Tattoos that don't stick to the rule book

by Cathleen Cusachs / Beacon Staff • February 18, 2016

Students wandering around the Iwasaki Library might have encountered a body art-adorned skateboarder and her stick-and-poke tattoo business.

That artist is Annie Dean-Ganek, a senior visual and media arts major, who said she originally got into homemade tattoos by fooling around with a friend while in Los Angeles last spring, and she’s been needling around for about six months now. 

“I take it very light-heartedly and I think a lot of people do too,” Dean-Ganek said. “It’s been really rewarding to be able to get to know people who I really would not have any other reason to talk to because of different majors and social groups.” 

Between Thanksgiving and winter break last semester, Dean-Ganek said she created around 50 stick-and-poke tattoos with various levels of complexity. It wasn’t until she completed about 20 tattoos that she said she decided to move from free work to a $5 charge for all sizes. 

Dean-Ganek said she donated all of the profits, approximately $230, to Planned Parenthood, Children’s Safe Drinking Water Foundation, and Sailing Heals, an organization for the families of cancer victims that has helped her in the past. Her mother passed away from cancer last summer, and the small boating non-profit gave her lifelong memories, she said. She also uploads all her pieces onto Facebook to show off her hobby.

She said she wanted to find groups that would benefit from a donation, no matter how small.

“I felt uncomfortable asking people I knew to some degree to pay me for this,” Dean-Ganek said. “For me, it just didn’t seem like something worth spending money on. But people were asking me after a while to pay me, so I felt like I had to give it a reason.”

Hannah Carpenter, a junior visual and media arts major and friend of Dean-Ganek, said the tattoo artist deserves more credit. On Carpenter’s left shoulder, Dean-Ganek tattooed the venus symbol, the circle with a plus sign.

“My opinion is that she should be keeping the money for herself because she could really benefit,” Carpenter said. “With all the time that she spends, she should really reap the rewards of it, especially with living off campus and paying rent. I know she’s considering doing that now, but the donations she made were incredible.”

Dean-Ganek said she buys professional grade black ink and needles out-of-pocket, which she sanitizes diligently to help combat health risks. She’s also started informing clients on how to properly take care of the tattoos before they leave, she said. 

Although she’s on a break from tattoos right now after feeling burnt out from last semester, Dean-Ganek she use to book the library’s media viewing room after setting up a time via Facebook with a potential client. She said she picked the space because everyone goes there at least once during their Emerson years. 

Dean-Ganek also works at the media desk in the library, and said she wonders how she hasn’t gotten caught yet, but isn’t certain what would happen if she were.

“There’s been times where I’ve been doing it in the library and I said, ‘Guys be quiet, I don’t want to get kicked out while I literally have a needle in you,’” Dean-Ganek said. “It’s definitely one of those borderline things where it’s like, ‘This isn’t exactly how you’re supposed to be spending your time in the library.’”

She said her most popular tattoo on Facebook is Washington state-themed and features simple looking mountains and evergreens. Each piece is only an inch or two big and resembles thin and light doodles. 

Dean-Ganek said she’s been sketching for as long as she can remember, and definitely sees it inspiring her work. So far, she said she hasn’t found a request she couldn’t do.

Carpenter, who also has two professional tattoos, said the main differences between homemade and studio-done is the smoothness and width of the lines, pain levels, and prices. Most artists in the Boston area cost a minimum of around $100, Carpenter said. Dean-Ganek said her customers usually know what they’re getting into quality- and discomfort-wise.

“I would say it’s very painful in a different sense [than professional tattoos],” Dean-Ganek said. “It’s slower so you feel like every single jab. So what would take a tattoo studio 10 minutes would take me like two hours.”

Kristie Evans-Franco, a senior at Boston University and customer, said the quality was not an issue when Dean-Ganek traveled to her area of Boston last semester. After seeing her friends’ new Dean-Ganek stick-n-pokes, Evans-Franco said she was convinced to get “holy!” tattooed above her ankle in reference to a favorite poem of hers. She said her close friend got a similar one from a different stick-and-poke artist, but afterwards, they decided they both liked Dean-Ganek’s work better. Evans-Franco said her letters were so straight, they looked like they were typed on a computer. 

“[My friend’s] didn’t turn out as good, you could totally tell the difference,” Evans-Franco said in a phone interview. “We really liked [Dean-Ganek’s] work. She has a good charisma and her hand is very gentle. I think all of us were really happy with what we got and have been discussing doing it again.”

Dean-Ganek said although she’s considered going professional before, the intensity of it doesn’t seem as appealing to her as many of her customers assume.

“Real tattooing is a whole different thing,” Dean Ganek said. “I’d like to expand my stick-and-poke stuff, but not enough to become a real tattoo artist. I think [homemade tattooing is] kind of therapeutic. I love tattoos and I love drawing, so it’s kind of a fun mix between the two.”


Managing editor Christina Bartson, a friend of Hanah Carpenter, did not edit this report.