Artists: Vinny Romanelli
Red Rocket Tattoo
78 West 36th St., 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10018
What year did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing in February of 2001.
How did you get into tattooing?
I always knew I wanted a career in art—I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I got a portfolio together and started going around seeing if I could get an apprenticeship somewhere. After a few months of denials I started to have doubts it would ever happen. One day a coworker who knew I was interested in tattooing told me that a friend of his recently opened a tattoo shop and was looking to apprentice someone. So I went down there, met with Kevin Patrick, who said I should come hang out at the shop whenever I could so I could see the day-to-day business and get a feel for what it’s like to be a professional tattoo artist. So that’s what I did for a couple of weeks; I would go to the shop at night and the weekends and hang out. That’s when I fell in love with tattooing. I knew that was what I wanted to do and told Kevin that I was in if he would teach me. He agreed and told me it would be a three-year apprenticeship. That was 11 years ago, and I haven’t stopped trying to get better ever since.
Where did you apprentice?
I apprenticed at a shop in Deer Park, NY, called Studio Mandala.
Do you have any special training?
I know a lot about Star Wars.
What conventions have you worked? Have you won any awards? What are some of your best convention memories?
I’ve worked a bunch of conventions, mostly on the East Coast, but I’d much rather stay at home and make money in the shop, where I’m most comfortable. I always saw conventions as an opportunity to meet other artists, network, and learn. If I do any more shows it will probably be overseas. I’ve won a couple of awards; last year I won first place overall black-and-gray and first place best portrait at the NYC show. I recently worked Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando with about 30 other artists. It was a really positive experience and everyone was super busy. Plus, everything was Star Wars, so it was pretty much the best convention ever.
How do you describe your style?
I would describe it as a more developed traditional. I started out with really crude designs, which evolved into more intricate designs—but still using bold lines and smooth, simple shading and coloring. Right now I’m trying to go back to more traditional roots and simplify things with lots of black. Since realism and portraits are my natural style, my brain is always fighting itself while I’m trying to design something. When people come to me for custom stuff, my first instinct is to do something traditional because that’s the format that I love and what I think is best for tattoos. There’s a broad range of what people consider “traditional,” and I’m always playing somewhere in between there. Styles change, though, so who knows what I’ll like doing in five years.
What inspires you as an artist?
I get inspired by almost anything. Movies, mostly. Folklore, nature, animals, Star Wars…
What sets you apart from other artists?
I think my portrait work is what I’m sought out for most. I feel like my ability to replicate pictures and really capture the likeness is what sets me apart from other artists.
What other mediums do you work in?
Mostly watercolor. I haven’t put a lot of time in with too many mediums, but I have tried a bunch. I used a lot of colored pencil and charcoal as a kid. I’ve tried wood burning but kind of gave up on it. I’d really like to try some sculpting one day. Acrylic paint is probably the next medium I’ll give serious attention to. I’m scared shitless of oils.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I haven’t really done much outside of tattooing. I’m thinking of becoming a masked crime fighter, though.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Man, there’s so many excellent artists out there. Bob Tyrrell, Robert Hernandez, Grez, Emily Rose Murray, Shige, Nikko Hurtado, Dave Tevenal—all different styles but all really good execution of each of them. They really know their shit.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
The most enjoyable tattoos are the ones that give you artistic freedom. When a client that knows your style gives you a couple of ideas and says, “Do whatever you want.” When they have the trust in you that they will like whatever you draw up is always the best feeling. I look forward to those pieces.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice would you give them?
I’m a real ball-buster. If it’s the client’s first time and they’re nervous, I’ll most likely fuck with them and tell them they might die. Mostly, though, my clientele pretty much knows what they’re getting into.