Interview: Speakeasy Custom Tattoo owner Patrick Cornolo

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Patrick at work, tattooing Jill Hepp.

Patrick Cornolo, along with his wife Kelly, is the owner of Speakeasy Custom Tattoo.

Being the owner of a large, custom only tattoo shop is a journey that has a quite a few interesting twists and turns, something I discovered even with having the background of being a long time friend and client of Patrick's.

Also, a note of thanks to Patrick and Kelly for supplying a lot of great photos for me.  Below is our fun and informative Q&A.

As a child did you have a keen interest in art, did you take any special art classes or lessons?

My dad had some sketchbooks that as a young kid I was taken with and I used to try to copy his work, he did sketches of cartoon characters and the like.  Also, I do remember my Dad helping with school projects that where art related, they always ended up cool.  Currently, my Dad now counts photography as one of his interests, a related art field.  In grade school, I knew I could draw well, you can always see your fellow students work, and mine was decent but then as I entered highschool, my big interest was more sports.

It's funny, talking about this though, I remember being probably about 12, Belushi was a guest on Saturday Night Live and this band called Fear were on and of course, promptly censored.  I had a glimpse of something different then the normal teen trends and then after sophmore year, my sports interest waned and I developed a huge passion for punk rock.

How did that change things for you and what bands were included?  I find with a lot of artists and musicians, they relate and cross over influences, I like to explore that topic with both professions.

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Sketches of the Hepps' dogs, references, stencil drawing.

I was into the DIY part of the punk scene of course, along with the music.  These guys were in it for real, this was it for them, and the only way to play, and promote was up to them. I really found this influencing the way I wanted to move forward.  As I became more involved in the scene, I discovered art played a huge part too, and I started sketching and then doing the teen thing, guys were like hey, you can draw, can you put this logo on my jacket?  

Now it is college time, you have this interest in art and music, what happens next?

I did not really think of it as an occupation still.  I went to college and had a business major, some finance classes, psych classes but I was also lucky enough to pursue a minor in art. The irony now is that all of these are super valuable as a tattoo artist, especially as a shop owner!

At this point, how did tattooing come from the art interest?

I saw photos of tattoos that Guy Aitchison, Timothy Hoyer, Marcus Pacheco, Aaron Cain did, and I liked them better than a lot of 2d art I saw. I thought, man, if you can do that on skin, it is a high end painting, just done differently.

So where and how did you start tattooing?

After college I continued getting tattooed and was also drawing designs for my friends who wanted tattoos.  Eventually this led to me getting an apprenticeship with Mad Jack, of Body Basics in Chicago. I lovingly refer to him as the abusive stepfather I never asked for!  So far in my career as a tattooist, I have still not come across an artist that had an apprenticeship that was as unique and difficult as mine.  It was a great place to start and I did have a blast working there at that time in my life.  Custom art was encouraged there, no flash* adorned the walls.  I was there for six years then went on to work with Kim Saigh at Cherry Bomb. That shop was about as non-traditional as it could get. We did not even have a sign, just a room number in the funky a#$ Flat Iron Building.
    As a tattooer, that is when I knew I had to hustle, nobody came in unless they were looking for Kim or I.  I had clientele at that point, but had to step on my game so more people would actually seek me out. Eleven years later, I am still in the Flat Iron building in a huge, beautiful loft space, and yes we even have a sign!

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Kilo Kai work.

*A brief explanation - Flash is tattoo art that is already drawn, some dates way back but new flash is always being created.  In a tattoo shop, it usually displayed to be easy to look at and a client picks out a design and a stencil is made up and the client can be tattooed sometimes the same day, if that is the type of work the shop is offering.  A custom tattoo is completely different, especially with time and amount of prep work involved. Client has a consult, there is usually some back and forth, research materials from client and artists, sketches done and approved then the first appointment is done.

As an established artist in Chicago, I am curious to know what other work has being a tattooist have you been involved in?

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Sketches for The Chicago Code.

I have friends in advertising, TV, photography etc. so I have been able to do some fun jobs. I did Kilo Kai themed tattoos for a model photo shoot, and as temps.  I also have done some illustrations such as one for Camel.  Recently, I did a lot of work for the Chicago Code (see video at bottom).

I did sketches for the hair and makeup staff to use as stencils for tattoos on many of the actors.  Of course, all the tattoos were for the cliche gang banger bad guys, lots of snakes, daggers, and dice. It was a great project and I hope to do more commercial work in the future.

Thoughts, philosophies that you can share with us, and in the future if you get any of the current non existent free time, what art would you like to explore?

It took years and a ton of work to get where I am now.  I feel strongly there are no shortcuts and after learning tattooing techniques, hard work is the answer to success.  My biggest fear, not to suck, is my biggest motivation.  Seriously, I never want to do a tattoo and have someone see my work and just declare it bad. Simple but true.

One day I hope to do more colored pencil pieces, just had two in a gallery show that made me draw to draw, not to tattoo!  Then of course, I would love to add painting time also.

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