FEATURED: Hill – “Stuck on Tattoos”
Posted on July 21, 2011
Words by Mikael Lopez / Pictures by Martin Rinman
They’ve been on a short break, but now the FEATURED interviews are back and first up is tattoo artist Hill. We first met Hill at a photo shoot where he was doing a “dia de los muertos“-inspired face painting on the model, based on one of his own designs. We talked him into doing and interview with us and a couple of weeks later we found ourselves over at his Stuck Tattoo parlour talking about reality shows, career choices and drawing on people for a living.
Now that everybody and their mothers (or grandmothers – Hill says he’s tattooed “70 year old ladies”) have a tattoo, the idea we had as kids of only sailors and criminals being marked for life feels cartoonish and outdated.
“Tattoos have become much more common. What they used to say, that you can’t get any work with tattoos, that hardly exists any more. Of course, you might not get a job at a bank with a neck tattoo, but it’s not as taboo. These reality shows have opened people’s eyes to the art and given us customers. People who wouldn’t have gotten a tattoo before have gotten a glimpse of the tattoo world. I can’t hate on that.”
While the reality shows that Hill is talking about, Miami Ink and its spin-offs, have popularized tattoo artists and their craft (and transformed some of them into rock stars), they’ve also made getting a tattoo look so easy that people who’ve never tattooed themselves before are surprised when Hill explains that he can’t make them a full back tattoo in one afternoon. “A full back tattoo, that can take up to a year to do,” says Hill and grins.
Originally Hill’s plan was to make a living as an artist and he studied art for a couple of years, constantly painting. But he never felt fully comfortable with the idea of depending on making art for money, concerned that what had attracted him to it in the first place would be lost. Hill’s passion for art had always run parallel to his passion for tattoos so he simply made a seamless switch from ‘artist’ to ‘tattoo artist’.
“Art is more like therapy to me, it’s something I do for me. In that sense, being a tattoo artist is perfect. I get to be creative, I get to draw and paint, but I have to adjust myself after what people want. I make art for myself and I tattoo for others.”
“To become a tattoo artist you don’t really need to be good at drawing, it’s not a pen you’re holding. It’s a machine and you have to learn to use the machine. You need to be good with a tool.”
Today anybody can go online, buy a tattoo kit and start inking their friends (hygiene issues aside), but things weren’t quite as easy just a few years ago when Hill first bought a tattoo machine.
“You had to have a studio then so I had to trick a company in another country that I had one in Sweden. It was so old school they asked me to copy or fax the yellow page with the address to my tattoo studio and they would send the package there. I photoshopped a page and sent a copy with my home address on it. I don’t remember what I named the studio, but it was probably something really cool.”
Hill is an unusual tattoo artist in that he’s basically self-taught, he hasn’t learned his craft by apprenticeship, only by experience and by exchanging information with other tattoo artists. That concept, of learning by doing, without asking permission, is at the heart of Stuck, the brand that has given his parlour its name.
Stuck was originally only Stuck Clothes, a collective consisting of Hill and two friends printing t-shirts, hoodies and embroidering caps. They operated out of a small shelter in Upplands-Väsby, the suburb on the outskirts of Stockholm where Hill grew up.
“There were people who wouldn’t get of the bus there because they had this picture of cars burning and losing your cell phone and your sneakers if you got off there. It was pretty rough. I haven’t lived there for ten years, but there’s nowhere else I feel as much as home at as when I’m walking on those streets.”
Stuck soon became more than just about selling clothes, it became a space for artists to work in, a local meeting place for creative, like-minded people and they even organized a DJ school for kids (which was raided by the police). “It was a playhouse” Hill says, “there was such a creative atmosphere.”
“Stuck can be anything. There’s nothing to say that there won’t be a Stuck Barbershop in a couple of years or a Stuck Skateboards. We could probably open a flower shop and call it Stuck Flowers. We’d make it fit, whatever it was.”
Two years ago Hill finally opened Stuck Tattoo, the tattoo parlour which he now runs together with fellow tattoo artists Ville and Thomas. The parlour is small and intimate, decorated with dozens of drawings and paintings, hand-painted miniature skulls, a baseball bat and even a bike hanging from the ceiling. It’s where Hill is making a living doing what he loves.
“It’s weird if you think about it, drawing on a person for the rest of their life. Sometimes it hits me while I’m working. People want my drawings on them and they want to pay me and that’s basically what I do, that’s my job.”
Hill can’t remember ever saying no to a customer. As long as they’re willing to get input from Hill on the sketch their bringing he doesn’t feel the need to question their reasons for getting the tattoo. Most of Hill’s own tattoos are decorative and don’t have a story behind it, at least not like in the reality shows, but he still calls it “writing a diary”.
“Every time I get a new tattoo my mom says I look little bit uglier and that when I’ll be at the nursing home all the tattoos will look wrinkled. Sweet, I’ve got something to look at, I’ve got my whole diary over my body. Even if I’ve only done a dot I still remember that era of my life, I remember the moment, I remember the week. In a way you go back to who you were when you made it.”
Hill’s Stuck Tattoo parlour is located on Gjutargatan 8 in central Stockholm and his art is displayed here. Future plans include his own art exhibition and a coffee table book about Upplands-Väsby. Hill once wanted to have a tribal on his arm and neck like George Clooney in From Dusk Till Dawn.
Bonus:“Hill’s Top Three Tracks To Tattoo To Right Now”