Interview with Rusty Thornhill | Tattoo Style | USA 03/11/2022

  Hello Rusty Thornhill! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your background. When did you start doing tattoos? What inspired you? What type of tattoos did you use to do as a beginner? I did my very first tattoo on myself when I was 19. I bought a $30 kit off of Ebay and went to town. I didn’t know much, but I was definitely determined to start. The end result was a couple dodgy smiley faces on my thighs that stay relatively hidden these days and for good reason. I knew before then that I wanted to tattoo, but that was my first experience actually doing it. It would be a couple years after that before I started tattooing other people. I was always terrified of making a mistake on someone else, so it was very slow going in the beginning. The first tattoos I did on other people were in my Army days around 2014. I bought a more solid coil machine at that point after another previous failed attempt was made with a cheap kit that we won’t talk about. The coil machine I bought served me well for the remainder of my time in the military where I did a lot of smaller stuff, mostly symbols and writing.

Q: What was the most challenging part of becoming a pro tattoo artist? Did anyone help you?
A: The most challenging part of becoming a pro tattoo artist was definitely the lack of information about tattooing. Even as late as 2015 there really wasn’t much you could find online. There were one or two people on YouTube that were actually talking about technique as well as a couple online forums. For the most part the industry as a whole was pretty tight lipped about sharing any knowledge, which is really ironic when I think about it. One of the chief complaints I would see from some of these grumpy folks online was that people should just stop trying to tattoo if they didn’t know what they were doing because they will permanently mess up on people. It seems like a reasonable request, but the person can’t learn if no one is sharing any good information, so what you end up with is more novices making permanent mistakes, the very thing these people are trying to avoid. The whole situation seemed upside down to me. I have always felt that more access to knowledge is always better.

- What kept you motivated?
I had known for years that this was what I wanted to do. I would see magazines with famous artists like Nikko Hurtado on the cover and then open it to see their amazing work and read their stories. I love art and this career just seemed to be calling me.

Q: How long did it take you to figure out your creative process and direction?
A: It definitely took a while to figure things out. I was primarily self taught until I went to College after the Army. I would draw every chance I could, mostly trying to copy images I was looking at, but I had no understanding of the fundamentals of art. Once I got out of the Army I got an apprenticeship and went to school. I started to learn quite a bit and spent a ton of time watching every art tutorial I could on YouTube. Now I have a much more solid footing when approaching artwork.

Q: I've seen very interesting designs in your portfolio. Seems like you enjoy doing more than one style, even though tattoo realism is predominant. What would you call your style?
A: I love realism and try to fill my time with as many realistic pieces as I can. Sometimes the work calls for a different approach, maybe neotraditional, or something more hand drawn and I enjoy that as well, so I don’t shy away from doing it. If I had to describe my approach to realism, I would say it is very similar to the way I would draw or paint. Some of my color realism takes on a more painterly feel which I really like.

Q: I really like how you combine many different images into one final design. Do you draw for each client before the session? I have to say, my favorite tattoo is the skull with the roses sleeve... amazing work!
A: Thank you so much. That sleeve was a lot of fun to work on. The client had some self harm scars on her arm that she wanted to cover and the sleeve as a whole was supposed to symbolize a sort of growth into a new life, so there is quite a bit of personal meaning worked into the design for the client. For this particular project there wasn’t much drawing done because everything is realistic. Instead I composited a bunch of separate images to make a unique design mainly using photoshop. I tend to finish all of my designs well ahead of the appointment and get my client’s approval, so when they come in we just focus on the tattoo.

- How many sessions did it take to complete it?
I think this one took about 5 sessions at about 6-8 hours a piece.

Q: I like that there are no bold black lines in almost any of your tattoos, so they look like a painting. Even though it's mostly black and white tattooing, I like the colored details in some of them. It looks really cool. Would you stick to this technique or you will try to experiment with some other styles and techniques like full color tattooing etc?
A: Thank you! In realism, there aren’t too many cases where a bold outline benefits the piece. In real life nothing has an outline, so when rendering a piece that is supposed to be realistic I try to keep that in mind. I have always had a soft spot for black and gray work. It has long been an area of interest, probably because of how much time I’ve spent just drawing with a pencil and paper. That being said, I am transitioning into taking on more color work. With color realism especially, there are a lot more variables to consider. Black and gray focuses on the values, how light or dark something is, whereas color not only involves value, but also takes into consideration things like color harmony, warm and cool colors, saturation, etc. One other style that I really like is neotraditional. Neotraditional artists are taking everything that’s good about traditional tattoos and marrying those traits to realism in order to make some really creative and interesting designs. Whenever I get the chance to hop on a no piece I take it.

Q: The Lovers Dogs, ah such a cute design and really nice tattoo. I guess you've got some really creative clients! Who's idea is this? Tell me more about the design.
A: This design idea came from the client and I just put it together visually for her. It was definitely a fun concept to work on.

Q: Apart from handling a busy schedule as a tattoo artist, you are also an owner of Tattlogic, a tattoo studio located in Los Angeles. When did you open the studio and how many artists are currently working?
A: We officially opened our doors August 27th 2022 and there are currently two artists including me and two apprentices and we are looking to add one more full time artist.

- Are you available for bookings? If so please write down your email.
Always! You can reach me at for any booking inquiries.
Rusty Thornhill

Q: What are some of the most important things you want to accomplish in the next few years?
A: I would love to take the artists in my shop around to some of the bigger conventions in the near term and see if we can’t pick up some awards along the way. I want everyone working for Tattlogic to be successful, so anything I can do to make that happen, I will. I’ll also be launching a YouTube channel and offering some classes in the studio for artists early in their career looking to grow.

Q: Being a tattoo artist is cool and fun, this job will offer a lot of opportunities for growth and a good life. Still though, tattooing requires a lot of sacrifices, even sleepless nights and a little hustle, especially in the beginning. One can learn a lot from this journey. What do you cherish the most?
A: I cherish my family the most. Everything I do is for my family. I don’t have any kids yet, but I am still thinking about the time ahead of me when I eventually do. I want to make sure that the decisions I’m making now, set my future kids up for success.

Q: What would you suggest to the young people who want to try getting into this business?
A: Tattooing is an art form and if you want to get into it and be good at it, then you need to be good at art. Spend your time learning the fundamentals of art. Go on YouTube and learn from guys like Stan Prokopenko and Marco Bucci. The skills you can learn from these artists online, will directly translate into tattooing. Don’t let people treat you poorly, or put you in a toxic environment because “that’s what they did when they were an apprentice” Truly good mentors will respect you and your time and make sure you get educated in this industry the right way. Above all, never lose your drive for art. If you love doing art, then you will have the greatest time in this industry.

Mr. Rusty Thornhill Thank you for the interview, Kind Regards