is mainly due to “accessibility”.

Those who practise hand-poking do not need to invest in a tattoo machine, which would cost at least a few hundred dollars. 

Ms Chiam, 27, was still a student at Nanyang Technological University in 2020 when she started exploring the idea of inking her body. 

Everything she needed to learn was available online on YouTube or Reddit. Supplies were also easily procured at a local shop. 

During the first two years, she tattooed clients in her bedroom, only moving out late last year to a small rented studio in Hillview. 

Ms Mi-e (@5aucepokes), a 22-year-old home-based artist, started her hand-poke tattoo journey in a similar way. She took an interest in it after graduating from Nanyang Polytechnic last September.

“I watched many videos, bought a small hand-poking kit online, and started to take in clients who were willing to let me tattoo them,” she said.  

Formal training needed, say traditional artists

Some in the industry have spoken out against the trend of self-taught tattoo artists. 

Mr Lionel Ng (@lionelngtattoo), founder of Traditions Tattoo Collective, a tattoo studio in Arab Street, has been in the industry since 1997.

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