Tattoos at Sacred Buffalo
By James Card
Grayson Hill-Boll’s first client in his new tattoo studio was his father and since his father’s nickname is One Feather, that’s what he got: a feather running along his right forearm with four compass points that have a Native American motif.
Hill-Boll grew up in Waupaca and graduated from Waupaca High School in 2007. He said he was the creative kid in class and enjoyed drawing, airbrushing and painting. He was 19 years old when he got his first tattoo of a nautical compass.
“When I left I just knew I wanted to be a part of that,” he said.
What sealed the deal for this career path was after getting the tattoo he went to Country Kitchen.
“The waitress was my age and good looking and she commented on it right away and I was like, ‘This is awesome,’” he said.
There is no clear path of study in the tattoo world. It is more of a mentor and apprentice relationship.
In 2010, Kani Xiong became his mentor at Colt’s Timeless Tattoos in Appleton. It was hands-on work under Xiong’s watchful eyes. Hill-Boll spent five years there learning the art. He worked at another parlor in Neenah before returning to his hometown and purchasing the building at 717 Churchill St. The site was previously a bank and a chiropractor clinic.
He named it Sacred Buffalo Tattoo Parlor.
Native American history
“I’ve always had an interest in Native American and pre-colonial history. The buffalo is what I consider my favorite animal. One thing that I really like about them is I heard that when a storm is coming, they go into the storm because they can run through it faster than they can sit through it. I like the idea of going into the storm and finding your way through it head-on,” said Hill-Boll.
Hill-Boll gave the building a big makeover. He tore down the drop ceiling and added ship-lap and wood beams for a rustic look above. He removed numerous walls and partitions to make it less “officey” and make it more welcoming to those who stop in.
Hill-Boll said getting a tattoo is much more approachable now than in times past. The environment, equipment and process are streamlined and modernized.
He said he started off hand stenciling and drawing on paper. Now he does digital renderings on an iPad. If a person comes in with an image, he digitalizes the images and creates a template or line drawing off that. He prints that image off on Thermofax paper, applies a cream to the client’s skin and applies the paper, peels it off and what is left is an outline of the image.
Tattoos are created by small needle pricks to the skin and Hill-Boll says everyone reacts differently to the sensation.
“What might bother you might not bother me and vice versa. But typically speaking, if you think it would be a sensitive place to get tattooed, it probably is,” he said.
Not every part of the human canvas is easy to work on. The middle of the torso and back can be difficult because he has to reach across the body and the inner thigh and the upper inner arm can be challenging to get at.
Hill-Boll produces artwork and it is difficult to predict how long one tattoo takes to be finished.
As an example, a tattoo the size of a playing card with a medium level on intricacy might take him around one or two hours. Something simple, like a Christian cross, might take ten minutes. There is micro-realism tattooing that is extremely detailed so a playing card-sized image could take several hours.
Hill-Boll has a following. He has an 80% return rate for clients and has one client he has tattooed his entire career.
“I can’t even tell you how many hours I’ve spent on him,” he said.
For pricing, there is a $100 minimum and after that, there are many variables, including the clients themselves.
Hill-Boll worked off this example: a shoulder tattoo of the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem might vary hundreds of dollars.
“I’ve tattooed some really big guys, like 6-foot-five and 290 pounds and their arm is bigger than my leg. So you want something that fits and some tattoos take up a whole paper. But then you get a young guy who weighs 130 pounds and something smaller fits better on his shoulder,” he said.
He considers himself a well-rounded artist and thinks that is a specialty in itself. Hill-Boll studied Polynesian tribal tattoos and he only knows of two other artists in the state that can produce those designs. He works in American traditional, black-and-grey realism, color, and the “little simple cute stuff.” He likes to create artistic tattoos that challenge him, but he points out that he is welcoming to everyone with tattoo ideas big and small.
Sacred Buffalo is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Hill-Boyd works by appointment only and people are welcome to stop in for inquiries and discussion and points out that someone dropping by randomly and leaving with a tattoo is unlikely.
He is a one-man operation and he thinks of his tattoo parlor as an artist’s studio.
Sacred Buffalo is on Facebook and Hill-Boll can be contacted at [email protected] and 920-915-5537.