Last week this almost 40 year old soccer mom ventured into unknown territory...a new tattoo shop in downtown Champaign. I’ll admit, I was a bit intimidated. I’d never actually been to a tattoo place, and honestly felt like I did not have the coolness factor needed to waltz into to a such an establishment. However, my anxiety dissipated as soon as I stepped into Dark Matter Collective and shook the hand of Jason Dunavan, a well-established local tattoo artist and part owner of the “collective.” His warm and welcoming demeanor would put anyone at ease, whether it was someone coming in for their first tattoo or piercing or someone who’s a regular customer. Dark Matter Collective isn’t your typical tattoo parlor, and that is quite intentional.

Dunavan’s career as a tattoo artist began when he was hired to be a front desk clerk for a local shop. His artistic side called (his mom is an art teacher), and he was soon doing piercings and tattoos, and eventually became part owner of Altered Egos. He closed it after several years to get out of the responsibilities of ownership for a while, and he just focused on the art while working at random shops. Then the stars aligned. The previous shop at 503 N. Neil, Civilized Gypsy, was on the verge of closing, and Dunavan and longtime friend Jesse Lee, a merchandise manager for touring rock bands and skateboard enthusiast, were ready to collaborate and take over the location.

Walking into the shop, you might not realize it’s a tattoo parlor at all. In fact, the first thing that catches your eye is a wall filled with skateboards, each one unique in it’s design, standing in stark contrast to the sleek dark decor of the rest of the interior. These are curated by Lee. He’s been skateboarding since middle school, and has kept up the interest into adulthood. Initially, he was just planning to bring his expertise in apparel sales to Dark Matter. But with some tips from his stepmom, who owned a skate shop in Effingham, and a realization that the tattoo community and the skate community had some pretty decent overlap, the skate shop portion of Dark Matter was born.

Dunavan and Lee wanted a different vibe for this place. “People off the street don’t necessarily know what they’re getting into when they come into a tattoo shop,” says Dunavan. “Then when you walk in here it’s like ‘oh’. There are friendly people and there’s more stuff to do besides people just sitting around cursing and swearing. It’s a fun environment, and it’s built more for spending time with the client that you have. There’s nothing on the walls to choose from because everything is custom. You can definitely come in just to hang out, listen to music, look at skateboards.” The goal is for the experience to be casual and laid back. You won’t be rushed, and the artists will take the time to sit and and chat with you so that you feel comfortable and ready to make that permanent decision. Lee agrees. “We didn’t just want another tattoo shop. There are a hundred tattoo shops in Champaign already. We wanted something completely different.” His skate shop portion definitely makes it unique, but he’s also brought in apparel and merchandise lines that you can’t find other places in the area: Roxwell and Blackcraft are two of those, and Lee is working with some of his deejay friends to bring their clothing lines to the shop as well.

Rounding out the team at Dark Matter Collective are tattoo artists Sebastian Klein and “Big Will” Philbeck. Klein also does cosmetic tattooing, and recently started a non-profit called the Angel Forever Foundation in honor of his teenage daughter who recently committed suicide. The foundation raises awareness about suicide and mental health.

While the shop is currently open for business, they are planning a grand opening celebration for the beginning of November. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date on store developments and upcoming events. And if you’re an almost 40 year old soccer mom, or anyone who’s feeling a bit apprehensive about that first tattoo, ease your mind with a visit to Dark Matter Collective. 

Photos by Marcus Higgins.