As its name implies, the neo-traditional tattoo style borrows from the knowledge of the past while simultaneously working to fit into the modern era. Neo-traditional tattoos share many techniques with American traditional tattoos, but they take the potential of the art a lot further and allow for a vast variety of designs. The basis is once again clear and thick outlines in black ink and the colors are bold and vivid. Most importantly, the style focuses on density and intricate detail. This allows neo-traditional designs to cover many themes, from flowers and objects to animals and even full portraits. Unlike other modern tattoo styles that are a lot more exaggerated in nature, the more muted approach and attention to detail of the neo-traditional tattoo impresses not with outrageous takes, but with careful design, powerful coloring, decorative framing, and expressive artwork.
The origins of the neo-traditional style go as far back as feudal Japan. Japan’s opening to the west in the mid-19th century brought the country’s art style to the west, where it quickly achieved widespread popularity. Influencing such artists as Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, it was also pivotal in the development of what would later become Art Nouveau.
Of course, the American traditional style roots cannot be neglected. Originating from sailor tattooing culture and native American techniques, with the addition of Art Deco influences later on, the style has been instrumental in the development of tattoo designs throughout the 20th century.
Art Nouveau’s floral patterns and natural themes, vivid colors, and lush, detailed depictions thus came together with the American traditional tattoo’s bold, black outlines and object designs. Throw in some Art Deco flair and refinement, and you have the recipe for the neo-traditional tattoo style.
Proudly representing its influences but also taking everything a step further, the neo-traditional tattoo is much more than the sum of its parts. Art movements from all over the world have come together over many decades to create a truly global style with universal appeal.
What makes the neo-traditional style unique?
It is easy for the uninitiated to dismiss the neo-traditional tattoo as some neologism or derivative of the American traditional style. After all, many have familiarized themselves with these tattoo designs through time and popular culture. But despite its name, the neo-traditional style is distinct.
Many may also confuse it with the new school, but while both styles emerged as an evolution of detail in traditional designs, the similarities stop there. There are little graffiti, cartoons, and pop references in neo-traditional designs. A completely different aesthetic. Indeed, the neo-traditional style is its own thing, independent and unique.
A neo-traditional tattoo is bright without being garish, bold without being outrageous, and intense without being insensitive. It is meant to draw stares, but it does so through the confidence it exudes. Be it a rose, a wolf, or the face of a loved one.
With its many influences, the neo-traditional style merges seemingly conflicting ideas and transcends them. You will not find this combination of range, quiet intensity, and such a staggering level of detail anywhere else.
How to recognize a neo-traditional tattoo
Look no further than the detailed, almost lifelike depictions, complete with vivid, unrestrained colors. The American traditional style’s obvious outlines in black ink with minimal shading are also there, as are many of its motifs.
If you are still uncertain, however, the designs themselves might give you a hint. The neo-traditional style has a much wider variety to choose from, after all. So if you see something lifelike outlined with black ink, colored brightly and with attention to detail, odds are you are looking at a neo-traditional tattoo, even if the design might not appear very traditional to you.
Neo-traditional style examples
If it wasn’t obvious from the above, neo-traditional tattoos can be extremely varied. Owing to the rich heritage of their origins and the unique style they create, pretty much anything colorful, with enough detail, that does not fall within the more cartoonish realm of the new school is up for grabs. The same goes for the type of the design and the place it is drawn on.
Below, you can take a look at a number of examples showcasing just how wide the range of the neo-traditional style is.
Neo-traditional sleeve tattoo
This is probably the most popular place to get a tattoo for followers of the neo-traditional style. The bold colors and detailed designs practically beg for a sleeve tattoo. The depth and dimension on offer make for striking results and the design variety lends itself to many themes. Of course, such impressive tattoos take both time and money to make, but they truly capture the intensity and confidence of the style.
Neo-traditional chest tattoo
This is a place for more personal but also very expansive designs. You obviously will not be able to show this off as regularly, so if your goal is to draw eyes into your everyday life, you probably do not want to go for this. The pain might also be a deterrent, as the chest area is rather sensitive. But if you can deal with that, then this type of tattoo features a lot of space to work with and can allow for some truly breathtaking art. And when you do find the opportunity to show it off, there is no way someone will miss it.
Neo-traditional hand tattoo
This is not for the faint of heart. Hands are tough, painful places to tattoo, due to having a lot of nerve endings and bone, with very little fat and muscle to protect them from the needle. They are also risky, as they are much harder to cover and can thus prove socially challenging in circles where body art is frowned upon. A hand tattoo is perfectly aligned with the neo-traditional style’s mentality, showcasing boldness and making very obvious statements. Think carefully before you commit to such a tattoo, but you can be sure that if there is a style to support it, it is this one.
Neo-traditional black and gray
Bright and vivid colors might be a trademark of the neo-traditional style, but it also comes with some limitations. The ink is more expensive, fades away faster without proper care, and is harder to combine with existing designs; adding a neo-traditional tattoo near an older design with more muted colors is likely to overshadow rather than bring out new qualities. Luckily, the style also works in black and gray. While it loses some of its intensity, the coloration is still noticeable and far more versatile, both in terms of coexisting harmoniously with other body art (and even your attire) and when it comes to caring for it.
Neo-traditional animal tattoo
Animals are a recurring theme in the American traditional style and a favorite of neo-traditional as well. Wolves and tigers are probably the most popular, alongside bears, snakes, and owls. But the lifelike imagery of the style, the bold colors, and its wide range of themes allow for a much bigger selection, including animals seen less often in American traditional designs, like cats, butterflies, and rams. Animal tattoos are also extremely varied in what they represent and the neo-traditional style gives them a powerful presence emphasizing their attributes. Even for the most indecisive, an animal is always a solid choice.
Neo-traditional flower tattoo
Carrying the heritage of both the Art Nouveau and American roots of the neo-traditional style, flower tattoos are expectedly both a common motif and a very fitting one. The colors employed by the style play a big part in this, but they are not the only reason. Flower tattoos stand out great on their own and can convey many meanings and themes. They also make for very good accompanying pieces and frameworks for larger designs, with the neo-traditional style bringing out their quality. Roses are top of the heap in terms of popularity, but you do not have to conform to the norm. Pick the flower whose qualities most express you and watch it take a whole new dimension upon your body.
Neo-American traditional tattoo
You might have guessed it already, but broadening the reach of American traditional tattoos with neo-traditional style elements is both viable and makes for a good combination. If you are keen on American traditional artwork and themes but feel they could use some more life and depth, this is for you. A modern outlook to the style you love and it still looks great and timeless.
A modern expression of body art that does not forget the roots and traditions of tattooing, the neo-traditional style moves with the times while allowing you to enjoy the designs you have always admired. Here at Savage Tattooist, located in Malmo, Sweden, we have devoted ourselves to the neo-traditional style to give you the tattoo you always wanted. Within its wide range of themes and through its powerful expressions and statements, you are sure to find a fitting design and make it a reality.