When looking to get a new tattoo, many people do a little bit of homework regarding different tattoo styles out there. And there are dozens of different tattoo kinds and styles, so it can be pretty hard to make a decision. But, what we’ve noticed is that an increasing number of people are going for neo-traditional tattoos; a tattoo style that relies heavily on traditional tattooing, designs, motifs, and technique.
Drawing inspiration from traditional American tattooing, as well as the tradition of tattooing art and craft, neo-traditional tattoos are a true homage to the brilliant art of tattoos and fresh ink.
If you’re reading this, chances are you are as well interested in this tattoo style, so we’re pretty glad you’re also at the right place. In the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at the origin of neo-traditional tattoos, what they mean and represent, as well as look at some of the best examples of neo-traditional designs. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Neo-Traditional Tattoos: Everything You Need To Know
How Neo Traditional Tattoos Came To Be – The Origin Story
Many seem to describe neo-traditional tattoos as a part of the New School tattoo style, or even say for them to actually just be traditional American tattoos. However, this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Professional tattoo artists and those knowledgeable in tattoo styles and history will say that neo-traditional tattoos are simply designs done in line with the main tattooing rules and practices, focusing on common motifs and themes as well as clear presentation and clean lines.
The origin of neo-traditional tattoos is closely tied to American traditionalism, a style of tattooing developed by sailors hundreds of years ago. This alone can also be traced to the fact that hundreds of years ago, people traveled to the so-called ‘exotic’ islands and lands, where the indigenous communities were already getting tattooed for thousands of years.
The sailors would also get tattooed during their journey. They generally went for motifs resembling their job or sea-related motifs, like their caps and clothes, fish, sea, boats, etc.
However, the sailor culture would start disappearing in the 20th century, especially with the patent of the first electrical tattooing machine. Samuel O’Reilly patented the first tattoo gun, which would later become the staple for a modern tattoo machine. With this machine, people discovered new ways of tattooing, implementing finer lines, complex designs, shading, and even different colors. It was the beginning of the tattoo revolution in the West.
As time went by, people started implementing designs that were close to the notion of being American. The traditional tattoos of the 1960s and 1970s included motifs like the American flag, skulls, roses, guns, colors like red, white, and blue, etc. That is the era of true American traditionalism and traditional tattoos.
It took us a long road to get here, but we’re here. From there, current tattoo artists draw attention to their neo-traditional approach and interpretation of what used to be the main tattooing style.
But, What Exactly Is A Neo-Traditional Tattoo?
The best way to describe a neo-traditional tattoo or neo traditionalism is to say that it is an expansion of American traditionalism. So, the style focuses mainly on the traditional tattooing practices of the 20th century, especially the years like the 1960s and 1970s. It is inspired by the traditional style of tattooing and pays homage to the true roots of American tattooing.
How Can I Recognize A Neo Traditional Tattoo?
Because the designs are done by drawing inspiration from American traditionalism, neo-traditional tattoos can be recognized by the following characteristics;
- Bold and clean black lines
- Minimal shading
- Tattoo depth and attention to detail
- Bright and various colors, saturated color scheme, and primary colors
- Motifs like skulls, roses, guns, ships/boats, eyes, diamonds, animals like wolves, tigers and lions, coffins, lighthouses, etc.
As we mentioned, these are all of the things that characterized traditional American tattoos in the second half of the 20th century. So, it only seemed natural to go back to the roots of modern tattooing and draw inspiration from there.
Apart from the aforementioned traditional motifs, we do have to mention that motifs like flowers, women, snakes, owls, foxes, and birds were also a part of the ever-expanding traditional American tattooing.
So, neo-traditional tattoos also have a modern but traditional take on numerous motifs and design ideas, which allows them to appeal to different preferences of the clients.
Who Are The Best Neo Traditional Tattoo Artists?
There are so many exceptional tattoo artists in the world who specialize in New or neo-traditional tattoo style. However, some of them really stand out. Here are our favorite neo-traditional tattoo artists, as well as their Instagram profiles, so you can check them out and maybe even follow them;
Lucy O’ Connell (@lucylucyhorsehead)
Lucy O’Connell is a UK tattoo artist, from the city of Leeds. She is famous for her incredible tattooing skills and her exceptional take on Neo Traditional tattooing style. Her work stands out and is incredibly unique. Make sure to check out her Instagram profile and witness her incredible work.
Ole Kroger (@ole_kroeger_tattoo)
Ole Kroger is a German, Hamburg-based neo-traditional tattoo artist. He is one of the best neo-traditional tattoo artists in the world known for his incredible attention to detail and ability to transform any motif or design idea into a neo-traditional tattoo. Follow him on Instagram for more of his outstanding work.
