Some things, like nuts and bolts or cut and paste, combine in such a simple, straightforward way that half the pairing is useless without the other. It’s the only way they really work.
Other parts of life are more complex.
Or maybe the connections aren’t necessarily clear at first glance.
Take family and community for instance.
Or art and commerce.
Tattoos and Hairdos.
Centreville’s Ink or Dye Studio at 106 N. Commerce Street strives to unite all those complicated elements into a larger mosaic honoring such traditional values as entrepreneurship, hard work, and public service while modernizing concepts of how a business can be run, art can be consumed, and positivity can be promoted.
Keith Edmonds, Jr with his partner and now-wife, hairstylist Cheryl Heckman Edmonds, had the idea to combine their skills, body art and hair styling, while working together for someone else. Keith, an art school graduate specializing in custom tattoo designs of any style, started at the bottom of his industry and had about a decade of experience. Cheryl was an accomplished cosmetologist whose resume included working in fashionable high-end beauty and barbershops. Encouraged by friends and mentors, the two decided to pool their talents and pursue their dream.
The concept, according to Keith, was always for customers to “leave feeling better about themselves and their lives. A new hair style for an important event. A memorial tattoo. The hairdo might be temporary but the feelings and connections the art creates can last a lifetime.”
While tattooists are typically considered to work in a creative field, hair as art is a concept to consider. “Like tattoo artists,” says Cheryl, who counts personalized service and staying up to date on trends as two keys to success in her field, “hair stylists have the ability to create a masterpiece with a different type of medium, but the real art for me is the ability to change the feeling a person has about their appearance.” A smiling, satisfied client with renewed personal confidence, “is my finished canvas.”
Building on their original vision, Ink or Dye has become one of the most thriving and engaged locally based small businesses in town.
But a great rough sketch of a cool idea – Tattoos. Hair. Piercings. Fashion. Art. Music. Fun. Friends. Badassness. – does not a successful enterprise make. Getting open in 2018 was a challenge. The building was old. Legalities required certain design considerations. A lot of money and effort was spent. Now the space is everything an innovative Eastern Shore hair and tattoo art studio should be. Inviting. Unconventional. Contemporary but with a traditional functionality.
Having won a number of Customer Favorite awards in the traditional press, Ink or Dye also has a significant social media presence. “Because we’re so highly reviewed online, we have to meet expectations,” Keith says. He knows potential customers have a choice and he never wants anyone to feel like they’ve made the wrong one by coming to Ink or Dye.
It’s a creative and fun environment with a sprinkling of showbiz thrown in, but as Keith says, there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. In all aspects of their business, “There’s something new every day, but it’s a group effort.” Everybody jumps in where they’re needed. “For instance, one of Cheryl’s specialties is her eye for color, so she’ll consult. Or the artists will put their heads together to create something new and different.”
When the couple moved from Baltimore to Centreville, the cultural changes, the routines and pace of Eastern Shore life took some getting used to. Before long though, they fell in love with the town and the surrounding areas and they got the feeling they’d made the right decision. Cheryl says the location is “perfect.”
The sense of family at Ink or Dye is evident from their storefront windows, one of which showcases a barber’s chair Keith grew up with in his grandfather’s shop and the other a train display made by his dad that honors Centreville’s downtown with miniature familiar stores, homes, businesses, and governmental offices.
The staff reflect the personality of the space they work in and vice versa. “Everyone here brings so much to the table,” says Keith. “We get to be creative, make art, every day. It’s a dream come true. It’s fun, but it’s also a business. Not only does our livelihood depend on this, to ensure the longevity of all our careers we have to make sure this shop is open and as busy as it can be every day. People depend on us.”
The staff includes resident tattoo artists Mike Fox, Sr and Izzy Gore, tattoo and piercing artist Hannah Hannan, apprentices Sammy Cantler and Cole Lippa, and shop manager Summer Slacum. All have talents, specialties, and skills that set them apart yet make them a crucial part of the Ink or Dye team.
During a recent visit to 106 N. Commerce Street, guest artist Shepherd Dominguez was in-house. Conventions, the heart of the industry, introduce shop owners to artists who travel around the country to work. Over the past year the Edmonds have brought in over a dozen such artists and continues to attract some of the best creators in the business.
In 2020, as part of their “mission to spread peace and love” Ink or Dye began offering free cover-ups to anyone with gang or hate-themed tattoos who have changed their hearts and lives and want their outer selves to reflect that growth but can’t afford the costs. Keith says that the thousands of dollars the program has cost the business is more than offset by the immense societal benefits.
On Saturday, September 30, at the end of QAC Goes Purple Month and in partnership with the Recovery Awareness Foundation, Ink or Dye will host Tattoos For a Cause on Centreville’s old courthouse lawn and Lawyer’s Row. This rain or shine community event will feature nine tattoo artists, four bands, a cornhole tournament, food, vendors, raffles, and more, all in the effort to raise awareness of both the challenges and successes of substance abuse recovery. 100% of the proceeds will go to the R.A.F. which in turn supports directly those struggling with addiction and recovery.
Recovery’s a big part of the story that the Ink or Dye founders have to tell – they met at a Narcotic Anonymous meeting. Theirs is so compelling a story that filmmaker Lane Michael Stanley has started shooting a documentary about the journey the Edmonds have found themselves on. “Now I just see it as every day getting up and doing what I’m supposed to do, but I do understand how seeing people who have had some success navigating recovery can help others.”
“We work in a place where your imagination can come to life,” says Keith. “That’s a privilege. The least we can do is give back.”
Sometimes the complex parts of life are kind of simple after all.
Ink or Dye Studio at 106 N. Commerce Street is open Tuesday – Saturday. Bookings are available online at https://inkordyestudio.org/ and 443-262-8042 but walk-ins are welcome. Check out Ink and Dye on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.