Friday | November 24, 2017
About Us | Contact | Subscribe

Hilo’s ‘Illustrated Man’


Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

It covers every inch of skin on his left arm, from shoulder to hand: an elaborately illustrated love letter to Hilo.

The blended sleeve tattoo of 24-year-old Bryston “Donny” Savella is a veritable tourist’s pamphlet brought to life, replete with major sights like Rainbow Falls, the Kamehameha statue, a fiery lava flow, and the Palace Theater. It also depicts some of the local hangouts and flavors that make Hilo “home,” he said, including a Big Island Candies dipped cookie, a K’s Drive In twist cone, and a smorgasbord of menu items from Ken’s House of Pancakes.

An employee at Suisan, Savella made sure to include the business’ distinctive sign, dock and surrounding sailboats. Then there’s the bright red Japanese pagoda pavilion down the street at Liliuokalani Gardens, shadowed by its shimmering reflection in a pond in the foreground.

In keeping with his love for water sports and diving, the Waiakea High School grad also captured a scene from a photograph taken from out in Hilo Bay, looking along the breakwall toward Mauna Kea on a clear day. Under his arm swims a humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, the state fish of Hawaii. You’ll have to recognize it on sight, though — there wasn’t enough room left in his armpit to include a caption.

Other highlights include Hilo’s historic clock frozen at 1:04, commemorating the moment in 1960 when a tsunami destroyed much of the downtown area; the rock tower on Coconut Island from which adventurous keiki leap out into the air and then plunge into the bay; and the beautiful arch bridge at Wailoa River State Park.

The only thing that seems slightly out of place is a large Primo beer bottle. Despite the fact that the closest brewery is located on Kauai, Savella explains the lager’s inclusion on the sleeve tattoo easily enough.

“Everybody here likes it,” he said with a laugh. “I know I do.”

The completed tattoo, which has been featured in a number of tattoo publications lately, first began taking shape about two-and-a-half years ago, Savella said, as he was perusing tattoos online. A tattoo artist himself, Savella wanted to find something special to adorn his left arm to mark attaining his tattoo license.

“I saw this sleeve showing the sights along Route 66, and I thought, ‘I want to do that, but for Hilo,’” he said.

He brought the idea to his friend and tattoo artist John Butler, of Tattoos by Butler. He immediately jumped on board.

“I loved the idea,” the Hilo High alum said Monday at his shop, located at 245 Holomua St. “We wanted to do something like those sleeve tattoos showing all the scenes in Vegas.”

The pair brainstormed a number of locations over multiple sessions, but surprisingly the end product wasn’t the result of a concise master plan.

“We added things to it over a long time,” Butler said. “We did a few (locations), and then didn’t come back to it for awhile. That was part of the challenge. Putting it all together, as a whole.”

All told, the sleeve tattoo represents about 51 hours of work, done an average of six hours per sitting.

“John’s a magician,” Savella explained. “That was all him. He did a great job.”

Butler says he’s proud of the work, and commends Savella for having the vision and the tenacity to see it through.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said of the process of creating the sleeve. “A lot of hours.”

And more than a little pain, Savella added.

“Oh, man, the elbow with the twist cone on it. That was the worst. And then he (Butler) said, ‘We’ve got to go back over it again,’” Savella said. “That was tough.”

The pair began work on the tattoo with the Hilo road sign, as seen upon entering town on the “Singing Bridge.” The sign claims a prominent spot on the back of Savella’s left hand, and can be easily identified even when he’s wearing a long-sleeve shirt.

It helps to spark many a conversation with locals and tourists, alike.

“People want to see the rest of the tattoo, talk about it, have pictures taken with it,” he said. “But I’m a pretty talkative guy, so I like the attention. That’s my personality.”

Savella laughs at the idea that he should receive a paycheck from the Big Island Visitor’s Bureau, which is charged with promoting tourism here.

“I love Hilo. This is my home. It’s that simple,” he said, smiling. “With something like this, you want something that means everything to you. It’s for life. It’s with you forever. What else is there but home?”

For more information on Tattoos by Butler, visit the business on Facebook at

Email Colin M. Stewart at


Rules for posting comments