Q&A with Jes Farris of Fort Wayne Tattoo Fest, bringing international ink artists to town

Fort Wayne is home to a lot of unique tattoo shops. One of those is Studio 13 Tattoo, owned by brothers Jes and Jake Ferris. They’re on a mission to elevate Fort Wayne’s tattoo scene. 
Jes Farris, co-owner of Studio 13 Tattoo
For years the Farris brothers have been traveling and connecting with tattoo artists across the globe. In 2017, Jes and Jake started the Explorer Tattoo Conference hosted in cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. It gives professional tattoo artists the chance to learn and network with one another. Now they’re bringing the energy and spirit of those gatherings back home by hosting the first Fort Wayne Tattoo Festival on August 12-14.

The Fort Wayne Tattoo Festival features live tattooing, contests, celebrity guest appearances, and more. The event is open to the public. Jes hopes it will give visiting artists a chance to explore and appreciate Fort Wayne, while giving local artists the chance to make connections. He describes the festival as a great place to get acquainted with tattooing, in general, if you’re new to the industry or have never been tattooed before.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Jes Farris, co-owner of Studio 13 Tattoo, to learn more about the upcoming Tattoo Fest and Fort Wayne’s vibrant tattoo community.

IFW: Tell us about your background.

JF: I moved to Fort Wayne at a young age, maybe eight. Previously I lived in Warren, IN, which is about 30 minutes south on I-69. I think that experience has left me with rose-colored glasses when looking at Fort Wayne my entire life. Today, it’s an amazing, ever-changing landscape. When I was eight, it was “a big city” to a kid from rural Indiana. I am and have always been in awe of the potential of this big city.

IFW: When did you get into the local tattoo scene?

JF: I started getting tattooed at 18-years-old. That was all the way back in 2003. By 2004/2005 my older brother, Jake Farris, was making the necessary life moves to purchase Studio 13 from the previous owners. At the time, I was just the 20-year-old younger brother along for the ride. I had no idea the life lessons he was teaching me, nor did I realize I was rooting myself into an industry that was growing and learning as quickly as I was.

Jes Farris, co-owner of Studio 13 TattooIFW: You moved away from Fort Wayne for a time and then moved back just before the pandemic. What was that experience like, and how has it been reacclimating to the community?

JF: I moved to Toledo, Ohio, to expand our business. For five years, we operated a second location of Studio 13 Tattoo there. Eventually, opportunities for our 18-month-old son to spend time with family brought us home to Fort Wayne. Toledo is great, but I really missed Fort Wayne.

Even on its closing date, our Toledo location was successful. During my time there, I spent so much time talking about Fort Wayne and sending our artists to visit our Fort Wayne location that four of them have relocated to make Fort Wayne their city, too.

The biggest difference between the two midwest cities is the rate of growth. Toledo is growing, but Fort Wayne is booming. I left Fort Wayne as a young entrepreneur. I returned as a dad with graying hair. On top of that, the pandemic started a few months after returning home. 

IFW: What inspires you to invest in Fort Wayne and grow your business here?

JF: Everything! There’s so much to love. It’s easy to spend your “business” money here because so many others also see the vision. Ten years ago, you could see the foundation being laid for today. Every year since then, it’s been a little easier. Things used to feel like an uphill battle. Lately, it’s felt like you’re on a downhill rocket sled with no brakes. I’m grateful for my community and peers for making my dreams happen. I just hope I am able to reciprocate those feelings to them.

Jes Farris, co-owner of Studio 13 Tattoo
IFW: Who are some of the local artists you see doing cool, innovative things in Fort Wayne?

JF: I could give you a list of tattooers a mile long. Instead, I will offer that we have been a great tattooing city as long as it’s been legal. I’m finally old enough to get excited about the youth in our local tattoo industry. A lot of the younger generation will be attending the upcoming festival. It is exciting to see. 

A few artists that inspire outside of the tattoo community: Justin Lim, @old5anddimesignco, he will be on hand at Tattoo Fest painting signs. He’s even pulling his traveling van into the Grand Wayne Center to show off.

