The philosophy that art comes in many forms is perhaps best tested when it comes to artists who take needle and ink to human skin.
Tattooing has evolved over the decades into the "body art" it is today -- attracting people from all walks of life.
Island Tattoo, on Anna Maria Island, opened a few years ago to serve both an island population hungry for a tattoo studio and the constant stream of tourists. The shop's name remains mostly the same, but is headlined by a new owner, Mark Nicholas, an artist of 15 years who has worked in or owned studios from Tampa to San Diego, from Chicago to Las Vegas and now in Holmes Beach.
Never miss a local story.
Nicholas said he has seen the industry transform from the 1990s to what it is today -- some of it good and some of it not so much.
"I refer to this era as the digital or internet age of tattooing," said Nicholas. "More and more people come in with pictures on their phones or iPads rather than the old way of flipping through flash books. People use the internet more as a tool to find references for designs."
Nicholas said the downside is that it takes away from the originality of working with a tattoo artist for a custom piece of body art.
"It's an explosion of unoriginality," he said. "It seems everyone sees the same pictures and originality has flown out the window. Unfortunately, as artists, we don't want to duplicate, we want to create and when someone comes in wanting a custom tattoo, that's what I thrive on."
Nicholas said most tattoo artists know that it's the routine work that pays the bill, but they tend to put more enthusiasm into a tattoo they helped to create as an artist. Fortunately, he has other artistic outlets in another business that he runs out of his studio at 5306 Holmes Blvd.
He designs clothing under the Mark Nicholas Apparel brand that has made it onto the backs of celebrities such as Snoop Dog and members of the hip hop group Three 6
His line of clothing is carried in retail outlets on the island as well as his hometown of Chicago. He also designs outdoor clothing that protects from the sun, which Nicholas said is a growing industry for all outdoor enthusiasts from fishermen to bikers.
"We've transplanted the brand and production to this location," he said. "This is the first time in 15 years of doing art professionally that I've had everything under the same roof."
Nicholas uses a digital dye process in his garments that he said is comparable to a tattoo.
"It's a process of dyeing the fabric and trapping the color into the garment so it's in the garment and not on the garment," he said. "It's the same as tattoos being in the skin and not on the skin."
The original Island Tattoo studio has moved to Manatee Avenue West, and is not affiliated with the Anna Maria Island studio.
"My whole background is being put into this studio to make it the nicest studio in this whole area," he said. "People are responding. Everybody wanted a nice studio on this island and everyone from city officials to residents to tourists have been very receptive and know that I want to conduct business in a way that business is supposed to be conducted on this island. And people have noticed that and have wonderfully embraced this business, especially if they have been in here before I got here."
Alfonso Higareda, Nicholas' long-time friend and fellow tattoo artist who worked with him at his San Diego studio, will join Island Tattoo shortly.
"He was here helping me out during spring break and loved it here," he said. "He and his wife are packing their things today and coming to join me full time."
The studio is open from noon until 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The studio is closed on Sundays, but Nicholas will work by appointment. To learn more about his work and apparel, visit themarknicholascompany.com.
The obvious question for a tattoo artist is about the craziest tattoo request he has ever received. Nicholas said, "You'll never be able to publish it."
After hearing the story, he was right.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.