Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

“Wild Bill” Hill will again this year hold a tattoo-a-thon at his shop to benefit the UC Davis Children’s Hospital. The event starts 8 a.m. Saturday.

More Information

  • Wild Bill’s 13th Annual Tattoo-a-Thon

    What: Get tattooed by visiting artists; all proceeds go to the UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

    When: 8 a.m. Saturday to midnight

    Where: 115 Lincoln St., Roseville

    Information: (916) 783-9090, wild-bills.com

Ink and be merry at Wild Bill’s 13th annual tattoo-a-thon

Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 - 12:05 am

When it comes to tattooing, the customer isn’t always right.

Tattooist “Wild Bill” Hill has seen enough bad ink in the past 40 years to know when a design won’t work well on skin. For him, tattooing is the art of leaving a positive mark on a person for life. It also happens to be his business.

In a pristine, lemon-scented waiting room wallpapered with intricate tattoo illustrations at his Roseville shop, Hill explained his old-school rulebook, which he learned largely from legendary San Francisco-based tattoo artist Ed Hardy.

Hardy, who Hill noted was the only tattooist wearing a tie to work in the ’80s, did most of Hill’s full body suit, which covers everything except his hands, feet, neck and face. The total-coverage approach demands significant pre-planning, which Hill suggests for his customers as well; they’re expected to have done their homework before getting into a chair.

At Hill’s 13th annual tattoo-a-thon this weekend – where 30 volunteer tattoo artists will work a 14-hour day to benefit the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and its pediatric intensive care unit – customers should come in with a strong idea of what they want, backed by some research. Hill said he will not draw on anyone who is intoxicated, nor will he tattoo lovers’ names or joke tattoos except under special circumstances.

“We take tattoos very seriously,” he said. “We don’t like doing spur-of-the-moment tattoos; it’s something somebody will regret. I’m very aware that what we do to people lasts a lifetime.”

Tattoos can now be found on one in five American adults, according to a 2012 Nielsen survey. If you’re thinking of joining the club, you can make an appointment for Saturday’s tattoo-a-thon, where 100 percent of profits and artists’ tips will help children in need (to date, the charity has raised more than $150,000). But before you go, you may want to take a few tips from Hill:

Choosing your design: Here’s a little-known tattooist pet peeve – they hate squinting at images on cellphone screens.

People who sketch their own designs or print designs in advance will have a smoother ride in Hill’s shop. If you’re set on a specific concept, say a horse, Hill suggests Googling not just “horse tattoo” but also “horse art,” to expose yourself to the visual canon on the subject.

While tattoos used to be a form of war paint for men, Hill said aggressive symbols like eagles and skulls are waning in favor of more delicate images like water scenes and skies, for both women and men. Women actually make up the majority of his customers nowadays, he said.

Portraits are also a huge draw – Hill has several of each of his parents – for people who want to commemorate family members living and dead. Young people in particular have been getting tattoos of their grandparents in the past few years. “It’s a way you can always have a piece of that person with you,” Hill said. “And people will ask you about that tattoo and it gets you talking about them. It’s a way of closure.”

Touchy spots: While the lower back was prime real estate 10 years ago, the ribcage has emerging as the new cool zip code for young people, Hill said, despite it being one of the most painful places to be tattooed. Other particularly difficult areas include the back of the knees and the armpits.

When it comes to hands, necks and faces, Hill advises strongly against it.

“Even the boss at McDonald’s doesn’t want to hire people with tattoos on their necks,” said Hill. “It’s really popular and I’m probably going to offend people by badmouthing it. But the way I was taught with tattoos, there’s some times when you don’t want them to show.”

Distractions: Corn flakes. Candy bars. Lemon suckers. Having something in your mouth is an easy way to take your focus off of the pain, Hill said, and raising your blood sugar level is probably also a good move.

“Of course it hurts,” he said of getting tattoos. “Especially when somebody brings it up … . You really want to put yourself somewhere that’s peaceful. I did a lot of touching my two fingers together to remove myself from the sensation of being tattooed.”

Hill also recommends a cold press to the forehead and some low-key classic rock. A typical tattoo takes about an hour.

Regrets: They happen. Hill’s first tattoo was a girl’s name and his second was an eagle to cover it up. He regularly fixes existing tattoos for clients that were poorly executed or not thought out properly. And he said he will always act in a customer’s best interest, even if it means sending the person away.

“We take the time to explain to the person why,” he said. “If you just say no, they’ll walk out the door and go to the next place. I will spend the time to make somebody think about getting tattooed where it would adversely affect their life.”


Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

Read more articles by Sammy Caiola



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