Take a female automotive refinishing specialist ("car-sprayer" to you and me,) with a recently-acquired BA Hons in Product Design and a passion for upcycling and eclectic interiors, and add a UK award-winning retail manager with a penchant for vintage vinyl, extreme sports and Eastern philosophy. Put them together and what do you get?
Us two! Jenn and Tommy, the brains behind InkMonkey art supplies.
The idea for InkMonkey came about in January 2014 when I (Jenn) was in my final year studying at the University of Ulster art college. Myself and classmates often remarked on how difficult it was to source all the products and supplies needed for our projects, especially modelling materials such as aeroply and Styrofoam, which was only available outside the city centre, and only sold in quantities much larger than required. As is often the way with these situations, everyone was so busy concentrating on their assignments that we never bothered to question the status quo; go here, get this, go there, get that. After a couple of months spent brainstorming with Tommy, and another couple of months of market research, InkMonkey’s ethos was composed.
The vision was a retail space with a personality reflecting that of it’s clientele; creative, friendly, quirky and eclectic, stocking everything the discerning artist or designer would need, whether they’re a student, teacher, professional or amateur. It would be somewhere the artistic community would feel at home. Tommy and I set about planning a unique upcycled environment using everything we could get our hands on including fence posts, pallets, chipboard and scaffolding planks.. We just needed somewhere to put it all.
I was finishing my degree at the time, but after a month of mock-ups and let-downs we finally acquired a premises right in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter, just a 3 minute stroll across Writer’s Square from the art college.
I remember when we went to view the shop for the first time, standing outside feeling like I was about to boke everywhere due to a soup of anxiety, stress and excitement sloshing around my innards. When we got inside we couldn’t believe the overall size. From outside it looked quite small, but it stretches back like Mary Poppins' carpet bag! The suspended ceiling had been crudely removed, none of the paint matched and the bathroom wouldn’t have looked out of place in a horror film. But we knew that with some hard work we could get it looking sharp.
We spent the next few weeks hoovering the decade-old ashes of North Street Arcade off the walls and getting the antique parquet flooring and full-length front window cleaned up. Within a month InkMonkey Art Supplies was well on its way to becoming a reality.
We have been here for 8 months now, and although it was stressful at the time we now realise that our North Street location was a blessing in disguise. The street is bustling with activity pretty much all day, and has filled up with great independent shops including Keats and Chapman bookstore, Atomic Collectibles, Sick Records, the new Tivoli barber shop, Lost Soul tattoo parlour, Aether & Echo bar, and the most recent addition the Fenderesky art gallery and coffee shop.
Unfortunately our building as beautiful as she is, is starting to show her age. We have several leaks in the roof and after many phone calls and messages to the landlord the problem has still not been resolved. Other shops on the street have the same problem, but the landlord refuses to fix them as he’s waiting on his fat cheque from the Northside regeneration programme. Until such times we’ll have to spruce up our buckets and make them look like part of the furniture. At least it shows character if nothing else!
As well as writing blog posts about super cool topics, we’ll also be doing more of these blogs about us and our business. We’ll be sharing more about how we got started and obstacles we’ve injured and overcome along the way, as reference for any of you who want to take the plunge into starting up your own business. A problem shared is a problem halved right?!
That’s all for now folks, so take care and remember; don’t burn out, burn through! x