Matthew “Mattie” Elliot is a local from Cape Town who went to school for graphic design. His artistic nature has attracted many to his craft. Nearby shops and restaurants have invited him to add beautiful colouring and design to their storefronts and signs. Mattie’s passion for design continued to grow but he began aching to branch out into something else that could feed his creative appetite.
About a year ago, Mattie began experimenting with tattoos. He was keen on the art of stick and poke styled ink. Though his first subject was himself, he eventually did move on to doing small handpoked tattoos on his friends. He was self-taught, but his passion and experience with graphics made his tattoo designs stand out. A couple months ago, the owner of a local tattoo parlor noticed Mattie’s designs and invited him to come work at the shop. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across Mattie’s work when searching for a handpoke tattoo artist in Cape Town.
Mattie’s work was amazing. Although he had only been in the game for a year, his designs were daring and phenomenal. There was only one other known handpoke artist in Cape Town. I considered them both. My partner and I sat side by side looking at their Instagrams, comparing their styles and skills. Mattie was the obvious choice so I got to work setting up an appointment with him.
Within a week of contacting him, I was walking into Tomb Tattoo and shaking Mattie’s hand. He was very laidback and informative. He remembered me telling him that this was my first time being handpoked and so he gave me a rundown on how the session would go. “There’s going to be a soft fwip, fwip sound when I work,” he let me know. “It’s just the sound the needles make.” He showed me the tattoo I would be fitted with. It was my own design, but he had completely revamped it and made it far more badass than my original idea. He set out his needles and I laid down.
The process was a lot more calming and cathartic than I had anticipated. Mattie’s needles made the soft fwip sound he had told me about. His needles were new, steralised, and embedded in a handmade masking tape/paper towel combination. They were easy to grip this way as he worked. He used smaller needles for the finer lines and bigger needles to fill in the details. I enjoyed looking down at my arm and watching him work. Seeing my idea come to life beneath his hands was exhilarating. The needles themselves hardly caused any pain at all. It hurt even less than getting my ear pierced. Mattie was very gentle and focused in his work. If I hadn’t looked at my phone during the tattoo session, I would have had no idea how much time had actually elapsed. It took around three hours but if you had asked me, it felt like less than an hour.
When we were speaking during the week, Mattie had told me the session would probably take around two hours. With changes and revisions during the session itself (I wanted the font to be perfect), the full session took at least three hours. This made sense due to the fact that Mattie was literally making every single poke himself by hand with his tools. He didn’t have a machine that would dole out the ink onto my skin with his guidance. Every needle placement was precise and calculated. His method may have taken longer to do than it would have with a coil or rotary machine at work. And even though I don’t mind having tattoo artists use those mechanics, it was so relaxing and eye-opening to experience being handpoked. Several weeks after the session, Mattie and I have stayed in contact as we plot my next tattoo together. I’m thinking it’s gonna be a pretty awesome fox.