Neo Traditional Tattoo Definition Essay

When it comes to selecting the right style for a brand new tattoo, it is important to know how to talk the talk before just walking into a shop and requesting some flash off the wall. That's why we thought it would be helpful to give you our insider perspective on the most prominent tattoo styles in the industry today. After reading this, you'll be able to tell a traditional piece from a Japanese one at a glance, distinguish between neo-traditional and new school without breaking a sweat, and see the differences in blackwork and tribal designs without batting an eye.

1. Traditional

The traditional style was born on the high seas during the 1700s, after sailors like those who sailed with Capitan James Cook first encountered indigenous communities with tattoos and, becoming inspired by their bodily markings, decided to start collecting body art as mementos of their long voyages. Over the course of the 19th century, the style became more refined taking on the boldly lined and brightly colored aesthetic seen in the work of well-known American tattooists of the 1900s like Sailor Jerry.

Anyone vaguely interested in tattoos is familiar with the Iconic traditional form. We’ve seen them on sailors in films, marines returning from war and on many people in cities across the United States. But what now? The traditional style is a staple of classic American culture that has been around for nearly a century and artists are beginning to change the way we think about this style. Introducing the “new traditional style.” Read more to learn about the exciting changes coming to staple of American tradition.

New Traditional Skull and roses Flash by Steve from Academy of Responsible Tattooing 

So first, the basics. What makes a tattoo new traditional vs. just traditional. Before we can get to that we need a refresher on what makes a traditional tattoo. Traditional tattoos are best defined as a tattoo that looks like a tattoo. It makes no attempt to be photo realistc. Typically they consist of nautical subject matter (mermaids, sharks, boats, compass and anchor) and are strongly American (flags, banners, patriotic script and Native American). The lines used to ink them are bold and tinting is minimal but lends to the throwback character of the style.

Traditional Flash vs. Neo Traditional Flash from the Academy of Responsible Tattooing

Now that we’re caught up let’s talk Neo Traditional. The neo traditional or “new” traditional for those of you rusty on your Latin, is a piece that melds both characteristics of the traditional style with a more contemporary aesthetic. For example, the photo we find below ditches the broad lines and cartoony characteristics of a typical traditional tattoo for something that bears a more photorealistic resemblance to the actual subject.  Despite this aesthetic move the subject matter is still very “traditional” we have a gorgeous head dressed Native American and the spirit animal of the United States, the bald eagle screeching right into our eyes.

Native American New Traditional Flash by Martin Dare at Body Art and Soul

Another important characteristic of new traditional art pieces is that it introduces different and often unexpected styles introduced into the same tattoo. We see new styles introduced both in the aesthetics and in the subject matter. Sugar Skulls are drawn in the typical traditional style but the subject matter is something that only recently has been identified as “American.” The Latin and now American subject matter and traditional aesthetics creates a piece that can only be defined as new-traditional.

Neo Traditional Flash by Carlos at Body, Art and Soul

As we mentioned earlier, the new traditional style also introduces different aesthetics. With the New Traditional we see styles even as distant as water colors being introduced to the subject matters we used to preserve strictly for the traditional.

Neo Traditional Flash mixing the old asethetics with the new by Dave, Apprentice at A.R.T

The New Traditional Tattoos are an exciting new way to take in a classic American tradition. Our innovative artists are constantly looking to push the envelope and contribute to this art form that we all love dearly. Got any ideas and looking to get something new? Leave it in the comments below and we’ll have an artist respond to you!




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