I’m always excited and inspired by our crew at Studio 13; Don Hankey, Logan Bourbina, Kyle Kozek, Rachel Smith, Andi Fitzpatrick, Mike Schlueter, and Jamie Choi.

To mention a few artists not involved with our event too; Matt Plett, Theoplis Smith aka Phresh Laundry, Daniel Dienelt. I’ve been a long time fan of Nate Utesch. He’s a wildly accomplished graphic designer here in Fort Wayne.

Josef Zimmerman curating at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art has been a game changer for art in Fort Wayne! Eternally grateful to his undying effort to not only support art in Fort Wayne but his efforts to grow it. 

IFW: How many Fort Wayne tattoo artists will be featured in Tattoo Fest?

JF: I would estimate about 20-25 local artists will be on hand. We are grateful to have them attending. At a quick glance of our roster, I would also estimate about 30-40 other artists who have visited Fort Wayne previously to tattoo in a local shop, as well.

Poster for the Fort Wayne Tattoo Festival
IFW: You’ve hosted the Explorer Tattoo Conference across the U.S. Tell us about those events, and how Fort Wayne Tattoo Fest came about.

JF: In 2017, Jake and I started the Explorer Tattoo Conference. We have put ourselves in such a unique place since 2005. We surround ourselves with amazing artists in our shop every day. We connect and travel with the best tattooers in the world. We had unknowingly created an environment full of critique, growth, and networking. 

This process came so naturally to Jake and I that we didn’t realize it was something special. We thought the entire industry was experiencing the same things we were. We realized we needed to find a way to offer this learning opportunity we created to the rest of the industry. 

Since 2017, we have hosted nine events in Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Dallas, and Philadelphia. The Fort Wayne Tattoo Festival was born out of our need to elevate our community, both the Fort Wayne community and our tattoo community. 

IFW: Who are some of the international artists who will be visiting Fort Wayne as part of Tattoo Fest? 

JF: One example is Bryan Sánchez, @bryan_sanchezm. He’s an amazing watercolor tattoo artist from Medellín, Colombia. Bryan is the type of person you’re going to be friends with. He’s an outstanding talent and has an infectious personality. We are so excited to have our friends in our hometown. We can’t wait to show off Fort Wayne.

IFW: Tell us more about what Tattoo Fest will entail.

JF: There will be live tattooing happening by more than 200 artists from all over the world. We are grateful to all artists visiting our city to showcase their art. There will be tattoo competitions throughout the three days, where the public can enter their tattoos to win. We will feature live art from the stage, as well.

Several reality TV stars will be in attendance that you’ve seen on shows like Ink Master and Best Ink. You’ll find some artists in attendance with huge social media followings. You will also find some artists that you’ve never heard of. That’s the exciting part about this event. Anyone who attends will be able to see art that they connect with.

We have great vendors, as well. A lot of shopping and things to see. One of my favorite people in the world, Tony Moore, who is the co-creator of The Walking Dead, will be there all three days selling original art, prints, and apparel. 

The public is invited! Come and get tattooed, enter contests, see how a tattoo is made. A lot of people are unfamiliar with the tattoo process. This is a great opportunity to be a fly on the wall.

Tickets are available on our website or at the door. Weekend passes for all three days are $65, $25 for single day passes on Friday or Sunday, & $30 for single day Saturday passes.

Poster for the Fort Wayne Tattoo Festival
IFW: What do you hope artists and visitors get out of the experience?

JF: I hope they see an amazing city that fights every stereotype that has been placed on it. I hope they see the youth in Fort Wayne paving their own path and the aging generation listening. I hope they see the struggle it took to get where we are and a population who loves what we’ve built but refuses to settle for less than they deserve. I hope they see our event as a brick in the greater structure of our city. I want them to experience our local businesses, our unparalleled culinary scene, public art, and public spaces.

IFW: What would take Fort Wayne and its tattoo scene to the next level? 

JF: I am grateful for the connections we have made with local tattooing because of this event. It’s easy to put up walls and look at others as competition. I have certainly been guilty of that. This event forced us out of our shells. We’ve been present in local shops that are not our own. That’s what gets us to the next level. The open arms we have experienced from some artists we have never met. Thank you for sharing your space and your time with us as we planned this event!
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.