If you loop around downtown trying to get a gander at the King Edward, you need to stop your car and visit Ink Spot, which opened six months ago, a block from the hotel. Ink Spot is a combined tattoo parlor and art gallery that's unlike any other business in Jackson.
Ink Spot is the result of years of hard work and planning by Jason Thomas. He spent months renovating the space for art shows with the help of Stevie Taylor, Bobby Lirette, Thomas Cochreal and Matt Foxworth, friends that Thomas credits with helping get the business started and keeping him inspired.
Thomas previously worked at Eternal Body Art, a job he quit to open Ink Spot. Working at Eternal Body Art was the last step in Thomas' long pursuit of perfecting his craft and proving that tattoos can be fully developed, sophisticated art, he says.
Thomas got his first tattooing job at Dermagraphics in Richland when he was 20 years old—the same year he got his first tattoo at Dermagraphics. That first tattoo, Thomas tells me, was one of Fisher Price's "Little People" as a devil, but when I asked Thomas if I could see it, I was saddened to learn it has been covered by the Jack-O-Lope eyeball-farmer on his bicep. Thomas casually dismisses that first tattoo as poor quality. "I started out learning what not to do, and then ended up traveling around to re-learn the craft," he says. Thomas traveled to other studios and worked around the country—everywhere from Connecticut to Louisiana—a journey he calls his "real" education.
The education and experience Thomas gained go not only into his custom tattoos but also into his mentoring of his apprentices—J.J. Luther, Mikey Richardson and Erica Flannes—who work with him at Ink Spot. Thomas talks about the artistic talents of his apprentices, who seem more like a big extended family than a group of co-workers, and the years they have all spent talking about the idea of Ink Spot.
"I couldn't think of a better place (to start a business) than home," Thomas says of Ink Spot's space downtown. "I almost left, but if I did, I didn't know where my friends could get good tattoos."
There is little distinction between customers and friends with Thomas—by the time you've talked about your tattoo and seen the original art Thomas creates for it, you might well count him among your friends, too. I watch Thomas flipping through a huge stack of these custom designs, with the carbon used to transfer them to someone's body leaving blue smears on his fingers. He pauses every few pages to tell me something about the person who got that particular tattoo.
As we talk, I notice a group of catfish designs above his desk. The images have a distinct, Mississippi feel to them, and each one is personalized for its recipient. So far he has done 16 of the "catfish mafia" series of tattoos and plans to do four more. I ask how you get 16 people to all get similar tattoos, and Thomas explains that his business has mostly expanded through word of mouth. Someone sees his work on someone else's body and asks where they can get their own.
This business model isn't typical of tattoo parlors, some of which stay open until 1 a.m., hoping to net drunks ready for the ink. Many parlors also offer little more than flip books of stock art—meaning your tattoo will be like hundreds, if not thousands, of others around the country. Thomas only keeps the Ink Spot open until 10 p.m. to avoid the drunken impulse tattoos, and he offers only custom art. His vision for Ink Spot is that it will be "a place for people to step out and be an individual."
Ink Spot's gallery, which is the other half of the business, is maintained and organized by the Ink Spot apprentices. Flannes says their latest opening, for a show called "Holiday Bazaar," was a great success. "We sold about 25 percent of the show at the opening," she says. "There was a wide array of mediums available, from jewelry to stuffed animals to scarves—the crowd seemed to enjoy the diversity of items. There are still some wonderful pieces of art available, too."
Flannes gestures to a painting by Wendy Eddleman suffused with post-apocalyptic oranges, reds and blacks, for only $75. The show features 14 other artists and will run through mid-January. Ink Spot's next show will feature Ed Lowther, an artist who does abstract portraits and landscapes in oil.
The Ink Spot is open Monday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Check out Ink Spot's MySpace page to keep up with openings at the gallery and to see samples of Thomas' work.