By Diego Lomeli
Valentino Cornell’s studio sits towards the back of the Life Arts Center in downtown Riverside, past the front doors and just after the staircase near the main entrance of the building.
The first thing passersby see is his work desk topped with sketch pads, pens, pencils and a thin-framed desk lamp.
On the brick wall at the back of the space hangs a tattoo parlor tank top and partially finished sketches, along with concept art and plants everywhere.
Cornell started out doing shop help around 12 to 13 years ago. During that time he would work in exchange for tattoos. He got most of the tattoos on his arms before he even turned 20. On the upper half of his left forearm is a black cross tattoo that he did himself.
“Tattooing is one of the sketchiest things you can do to yourself because it’s two handed, so realistically the only spot you can really do is your legs,” Cornell said as he drew on the sketch pad in front of him.
He then set his pencil down and pointed to the cross on his forearm.
“I did this one on myself recently, but that’s seven years in the game already and that s— still is hard.”
Despite the difficulty and seriousness embedded into the art of tattooing, Cornell’s confidence in his skills outweighs the nerve-wracking nature of it.
“It’s like, when you take a self portrait of yourself you know you can just delete it,” Cornell said as he remained transfixed on the drawing in front of him. “If you do a portrait of somebody else you got a couple of shots until you feel like you have to get it done quick ‘cause if you don’t get it done quick, if you don’t do it well the first couple of times, you feel like you look unprofessional.”
“The biggest part about tattooing is you’ve gotta be f—ing confident; the second you second guess s— is the second you mess something up. You gotta know you’re going to mess up the first two years. The first two years you’re going to do so many mess ups, but just … own it. See what you did, know you messed up and learn from it.”
During his first three years as a novice, Cornell was taught to do tattoos straight from books. It wasn’t until around four years later that the monotony of repetition began making him feel like he was working the typical nine to five. For him, developing a distinct, signature style stands at the forefront of tattooing.
“I feel like everyone else is just in it for the money, and everyone is trying to do the same thing. Everyone is just trying to make a dollar off it, trying to have the jersey of being a tattoo artist without actually putting in work and doing their own style,” Cornell said. “So now, I do a certain style, and the first year it sucked ‘cause I didn’t have any clients ‘cause nobody wanted it. Now, I’ve got a full clientele of just people who want to get stuff the way I do it. That’s the coolest f—ing feeling, money aside. That’s super cool when people just hit you up and they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to get a butterfly done with a rosary, but I want you to do it cause I like your style.’ That’s way cool.”