The tattoo artist Roel Garcia from San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan gained popularity on social media due to his unique way of tattooing. Instead of using a typical tattoo gun, Roel’s method is achieved by hand poking, and his images are inspired by baybayin, the Philippine script used in the country even before the 16th century.
In Roel’s version of hand poke tattooing, the pigment is entered into the skin manually, creating an image through an accumulation of single dots. Unlike the batok way of inking flesh, made famous by Whang-od and other Kalinga women in recent years, “ang amin po ay hand-poke, kung saan moderno na ang karayom at ink na ginagamit, ngunit ang paraan ay kamay lamang at walang makina,” says the artist.
Roel learned hand poke tattooing four years ago, thanks to YouTube. “Walang nagturo po sa akin, at sariling pagtuklas lamang po ito, dulot na din ng ilang videos na aking nakikita patungkol sa hand poke tattoo.” Perhaps most influential among those he watched was a video on Tebori tattoos, a traditional way of hand tattooing in Japan associated with the craft of woodcarving.
A lot of Roel’s tattoo designs showcase the baybayin. He himself sports a baybayin-written message on his arm which says, “Paalala Pagmamahal.” It’s a reminder to himself that every tattoo session must be imbued with love for the work, especially because he is representing Filipino culture through what he creates.
A tattoo by Roel usually takes at least an hour to complete depending on the design of the client’s picking. The hardest tattoo he has done took all of seven hours. “Mabusisi po kasing nilalagay yung piyesa, yung pigment sa balat lalo na po kung malaki yung tattoo.” His price for a session starts at Php 800. Some of his clients travel from Manila just to avail of his service.