Machine-free tattooing 101 with Boff Konkerz

Hand-poked or machine-free tattooing is an ancient practice, which can be used to create incredibly intricate and delicate designs on the skin. The process is much more serene and peaceful than getting tattooed by a noisy, buzzing machine, and for some people, it can be a more spiritual experience.

Boff Konkerz is a nomadic tattoo artist creating beautiful tattoos using only a wooden stick, a needle, and his imagination. Hailing from the East Midlands, Boff was based in London and working at Xed Le Head’s Divine Canvas for the last two years, but recently decided to take his show on the road with project Road Maps for the Soul. This sees him taking on guest spots at studios across the globe. Apart from tattooing, his other great love is rock n’ roll, and he has previously played bass guitar in a band whose musical style he describes as “death-disco hard-rock beat”. However, these days he has chosen to focus solely on his work as a tattoo artist.

I caught up with Boff to ask him about tattooing by hand and why he thinks it is so special.

Can you please explain what hand-poked tattooing is for those who don’t know? How does the process differ from conventional machine tattooing?

The most basic answer to this question is that a hand-poked tattoo is a tattoo applied without the use of an electronic machine. I personally use the name “machine-free tattooing” rather than “hand-poked.” I think this name kind of answers your question before it’s been asked.

The process is quieter, generally slower. Some people find it a more relaxing way to get tattooed, more meditative. Some people believe it’s a more spiritual or pure way to get tattooed as it’s a direct energy transfer from another human being, rather than something that’s applied by manipulating an outside energy source. These differences rely on the mindset of the client, of course. I also like the fact that it’s the minimum amount of equipment one can use to create a tattoo. It’s as close as you can get to being nothing while still being something. I believe that by stripping the process back to the absolute minimum one gets closer to the essence of the practice. The soul of the art is in its source.

I noticed at the London Tattoo Convention there seemed to be more artists than ever in the hand poking room – is this a sign it is becoming more popular?

I didn’t go to the London convention this year. I worked it last year, but I prefer smaller shows. It’s more popular than it was when I started 10 years ago, but it still makes up a very small percentage of the tattoo scene. To my knowledge there are only a few machine-free tattooists earning a full time living tattooing, compared to the thousands of machine artists it’s next to nothing. As far as I can see, it’s merely a side effect of the growth of tattooing in general. As any industry grows, it diversifies. Tattooing has grown rapidly in recent years, so now we have more options. More different styles and techniques, both good and bad.

Where are you working at the moment?

At the moment I am on the road full time. I have a circuit of studios I travel round, usually doing a week at a time. I try and visit each studio a few times a year.

They are:

Factotum Body Modification, Norwich, UK.

13 Diamonds, Soho, London, UK.

King of Hearts, New Cross Gate, London, UK.

Íslenzka Húðflúrstofan, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Dark Valley Tattoo, Drogheda, Ireland.

Snakebite Tattoo, Dublin, Ireland.

Primal Ink, Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Lucky 7, Oslo, Norway.

Bergen Ink Senter, Bergen, Norway.

Zoi Tattoo, Stockholm, Sweden.

Zoi Tattoo, Malmo, Sweden.

Shining Tattoo, Nenzing, Austria.

Funhouse Tattoo, Metz, France.

Tribo Tattoo and Piercing, Prague, Czech Republic.

Elektrisk Tattoo, Odense, Denmark.

I will be visiting all these studios at least twice next year, as well as adding new ones in Germany, Finland, USA, and Israel. As I am based in London I tend to drop in and out of the studios there in between guest-spots.

I am not a fan of conventions; I much prefer working in a studio as it’s more real. A studio is a tattoo space 52 weeks a year, it has soul and character, things I find missing on the convention circuit. I will be doing conventions in Reykjavik, Dublin, and The Faroe Islands, but these are nice small affairs and I like the way they’re run.

My name is Hannah Smith and I am a regular contributor to Tattoo Revolution Magazine, and now I blog for Tattoosday UK, as long as you dear readers don’t run me out of town! I am on the hunt for ideas for future blog posts so please send me your pics, news, views, whatever to or hannah_fran_ink


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