SHERIDAN — Beginning his first tattoo shop job at the age of 18, Robert Benson, more commonly known in his industry as Freehand Rob, has been professionally tattooing for about 30 years.
Throughout his career he has attended hundreds of world convention tattoo circuits and accumulated more than 700 world circuit trophies for his artistic talent. These circuits have brought him all over the United States and even out of it to places such as Mexico and Thailand.
Now he’s located in Sheridan at Your Mom’s Tattoo Parlor.
“I’m done traveling. We enjoy the life we have here and we’re anchored here to stay,” Benson said.
Yet he still finds time to do a few shows a year and rotate to the other tattoo shops he’s affiliated with in Iowa, South Carolina and Alabama.
“He is the most talented artist I’ve ever seen in my life,” family friend and fellow body art professional, Annalee Shott of Ruby Ray’s Tanning and Body Piercing said of Benson. “I’ve been to multiple conventions over the years and I’ve never seen anyone else that doesn’t have to trace, or, can freehand like him.”
While Benson does not have a specific tattoo circuit or shop he likes best he mentioned he’s always found the conventions in Chicago and Deluth, Minn., interesting.
“They’re always attended by high caliber artists and it’s nice to see educated art,” he said.
Benson also stressed he doesn’t have a specific favorite genre of tattoo art.
“I have separated my opinion [and] don’t have a particular style I chase,” he said. “I love all of it and I always do the best that I can do.”
He expanded saying his attraction to tattoo art is the potential freedom.
“My art gives me the opportunity to give you permanence, I give you something that lasts for your forever,” he said.
Shott said Benson takes his professionalism to another level by thoroughly listening to his clients describe what they’re looking for.
“He has an incredible ability…people can describe to him their idea verbally, and he listens,” she said. “He’ll create it and it’s exactly what they were thinking [and] better than they hoped.”
Already featured in a printed collaboration of tattoo artists’ work, The Tattoo Sourcebook, Benson is working on publishing his own book.
“It’ll be a coffee table book, it won’t be a tattoo book though you could use it for direction,” he said. “It’ll have illustrations and paintings of my own work.”
The book is expected to be published within the year.
Benson also trains other budding artists at Your Mom’s Tattoo Parlor.
“He’s turned out some really good apprentices out of his shop,” Shott said. “He supports others in his industry and isn’t against sharing his knowledge with them.”
As for his nickname, Freehand Rob, Benson said it was given to him by the industry recognizing his ability to transfer an idea or image directly to skin.
“I’ve never laid stencils, I have a natural gift to duplicate,” he said.
Benson also stressed the importance of sanitation, as his industry requires a strict sense of cleanliness in order to maintain health and safety.
“The number one goal is to see that everything is done correctly on a medical and professional level,” he said.
All of the equipment Benson uses is disposable.
Benson added that over the years he has spent in tattoo art, the industry has changed.
“It’s not so rare for people in the general public to have tattoos now,” he said. “I’ve tattooed people from all different professions.”
He added that with public acceptance being much higher, the tattoo industry is in it’s prime and giving the educated artist a lot of opportunity.
And just as the industry has evolved, Benson’s business has too. Your Mom’s Tattoo Parlor will soon have a website, freehandrobert.com to showcase their business to the public.
“I live for tattooing,” Benson said. “This is where I belong, right here in the shop.”
Sheridan Press intern Lucy LaRosa wrote this article.