Mini Size Me: Vinny Romanelli

Every tattoo artist has a style that they are known for, whether it be realism, old school, Japanese; you name it there is someone specializing in it. Vinny Romanelli of Red Rocket Tattoo in New York City specializes in mini portrait tattoos. Tattooing for 11 years, Romanelli recently started doing mini portraits and they have quickly gained popularity as both a novelty and a way for those running out of room to squeeze in just one more piece.

Inked: When did you start doing mini portraits?

Romanelli: Less than a year ago, I just started it as a challenge to myself. I said “I wonder how small I can do a realistic portrait and have it look good and also be concerned with longevity, that it’s not going to look like shit in a few years.” I did one on one of my co-workers; that was the first one I did. I’ve done enough of them where I shrunk it down to the size where I thought that I could pull it off, and it worked out. It came out really well. He was happy, I was happy. And I posted a picture of it and everyone kind of went crazy for it. They were like, “I want a mini portrait. I want a mini portrait of this guy and then that guy.” It kind of took off from there. I’ve done a bunch of them now. Well over 30 of them I think.

Inked: Would you say a lot of people come to you specifically for that?

Romanelli: Not a lot of people, but some people I guess don’t want a gigantic portrait, or they just want a –I don’t want to call it a novelty, b/c I guess it kind of is–It’s just a small version of a realistic portrait that people will like and they just think it’s cool I guess.

Inked: What tattoo requests do you get the most? Like style or specific tattoo?

Romanelli: I usually only promote the stuff I want to do now as far as online and my portfolio, which is either photorealistic black and grey portraits, and custom American traditional stuff, which feels like the best format for tattoos. It’s just what I like to do. What I like to draw is traditional stuff.

Inked: Do you get a lot of requests for stuff that you don’t want to do? Like Tim Hendricks, apparently a lot of people go to him for roses, and he was going to make business cards that actually said, “Time Hendricks does more than roses.”

Romanelli: If it’s something that I don’t want to do, then I usually tell them that I’m not really into it or I’m not well-suited for that. A lot of people will come to me and say they want a Japanese half-sleeve or a sleeve of this stuff, and I work with a couple of other guys who do Japanese really well and I would just refer them because I know that it could be done better. I don’t try to do everything that comes my way to try and be the most versatile artist. You spread yourself too thin I believe when you try to be good at everything. I think you’re better off trying to be the best at one or two things you really enjoy doing, because that’s what makes it fun to do. But I get requests for a lot of tribal shit, and I’m like, “do you see any tribal in my portfolio?” Or I do conventions and stuff like that and people are like, “oh I want to get this stupid thing on my arm,” and I’m like “I didn’t come all this way to do tribal.” This is what I specialize in and this is what I like doing. A lot of people that are I guess kind of naive to the business don’t really know that they should just take the opportunity to do what this artist is good at doing. They just want a tattoo from anybody they can. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and I don’t want to waste my time on stuff I don’t like. There was a time where I had to do everything to learn and make money, but thankfully that time has passed. I still do walk-ins if I have time between appointments and if it’s something that can be easily done and they’re not annoying customers, then I’ll do it.

Inked: If they’re not asking for Clark Gable….

Romanelli: Well that’s awesome.

Inked: What was your most memorable tattoo experience? It could be something that happened at a convention or a tattoo you did that was like way out there.

Romanelli: There are so many tattoos that I’ve done that I really love. I don’t really have one that is the most awesome. There was a leg sleeve that I did that I finished last year on my friend Jon that’s a full black and grey portrait leg sleeve of Star Wars. It took almost 2 years to complete. It was kind of like my labor of love, and a complete leg sleeve, which is very hard to put together and very time consuming, so I was most proud of the whole thing overall with that. When you meet a client that you really vibe well with and they have a great idea but they’re not sure of it and as soon as they tell you about it, you come up with this great idea for it and they’re like so blown away and it’s like better than they could have thought. It’s not really the subject matter so much as you both being happy with the work and the way it came out and everything.

Inked: Is there an area you refuse to tattoo?

Romanelli: The area is not something that I refuse. It’s just that I kind of get down on a lot of areas. Like your hip–between your ribs and your hip right here–this mushy area that is like impossible to stretch, that’s probably the hardest area to tattoo on the body because it’s like a never-ending ditch and it’s really hard to pull lines through that. It’s very squishy. Whenever anyone wants a detailed tattoo there, I’m like, “Oh god this fucking area. I hate that.” The ribs are just hard for the client, so it’s really hard for them to sit still most of the time, I kind of dread doing that area as well. As long as they sit still, it comes out a lot better.

Inked: How long can someone wait to get in with you?

Romanelli: Right now I’m booked for like 5-6 weeks, and it’s been that way for about a year. I’m very happy about that. A lot of artists are booked out for longer, 6 months, a year, maybe longer. But I can’t even comprehend being booked out for that long because if I make an appointment with somebody and I don’t get to see him or her until 6 months later, I’ve already forgotten what they want to do. I have to go over it with them again. Whether I’m busy for a week and I’m always booked out for a week ahead of time, I’m working every day, whether it’s 6 months ahead or a month ahead, as long as I’m busy, I’m happy.

Inked: Do you charge by the hour or by the piece?

Romanelli: If it’s something that’s going to be a few hours or more than one sitting, than it’s usually by the hour. And I do $150 an hour. But if it’s for a portrait, it’s $200 an hour. But sometimes, if it’s just a one-sitting piece, I’ll kind of give them a flat rate on the whole thing.

Inked: Do you go to conventions often?

Romanelli: Not often anymore. I was going pretty often a few years ago. And I do like to do them, but it’s kind of a crapshoot if you don’t have appointments. I would rather just stay home, work, and be booked and know what I’m doing. Conventions I feel are more for me to go and meet other artists and see other cities and stuff like that. But if I go do a convention in California, it’s really not going to benefit me in the long run because people aren’t going to come from California to get tattooed by me. It’s more beneficial for me to do East coast conventions like Philly or Baltimore or Massachusetts or this area because there’s more of a chance for them to come get work from me if they’re that close. But as I said, it’s kind of a crapshoot because you never know if you’re going to be just sitting there twiddling your thumbs…It’s best to definitely make appointments for conventions.

Inked: Are you going to any conventions this year?

Romanelli: Yeah, I’m actually going to Orlando August 23-26 to do the Star Wars celebration VI. So I’m going to be combining the two greatest, most awesome things in the world: tattooing and Star Wars. So it’s going to be a nerdfest. I’m excited about that.

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