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Wild Bill Hill

ARTIST INTERVIEW 

 

The first time I walked into a tattoo shop in 1972 at age seventeen I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I had been tattooing by hand and with machines that I built since I was 14. It took many years of 10-12 hour days and hard work to get where I am today, make no mistake about that.

I drew every spare moment I had, a lot of the time with a pen , so it was a lot like tattooing because there is no eraser. But pencil will always be my favorite medium . I liked the depth and dimension that could be achieved by making shadows in grays.

At age 18 I got tattooed in Sacramento by Broadway Bob. I saw right away that wasn’t quite the style I was after. Then I Met Pete Stevens and started getting a lot of tattoos at “The East Coast Studio”

in Sacramento on 16th + H Street by Pete, his partner Dennis and Bill Liberty. I remember getting tattooed by Bill and showing him my first so called professional tattoo machine. With the aspirations of opening my own tattoo shop, I told him, “all I need now is some people to practice on” and him telling me “with the art you’re doing, that shouldn’t be a problem“. He was right.

I decided on the town of Roseville because it had never had a tattoo shop. I didn’t want to step on the toes of anyone that had helped me, unlike the mentality of a lot of the new generation tattooist that open up right down the street from established shops hoping to cash in on their success. It just does not work that way and they will realize that when someone “opens up on them”.

I then met Kevin Brady and liked his style of custom tattooing. That he did not want to tattoo the same thing on two people impressed me. Kevin Brady had went on the road with some rock and roll bands and was very hard to get in touch with. He started making trips to my studio to work on my left thigh. One day he spent 10 ½ hours on a large roller skating skeleton on my leg. I told him I wanted to get some of that oriental style of full body tattooing. Kevin showed me the book “The Tattooist” with the work of Don Ed Hardy in it. The photos of his work were awesome, unlike anything I had seen before.

San Francisco had a lot of tattoo shops so I visited every one. That’s where I met Pat Martynuik we hit it off right away. In fact the first day he grabbed me and said I had a bare spot. He tattooed me in less than fifteen minutes. I watched how efficient he ran his studio as he tattooed both my wrist in a Japanese style. Pat had no secrets, he taught me how to adjust machines and make needle bars with out wasting time.

Thinking I needed an Asian tattooist to achieve the oriental look I found Pinky Yang of Alameda. While he was tattooing on me he advised me to go see Don Ed Hardy if I wanted that oriental style. Well that’s all it took.

I tracked down Ed in San Francisco at his studio called “Tattoo City”. He was booked up but he introduced me to Bob Roberts who showed me a calendar with a tattoo of a girl pulling down her pants that was done by Jack Rudy. The moment I saw it I knew that’s the style I wanted to learn to do more than than the oriental style. Bob then showed me photos of his work. It was this fantastic, single needle fine line all black and gray tattooing. After Bob did some of that work on me I was hooked. I knew I would never be the same. I threw away all the color ink I had and never did another color tattoo again. I started making monthly trips to see Bob and we became very close. He was very open with me, always willing to show me the solution to any problems. I learned all about needle clusters from him and always will be grateful. Bob would take this small town boy out on the big city streets of San Francisco after tattooing all day and show me things I had never seen before. I guess you could call that my coming of age.

I finally got in to see Don Ed Hardy. I was very impressed with the full coverage body tattoos he was doing. My monthly trips started to include getting tattooed by Ed . A lot of the time I would be tattooed by Ed 5-6 hours and then get worked on by Bob 3-4 hours. That made for some long days, that’s for sure! It would leave me very drained but I was starting to get the coverage I was after. Ed was humble, a no nonsense tattooist unlike any other I had ever met. Starting work at ten in the morning and wearing a tie while he worked was not what I was used to. His whole outlook on life was something I admired greatly. Ed told me “once you think you’re the best you stop learning”. That’s something that has always stayed with me.

