Some say that there’s no difference between traditional tattoos and neo-traditional tattoos; though the differences are slight, they are still there. Traditional tattoos consist of dark heavy line strokes and solid colors. They are intentionally kept simple in design and use a limited color palette that consists of red, green, yellow, brown, and blue with little to no shading.
Tattoo culture at the time was very much fringe and on the outskirts of society, unlike the mainstream appeal and fine art credibility it has today. These sailors would get iconic images stamped on their body as a celebration of their service; only accomplished sailors that have been to far away lands and traveled a certain number of miles were able to get swallows, for example. Traditional tattoos were not customly created, rather they were just flash picked off walls.
“Traditional” adheres to specific imagery: patriotic symbols like eagles, ships, anchors, the American flag, daggers, pin ups, swallows and nautical stars. All of these symbols stemmed from classic sailor and Navy icons that were prevalent in the early 20th century when servicemen would return stateside and get tattooed.
Neo-traditional tattoos pay homage to the classic, timeless art form through the same techniques; bold lines and heavy color saturation with minimal shading and detail. However, the imagery and designs used are generally more diverse and the color palette used is more diverse. A purely “American” tattoo style, neo traditional has included candles, lighthouses, diamonds, coffins and other concepts and rendered them in a “traditional” fashion.
Not to be confused with “New-School”, a more cartoonish, exaggerated and colorful style of tattooing, Neo-traditional is a revival of the “Old-School”, a celebration of roots and origins.
The innate beauty that the traditional tattoo style offers appeals across all generations of enthusiasts; bold lines and solid colors tend to fade less, offering the longevity and long lasting quality that so many desire.
Aside from black and grey, traditional has proven to be the one of the only tattoo styles that stand the test of time, and will always have an audience to wear them. The beauty of traditional tattooing is just that; there will always be artists looking to recreate the classic tattoos and culture that helped pave the way and make the tattoo industry what it is today.
Today, artists like Myke Chambers are paving the new generation of professional traditional tattooers, elevating the art to a new frontier and keep tradition alive.