Brandon Sommers believes that art and community go hand in hand — which is why he chose downtown Bradenton as the home for his tattoo studio, Classic Ink.
It was the eclectic mixture of diverse clientele that drew the former resident of Manhattan’s “Hell’s Kitchen” to the downtown area after he moved to Bradenton in 2008 to be with his wife.
Sommers immediately noted the restaurants and bars, burgeoning nightlife and the camaraderie between local artists and the business community in downtown Bradenton and in 2009, opened the area’s first and only tattoo parlor on Old Main Street.
“I knew that the nightlife was guaranteed to keep me open, but in the three years that I’ve been here, I’ve been excited to see so much growth in all of the aspects that drew me to the downtown area in the first place,” Sommers said. “It keeps steadily becoming more lively, more family-oriented and has more artistic outlets popping up, which is really cool to see.”
Formerly a storyboard artist for documentaries and films as well as a comic book illustrator, Sommers began drawing portraits of people in Central Park while he was living in New York City. Drawing from the various styles in which he previously worked, Sommers began tattooing in 2006 and honed his realistic style.
When he opened Classic Ink, Sommers hired a team of four tattoo artists with a variety of styles ranging from traditional to illustrative to complement his own, as well as someone to do piercing.
“Our styles are all different and unique, so depending on what kind of design a customer is looking for, we have the right artist for the tattoo,” Sommers said.
Classic Ink is not the kind of tattoo parlor where customers should expect to see generic flash art on the walls. The artists at Classic Ink prefer to create 100 percent custom tattoos and encourage their clients to set appointments so that they can spend time planning, sketching and tattooing one-of-a-kind designs.
“We try to be an art-focused tattoo parlor rather than a ‘Get them in and out as quickly as possible’ kind of place. We want to show people that you can do a lot better than a Google image search when you’re getting a tattoo,” said shop manager, Jesse Benson.
“If you give the artist an idea along with a reference picture of some kind, you’re going to have a much better result,” Sommers added.
Coinciding with Sommers’ philosophy that art and community must support one another, Classic Ink makes a point to be involved with its neighbors in Bradenton and throughout the Florida tattoo community.
Every March, the studio sponsors TattooFest, a convention in which artists from all over the world gather at the Manatee Civic Center to share their work and network with the community. As Halloween nears each October, Classic Ink sponsors Zombie Fest, an annual downtown Bradenton block party that features live music, vendors and specials at downtown bars and restaurants. Participants can stop by Classic Ink to get “zombified” at the “Zombification Station” to get into the spirit of the event.
October is also “Classic Pink” month at the tattoo parlor, during which the shop offers pink ribbon tattoos in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“One misconception that we work really hard to fight here is that tattoos are only for the biker community or something like that,” said Sommers. “These days, people from all walks of life are getting tattoos — from college students to doctors and lawyers to moms — and we offer something for everyone.”
Classic Ink is also gearing up for the highly-anticipated skate park on the Riverwalk, scheduled to open in October. In upcoming months, the tattoo parlor plans to open a retail section for skateboard gear, from decks, wheels and bearings to brand name apparel.
Benson, an avid skateboarder and surfer, said that he plans to bring his board to the skate park as frequently as possible.
“Once the skate shop opens, we’re going to have some contests to give away skate merchandise,” Benson said. “Those kids are out there supporting us, so we want to make sure we’re supporting them, too.”
To view Classic Ink’s artists’ portfolios or to find more information about Classic Ink events, tattooing and aftercare, visit www.classic-ink.com. To schedule an appointment, call the store at 941-747-1700.