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Making it in Big Sky: Clendenin Customs Tattoo

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Drew Clendenin started up Clendenin Custom Tattoos eight years ago in a studio next to The Brothel eight years ago and still plans to grow his business in the future, inking both locals and visitors alike with custom artwork. PHOTOS COURTESY OF DREW CLENDENIN


Billings-native Drew Clendenin started tattooing two decades ago. He studied fine arts in college, working on portraits, oil paintings and graphic design. But while he was working full-ttime in masonry and in kitchens, he starts tattooing during his weekends.

In 2011, all the right pieces fell into place and he bought a studio on Aspen Leaf Drive next to The Brothel, “starting with nothing, and risking everything.”

Last year, his wife Leah who owns the HAIRNINJA Salon gave birth to their daughter Janelle on Groundhog Day. Today, the 41-year-old father sports a groundhog tattoo on the side of his head in honor of “Nelly.”

Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?

Drew Clendenin: Hard work, good client relations, and an endless pursuit to be the best through continued education and skill training.

EBS: How has having a kid changed your perspective?

D.C.: I guess it has pointed me in a different direction. I reflect more on growing my business given that the demand is there and I want to be in Big Sky for a long time. When I first started out there was less direction and more getting by day to day. Now I want less turning and burning; I want to be more stable and solid with clear goals.

EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a tattoo parlor in Big Sky?

D.C.: The artist himself.

EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?

D.C.: There is just an increase in people. Along with internet advancements, there is a snowball effect.

EBS: What is the strangest place that you’ve given someone a tattoo?

D.C.: I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to put that in print.

EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?

D.C.: I’ve lived in Big Sky for nineteen years, so I’ve had more memorable moments that I can list.

EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

D.C.: Respect people’s opinions but mostly mind your business.

EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out?

D.C.: Besides good luck? Maybe that persistence and honesty will eventually pay off.

EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?

D.C.: Still learning and growing as an artist and doing the best tattoos that we can.

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