By Dylan Deprey
There is having a dream. Then there’s manifesting destiny. Jon Johnson is doing both.
Before “Inkwell Tattoo Company” was a pearlescent marquee shining along West Greenfield Avenue in West Allis, it was a simple drawing in his sketch book.
Even as a tattoo artist’s apprentice over a decade ago, Johnson knew he was more than just an artist. He dreamed of the day when he would open his own space.
“Growing up in tattoo shops, you see a lot of stuff that’s not cool,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to be a part of it, but you don’t really have a choice because it’s your career.”
Over the past 14 years, Johnson’s precise line work, and dedication to detail have set him apart from the everyday artist. From traditional and modern, to tribal and water color, his art traverses the globe.
During his time as a tattoo artist, Johnson took mental notes and conducted market research – sometimes it was the artists, other times it was the environment. He sought to push past the stereotypical tattoo shop and create a space that was pristine, low pressure and laidback for everybody.
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “I’ve noticed that part of tattooing, and it’s a detriment to people understanding and realizing that we need to be a part of society moving forward. You won’t forget the barbers, the hair dressers, the nail technicians, but you will forget the people that were mean to you.”
Tattoo artists witnessed this during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though society had changed its views on tattoos, getting government assistance or being able to safely open, didn’t come around until the very tail end of quarantine.
Inkwell Tattoo Company was a culmination of everything Johnson learned over the course of his career and COVID-19.
“There was no helping hand for people like me growing up in this business, so now that I’m here, I’m like well f*** it, I’m going to rewrite the whole business,” he said.
The former Quiznos building was completely converted into a full-fledged tattoo shop. Amy, his fiancé, designed the layout.
“We wanted to do things totally different, keep everything clean, and this gives people the feeling that they can breathe,” he said.
Unlike an open concept with blaring music, in the COVID-19 era, the partitioned rooms throughout the shop are dedicated to privacy and comfort.
“People are already nervous when they come in here,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in, and I want to approach this where they can come in and relax. It’s just you and your artist, not everybody else watching you.”
Whether it was a first timer, or someone getting ink on a sensitive area, Johnson wanted to create the most comfortable environment for them. From customized chairs, to 55” TV’s with wireless headphones, each partition allowed for maximum relaxation.
Johnson said he also wanted to create an inclusive shop dedicated to creating a safe space for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and the disabled community.
“The shop is called ‘Inkwell,’ so when people leave we tell them to, ‘be well,’” he said.
“I never necessarily set out for this, but I knew I had the brain for it. The thing is when I make something, I don’t just make it, I make it with intent. If I shoot this rocket into the sky, I want it to land somewhere,” he added.
Although the shop has multiple spaces for artists, Johnson is the only one inking at this time. He said it wasn’t about hiring just anybody, the artist had to fit the shop.
While he might be the only artist for now, he’s doing it in his space, on his terms.
“You’ve got to humble yourself. I’ve been tattooing 14 years and I still do infinity signs. Bruce Lee still practiced his jab, I’m not above it. Some people get burnt out, or only do bigger pieces, but that tiny infinity sign could turn into a sleeve, a back piece—a friend. You never know.”
For more information visit Inkwell Tattoo Company at 7524 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, WI 53214.