Rhiannon Hensley, 25, is a Montana native who recently went back to her roots. We met a lifetime ago (read: in, like, 2015) and became friends almost immediately. Now we’re basically purple-haired soul sisters who text each other every day even though we live in completely different parts of the country and haven’t seen each other in three years.
She can be spotted tattooing at a shop called The Last Best Place in Great Falls, Montana, where she specializes in the spooky and the macabre, woodcut-inspired and illustrative styles, and always anything floral.
Elly Gibson: So I’d like to start off by talking about the day we met. Do you remember? We went to get coffee together.
Rhiannon Hensley: Yeah, at the Jahva House in downtown [Artesia]! I was so worried I was going to be awkward and weird you out that day, but I’m glad we did that.
EG: I remember noticing that you were like an inch taller than me, which is super rare among my lady friends because I’m 5’9”. And I just had this cheesy feeling we were going to be good friends. And then I saw your tattoos! I’m pretty sure you have a whole bunch more now.
RH: I did, too! We were there for a couple of hours, I think until they closed that day, just talking, and I’m usually quiet around new people. Yeah! Working at a couple of different shops has definitely helped with that.
EG: How did you get started tattooing? Is it something you always knew you wanted to do?
RH: I think I knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist when I was in middle school. I used to draw on my friends and myself all the time during class or lunch break, and it just clicked that I wanted to do that permanently. I always wanted to do art in some form or another for my profession, but it just made the most sense to me. I grew up with my parents having tattoos and I really loved that.
EG: How long have you been tattooing?
RH: I got my break when I moved to Colorado after living in Artesia. The day after we arrived, I took my portfolio of artwork that I had been working on for the past I-don’t-know-how-many years and went to Tribe Tattoo in Denver. They had posted an advert on Indeed and were looking for an apprentice. It was nerve-wracking. I started my apprenticeship in May of 2016, and I started tattooing in April of 2017 so it’s been almost two years of tattooing.
EG: Are you still considered an apprentice?
RH: Technically, yes. I’m still working on being more consistent.
EG: I guess I should ask since I know you’re not in Denver anymore, where are you tattooing now?
RH: I currently live in Great Falls, Montana, and I’m located at The Last Best Place Tattoos downtown. It’s a great little shop to be at and it’s a great area for people-watching. [laughs]
EG: What do you like about what you do?
RH: I love all of it. The whole process is so much fun: talking to a client’s ideas and getting something on paper and transferring it to skin. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. It’s also nice to meet new people that way and get to hear their stories.
EG: I think I could guess the answer to this, but what’s daunting about it?
RH: It’s so permanent! [laughs] It’s always a little intimidating going into a new tattoo, but that’s what keeps it interesting and exciting. You don’t always know how the client will handle getting tattooed, certain areas are easier than others to tattoo, subject matter comes into play, the list goes on.
EG: Yeah, I bet. What are some of your favorite subjects to tattoo and how do you approach designing a custom piece?
RH: I love tattooing anything creepy. Skulls are a favorite. Also, anything that looks woodcut or illustrative, and always flowers. I usually ask a client for any reference photos that they may have, if there’s a particular style they are going for, and definitely size to give myself a good idea of what I can fit in the area and into their budget. I start off with kind of a basic drawing and see if the general composition is to their liking and ask for feedback about what they like and don’t like about the piece and make adjustments from there.
EG: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve ever done?
RH: That’s a tough one. It’s definitely between this mountain landscape I did for my sister’s friend Mady recently and the hand of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth on my friend Cheyenne.
EG: You know when you’re scrolling through a tattoo artist’s Instagram and you’re like, “those are cool and all, but not really for me”? Well, I’ve never felt that way about any of the tattoos you post. I would get every single one. [laughs]
RH: Thank you so much, I appreciate that! I can’t wait to tattoo you, it’s going to happen someday soon.
EG: Do you consider being female in the realm of tattooing an advantage or a disadvantage at all?
RH: I sometimes feel like we aren’t taken as seriously. It’s not all of the time but there are moments. It definitely pushes one to try harder and prove yourself a little bit. I feel like women deal with harassment more, not necessarily in the workplace, but it can be clients as well.
EG: What are you like behind the scenes? What are your hobbies when you’re not tattooing?
RH: I am really the most boring person outside of tattooing. [laughs] I still draw but do more personal stuff, I like to go to antique shops, and I play video games. If I can motivate myself, I like to bake.
EG: Okay, last question: what are your goals/dreams for the future?
RH: To push myself and my artwork more, to be a little more exploratory with it, and just to keep improving my tattooing. I would eventually love to move/travel and tattoo to get to see the world and other artists’ work. You can always learn something new.
You can follow Rhiannon and her tattoo journey on Instagram, @kranker_vogel.