Neo-Traditional Tattoos: History and Design Ideas

Neo-Traditional Tattoos: History and Design Ideas

As the name suggests, neo-traditional tattoos are a take on the earlier traditional style tattoos. Learn more about this unique style here!

Tattoos have long represented the diverse history of humans. The earliest evidence of tattoos date back to around 2,000 BC in ancient Egypt. And they’ve been present across every major time period since.

Although tattoos are much more evolved today, their significance remains the same. Tattoos have always meant something personal to the individual. And today, the possibilities are endless when it comes to design and style.

With that said, there are dozens upon dozens of tattoo styles practiced all over the world.

But if one style stands out most in the modern age, Neo-traditionalism takes the win.

Neo-traditional tattoos have deep historical roots. They’re a distinguished Western style with a strong global presence. And this style on its own is continuing to evolve stylistically every year.

So, what exactly is a Neo-traditional tattoo?

In this article, we’ll explore the history of Neo-traditional tattoo art. We’ll also explore what makes this style so unique and renowned. Let’s begin!

The Roots of Neo-Traditionalism

Have you ever seen a person bearing a tattoo of a skeleton with a sailor hat on their bicep? Perhaps you’ve seen someone with a tattoo of a swallow carrying roses in its mouth?

Did these tattoos incorporate black ink and maybe one or two other colors? Were the lines bold and defined?

Did the tattoos seem 2-dimensional? Perhaps they seemed outdated in comparison to the kinds of tattoos you see today?

The tattoos we’ve described are of the American traditional style. And it’s likely a style that you’ve seen before in movies or photographs, if not in real life.

Senior citizens are likely the only people around today with these kinds of tattoos. After all, traditional tattoos reached their height by the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Though outdated, these tattoos are pertinent to the prominence of Neo-traditionalism.

To understand Neo-traditional tattoos, we first have to understand the American traditional style. So, what exactly is American traditionalism and when did it first develop?

American Traditionalism

The style of traditionalism was first developed by sailors hundreds of years ago.

Sailors were initially inspired by tattoos innovated by the indigenous communities they encountered. To commemorate their voyages, sailors would tattoo sea-related emblems, like ships and fish.

By the 20th century, the traditional style began to stray away from sailor culture. The first electric tattoo machine, patented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly, made this evolution possible.

American traditionalism of the 20th century became known for its simplistic style. These tattoos are not only 2-dimensional. They implement well-defined lines, bold shading, with few contrasting colors.

With that said, traditional tattoos incorporate few details. This was likely attributed to the limitations of older tattoo machines.

At the time, however, the traditional style was the most evolved style. And they were certainly popular with not only sailors, but soldiers, blue-collar workers, and people on the fringes of society.

The Rise of Traditional Tattoos

Traditional tattoos were not always representative of sailor voyages.

By the 1970’s, tattoos of birds, American flags, roses, skulls, and panthers tattooed in the traditional style grew in popularity. These types of tattoos are what distinguished traditionalism as a romanticized style.

By older standards, no other style was ever as intricate as American traditionalism. The earliest traditional tattoos were entirely done in black. Other colors, like red, were later introduced later on.

The color palette was still limited up until the middle of the 20th century. But as the years went on, the traditional style evolved.

Defining Neo-Traditionalism

If you were to look up tattoos on Instagram, it’s likely that Neo-traditional tattoos would appear.

So, what categorizes a tattoo as Neo-traditional?

The Qualities of Neo-Traditionalism

In the simplest terms, Neo-Traditionalism is a modern expansion of American traditionalism.

Its techniques involve deeper dimensions and a variety of line widths and colors. Because of modern techniques, Neo-traditional tattoos also take on a more 3-dimensional appearance.

Modern ink and machinery paved the way for the emergence of Neo-Traditional tattoo art. By the 1970’s, tattoo artists not only began to develop a wider array of ink colors. More refined techniques also made it possible to design more intricately.

Neo-Traditional Symbols & Motifs

To recap, a tattoo is Neo-traditional if it includes:

  • Clean lines
  • Bold outlines
  • Use of black ink
  • Shading
  • Use of a few (or less) colors

Yet, it’s not only these qualities that make up the Neo-traditional style.

Neo-Traditional tattoo designs haven’t strayed far from traditional motifs and symbols. Animals, lighthouses, flowers, and skulls are still tattooed today in the Neo-traditional style. The same roses, birds, and panthers that were popular 50 years ago are still tattooed today.

Yet, Neo-traditional tattoo designs have expanded significantly upon these traditional symbols and motifs. Tattoos of owls, foxes, snakes, and portfolios of women are popular. People can tattoo just about any type of flower in the Neo-traditional style, as well.

The Evolution of Neo-Traditional Tattoos

The essence of Neo-traditionalism incorporates the traditional style with modern aesthetics and symbols. This is largely why Neo-traditional tattoo art continues to evolve today.

Sugar skull tattoos are a great example of popular Neo-traditional tattoo designs. Sugar skulls are typically drawn in the 2D, traditional style.

Modern shading techniques give them more dimension, however. Additionally, sugar skulls resemble “Day of the Dead” art made popular in Latin America.

But sugar skulls not only incorporate a variety of colors. The skulls themselves are distinctly outlined in black. These qualities are what makes sugar skulls a popular Neo-traditional tattoo design.

The Future of Neo-Traditionalism

Some tattoo artists have combined Neo-Traditionalism with other tattoo styles.

Watercoloring, for example, is another popular tattoo style. Many Neo-traditional tattoos incorporate watercolor techniques. Still, they uphold the traditional qualities of well-defined, black outlines and shading.

More and more tattoo enthusiasts are finding inspiration from the Neo-traditional style. Many people have full arm and leg Neo-traditional sleeves.

Neo-Traditional TattoosIs a Neo-Traditional Tattoo Right for You?

It’s safe to say that the style of Neo-traditionalism isn’t going anywhere. It will be interesting to see what Neo-traditional tattoos look like 10-20 years from now!

Are you looking to get a tattoo done in the Neo-Traditional style? Not sure if the Neo-Traditional style is right for you?

Skin Factory Tattoos is a collective tattoo experience with locations in Nevada and Hawaii. Our team of tattoo artists provides a diverse array of tattoo styles, including Neo-traditionalism.

To find out more about which tattoo styles are right for you, contact us today! Visit our Henderson Tattoo Shop or Maui Tattoo shop