Once my arms and both sides of my chest was completed I was ready for my ribs. I knew it was going to be a major undertaking. I wanted large, big work. At the time I belonged to 20+ tattoo clubs world wide. I had been writing the president of the tattoo club of Japan and he had sent me some art work of a tattooed Japanese woman. The moment I saw it I knew that’s what I wanted on my rib cage. I took it to Ed and he worked on me a total of 8 ½ hours that day. For the other rib cage I chose a tattooed woman drawn by Olivia. Ed spent 7 ½ hours on that one. I will never forget the look on Olivia’s face when she saw my tattoo for the first time at a tattoo convention in L.A.. She loved it and said it was the first major tattoo of her art work she had seen. I noticed she spent a lot of time taking photos of it.

I began hanging out at Henry Goldfields on the famous Broadway in San Francisco watching the work of Greg Irons. He was a well know comic book artist that had not been tattooing all that long but doing fantastic black and gray work. I was fortunate to be able to get some portrait work by him before he passed away much to young.

I booked five full days in December 1981 with Ed “Don the Dog” Hardy. I showed up and Told Ed that I wanted a demon riding a motorcycle all in black and gray covering my entire back and butt. Ed was know to be doing the best color work in the U.S. He said if I wanted black and gray, I should go to L.A. and see Jack Rudy, “He likes to do that type of high detail mechanical work“. I told him no, I wanted him to do it. After it was finished on the fifth day, Bob worked on my solar plexus. That made for a lot of tattoo work for sure. Afterwards Ed invited me to dinner and the Hot baths with about ten other people with body suits in progress at the Japan center. I was quite honored. A lot of Ed will always be with me, (not just because he did the majority of my tattoos) but because he had a very large impact on my life.

I first ran into Jack Rudy while he was tattooing on some young upstart named Brian Everett in a hotel room in Virginia . At the time I had no idea what a positive effect Brian would have on my life.

I went to visit Jack Rudy in east L.A. to do photos for a tattoo magazine. We got along quite well and I felt his portfolio work was the Holy Grail of tattooing. Every time I went to draw or tattoo I would think, “How would Jack do it?”. We shared a room at many tattoo conventions, tattooing well into the night. In fact while in Philadelphia we both tattooed on Jim “the Snake” Nyhan at the same time. I remember him saying after two or three hours “whose idea was this anyway?” Jack and I both looked at him and said at the same time and said, “Yours!” Tattooing next to Jack was a great opportunity to watch him work. Finally he had some time for me and did an awesome portrait on my abdomen . One of the most talked about tattoos on me is the realistic portraits of my parents Jack did above my knee while we were in San Diego.

I kept running into the work of Brian Everett at conventions and started to watch his work very closely. The realism in his work was really making it stand out. I had him do a life size portrait of my daughter that took almost nine hours on my thigh. Believe it or not I had to stand the entire time. That tattoo has won more than ten awards. Brian and I got together at car shows, conventions or at my studio whenever he was available. He completed my right leg in fine line black and gray. Including portraits of my wife, parents wedding day, my 1915 ford and my Panoz roadster. My wife Kim Forrest was looking over his shoulder every time he worked on me and picked up a lot of his style. Brian is a true family man with very high values that I admire greatly. His work on me blows people away both young and old. I truly feel he is one of the top portrait tattooist in the world.

Kim Forrest my lovely wife and the lead artist at my studio did my left lower leg and kneecap. Including portraits of my father and a life size Harry Houdini holding a king of clubs. My love for the black and gray style of tattooing seems to have been instilled in her also. She is a very fast and efficient addition to the studio. Kim seems to be able to do every style with the same high quality and attention to detail. Her list of clients include most of our local NBA team the Sacramento Kings.

Harley Haslem another talented artist working here in my studio tattooed parts of my ankles and the tops of my feet. I always thought I would be glad when my body suit was finished. But I am always finding things I would like on me but don’t have the room anymore. So always be picky what you get tattooed on yourself.

After 29 years on Vernon St. we have 10 full time artist working now. Our studio has been successful and is one of the busiest in the area.

 


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