Although the American traditional tattoo style has had a longer presence in Southern California, the region is more synonymous for its fine-line black-and-gray tradition. That's part of what makes a tattoo artist like Alec Rodriguez so interesting. He's the future of the scene in Orange County, a place loaded with starts like Jack Rudy, Chuco Moreno, and Steve Soto, under whom Rodriguez is currently learning under at Goodfellas Tattoo Studio in Orange, one of the most respected black-and-gray shops in the world.
He's only been tattooing for a few years, but Rodriguez is already reaching heights that more-established artists can't even envision. Just a couple of weeks ago, he won a first-place "Music Related" tattoo award at Musink—a place where veterans are lucky to get a participation certificate in the festival's contests—for a Jim Morrison portrait he did on his younger brother.
"It's definitely helped me get on the fast track for my career because these guys are some of the world's best black and gray artists," Rodriguez says. "To be able to learn in that kind of environment has definitely helped me out a lot and been very inspiring."
But Rodriguez wasn't always such a bright prospect. Roughly five years ago, the tattooer began seeing some of his friends practice of their garages in Huntington Beach. He'd always been an artist, so Rodriguez wanted try out the medium that everyone around him had turned to.
"I had the mentality of 'If they can do it, I can do it too,'" Rodriguez says. "I started tattooing at the house after I bought a kit online. I started fucking up a lot of tattoos on my friends, and from there I realized it was something that I really wanted to do more seriously."
In order to pursue tattooing as a career, Rodriguez knew he needed an apprenticeship at a reputable shop. Unfortunately, the saturation and tightly knit community of HB's tattoo scene didn't let him land an apprenticeship in his hometown, so he went to the shop where he'd been getting tattooed, Goodfellas. The shop didn't have room for another apprentice when he asked for the position, though. But because he'd spent so much time getting tattooed there, Rodriguez was essentially put on a waiting list for an apprenticeship rather than being turned away.
After waiting for about a year, Rodriguez got the phone call he'd been waiting for and never stopped hustling. Although he's no longer an apprentice Rodriguez certainly still feels like he learns something new all the time at Goodfellas. Vets like Soto teach Rodriguez tricks that aren't in the curriculum for every shop, like studying and practicing in color to perfect the tones of a piece. Such lessons have made Rodriguez a better tattooer than many people who have tattooed decades longer than him.
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Rodriguez's talent and dedication got him a spot representing Goodfellas at major tattoo conventions, a spot he's held for the last three years last three years. And while the Musink award represented the pinnacle of his career (so far), Rodriguez likes the festival for a different reason.
"I like Musink because a lot of my friends go there who I don't see for years at a time," Rodriguez says. "A lot of them work out of state, so it's always really cool to go back and see everyone."
Goodfellas Tattoo Studio, 2345 N. Tustin St., Orange, 714-637-8282, @alecrodrigueztattoo