Interview with tattoo artist Rocket

  Hello Rocket! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your background. My name is Jonathan Rodriguez but I’m known as “Rocket”. The nickname was given to me by my mentor and it stuck. I’m 32 years old and I live in Milwaukee WI Im originally from Berlin WI a small town. I’ve been into art my whole life. I currently working at Sanctuary Tattoo Gallery.

Q: How long have you been tattooing? How it all started?
A: In March 2023 it will be nine years, not including my apprenticeship. It all started when I was 23 and started getting a lot of tattoos. My artist who I later ended up working with encouraged me to make a portfolio because the designs that were being tattooed on me were my own drawings I brought to him.

- What type of tattoos you use to do as a beginner?
Before tattooing I was a black and white charcoal realism artist so when I finished my apprenticeship I was aiming to be a black and gray realism artist. I did that for about 3 years.

Q: How long it took you gain confidence? Was it hard to learn the basics?
A: It took me a while honestly. Pulling lines, becoming comfortable with my equipment and application I think was the hardest for me.

Q: Why neo traditional? What do you like about this style?
A: In my apprenticeship I was taught to do traditional and with my realism background my brain couldn’t do traditional style. When I graduated I was put in a shop with a new school artist and I think I was really influenced by him so with the combination of traditional, realism and new school I somehow ended up with my neo traditional. After year 3 or 4 I started doing more color and more neo and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t doing that any sooner. I just really like how creative I can get with that style vs realism I started to feel like I was tattooing the same rose and lions.

Q: I see neo traditional as a beautiful update of the old school tattoo style. Definitely more creative. I like the colors and the unique backgrounds. Do you draw for each client before the session?
A: Exactly and as much as I appreciate traditional I think there’s too many rules my brain can’t follow. With neo traditional there’s a lot rules that can be broken and because of that, there is more creative freedom. Both! At this point most clients will contact me with ideas that definitely land in the realm of subject matter I am interested in. I will also draw something for fun and put it on the internet and will have clients pick them to be tattooed so I'm definitely fortunate enough to be able to do it both ways.

Q: The portraits are amazing! How long does it take to finish a portrait tattoo?
A: Going back to the realism subject I think is why the faces I tattoo have a little more refined aspects about them giving them more expression. As always it depends on the client, placement and size. However I’ve gotten to a point where I’m able to aways finish my tattoos in one sitting of about 6-8 hours.

Q: Each tattoo has its own story and meaning. As an artist myself, I like your digital illustrations too. I think you should consider doing like a comic book with some crazy characters and cool story lines. You're very talented.
A: I’ve definitely thought of that! Ive always been into magical worlds of kings, queens, demons, vampires, elves, wizards just as much as I’ve always loved anime. I once had an idea to make a story of a lady of the woods theme but I’ve never taken the time to actually write it down. Someday hopefully!

Q: Would you try something else in the feature?
A: I’ve always loved new school because I think it gives just as much freedom if not more. Maybe if I do neo traditional long enough where I think it’s time for a change but I love neo so much I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Maybe tackle color realism someday as a challenge but never so much to claim that I specialize in it.

Q: Tattoo conventions are a great opportunity to meet new people and learn from others. How ofter do you visit tattoo conventions?
A: I’ve been doing conventions since 2018 but realistically did one or two a year whereas 2021 and 2022 I’ve done at least one convention a month sometimes two a month. I definitely did the most this year so I may dial it back next year with one convention every two months just so I don’t burn myself out.

Q: As an artist, what you have learned from your tattoo journey? What do you cherish the most?
A: “You get back exactly what you put in” that we are never done learning and that there is always room for improvement. I cherish everyone that’s always been in my corner because without the support and clients I couldn’t do what I do. I cherish tattooing in general, it saved my life.

Q: Any advice for the new artists?
A: Tattooing is the best job in the world if you treat it right it will treat you right. As long as you put in the work and respect tattooing, your peers and clients, you’ll do great.