Hanna Flowers (@hannahflowers_tattoos)
Hanna Flowers is a UK, Scotland-based tattoo artist known for her incredible designs and highly detailed, complex tattoos. Her neo-traditional tattoos are probably the best you’ll ever see; she uses incredible color gradation and shading, as well as bold, clean lines to make any design seem like an homage to the traditional tattooing technique. Follow her on Instagram to see what we’re talking about.
Jeff Norton (@jeffnortontattoo)
Jeff Norton is an American, California-based tattoo artist known for his incredible neo-traditional tattoos. He is famous for his highly detailed designs and use of female and animal imagery as inspiration for tattoos. His tattoos are bold and clean, with exceptional color control and shading used to emphasize certain elements. Follow him on Instagram for more of his incredible work.
Neo-Traditional Design Ideas: Our Top Recommendations
Neo-Traditional Flower Design
One of the classic neo-traditional tattoo motifs is flowers. Whether roses or any other kind of flower, they remain as one of the main inspirations and connections to the American traditionalism of the 1970s. Neo-Traditional flower tattoos carry a certain, rich aesthetic, and are often accompanied by other Traditional elements, like portraits of women or animals.
Neo-Traditional Bird Design
Neo-Traditional bird tattoos, particularly those depicting swallows, are an homage to the traditional sailor tattoos. These birds served as an inspiration for the sailors since they symbolize return. So, imagine traveling somewhere far hundreds of years ago; you’d hang onto any kind of hope you have, which in this case were swallow tattoos. That is why neo Traditional tattoos rely on bird imagery (sparrows and swallows) and designs to revoke the meaning of ‘return’.
Neo-Traditional Woman Portrait Design
Women portrait is one of the most common neo-traditional tattoo motifs. It generally depicts a beautiful woman, sometimes surrounded by flowers and other motifs of American Traditionalism. Portraits of women are incredible tattoos, generally having a flowy feeling, very feminine and soft.
Neo-Traditional Wolf Design
Another popular neo-traditional tattoo motif is a wolf. The wolf in this sense is used to emphasize the imagery of power, determination, fearlessness, and relentlessness. A neo-traditional wolf tattoo is particularly fierce since the lines are bold, the color striking, and the expression of the wolf is generally powerful. Neo-Traditional wolf tattoos also pay an homage to the Native Americans and their special, spiritual connection to this incredible animal.
Neo-Traditional Owl Tattoo
The owl design is also pretty common in the world of neo-traditional tattoos. Because of their importance in storytelling, owls have been a big aspect of people’s perception of mystery and wisdom. Neo-Traditional owl tattoos have a rather unique appearance; bold lines and shadowing add to the symbolism of the nightly, the mysterious, and the wise.
What Is The Difference Between A Traditional And Neo-Traditional Tattoo?
The difference between traditional and neo-traditional tattoos lies in the choice of motifs, color scheme, and attention to detail. For example, neo-traditional tattoos tend to use more colors than Traditional ones and generally have a bright, bold color scheme.
Traditional tattoos tend to be more Americana styled, with predominant colors like red, yellow, black, and green or blue. Neo-Traditional tattoos also tend to use a broader range of motifs and are more detailed overall.
Do Neo Traditional Tattoos Age Well?
Generally speaking, colored tattoos of any kind and style tend to fade faster than black & grey tattoos as you age . This especially applies to tattoos with bright colors like yellow, red, light blue, light green, etc.
However, the silver lining is that neo-traditional tattoos are easy to touch up, so when you notice some fading, you can contact your tattoo artist and get the tattoo fixed. Also, you can prevent faster fading by protecting the tattoo from UV rays using sunscreen, as well as by keeping it moisturized and hydrated.
Where Should I Place My Neo Traditional Tattoo?
This is an important question for anyone wanting to get a tattoo. Now, if your job allows visible tattoos, then you won’t have an issue placing the tattoo in the forearm area, the neck, upper back, etc. Of course, if the tattoo depicts something other people might find distasteful or even offensive, make sure to keep them hidden.
When it comes to regular neo-traditional tattoos, people generally find the upper arm and sleeve area to be the best placement option. However, some go for thighs, upper back, and chest areas as well. Generally, speaking, large, flat areas with smooth skin seem to work best with neo-traditional tattoos since the design and the details really come to life.
Neo-Traditional tattoos are pretty amazing; the history and the meaning behind this tattoo style are deeply connected with the history of our country and the history of tattooing. So, to get such a tattoo shows your understanding and appreciation of the history and the origins of tattooing, and what it is today.
For more information about neo-traditional tattoos and a specific design for your own tattoo, make sure to talk to a professional tattoo artist experienced in this particular style. We sure hope this article has provided enough insight into the world of neo-traditional tattoos for everyone who wasn’t familiar.