The Neo Traditional Tattoo
Neo-traditional Portraits have become a staple of this unique style of tattooing over the last few decades. These images are a blend of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and American Traditional. They appear more illustrative than realistic, meaning they’re more two-dimensional than a photo-realistic portrait. Generally seen with an ornamental filigree or floral border, these portraits feature fine details, bold lines, and muted toned coloring. Today, most neo-traditional portraits are of celebrities or pets, but it’s not unusual to see Neotrad Portraits of sailors, mermaids, or wild animals.
Paying homage to its ancestor, the American Traditional Tattoo, the rose is extremely popular in neo-traditional imagery. Roses were prevalent in the early days of American Traditional, often representing their loved ones, usually, a girlfriend or wife they had to leave behind while out to sea. The rose, often tattooed in red, is usually tattooed without thorns as the rose was used to embody love and peace. In American Traditional, the rose was often a bit cartoony, with harsher edges and bolder lines. In neo-traditional Tattooing, the rose is softer, with rounded edges, softer color blends, and more detail.
Neo-traditional Moth / Butterfly
A common concept featured in Neo-traditional design are moths and/or butterflies. These winged creatures are symbols of faith, determination, and attraction. These are often used to symbolize that the wearer is determined to find their path in life. Often replicated with an Art Nouveau influence, these creatures are usually depicted with softer, muted tones and thick, bold outlines. Most commonly seen in Neo-traditional work is the Death Moth—a moth with a skull-shaped marking on its back.
The neo-traditional Lantern has definitely claimed a foothold as a cult classic in recent years, becoming a poster child for the neo-trad imagery. The lantern symbolizes finding your way in the dark. In the early days, the lantern was considered a vessel, a guide—but, as modern days have done away with the use of lanterns, the symbolism has been replaced by nostalgia, an homage to the past, more than the original meaning. Today, the lantern is often paired with birds or floral designs and features a glowing, ethereal appearance. The most commonly seen type of lantern used in neo-traditional tattooing is the Victorian streetlamp, but miner lanterns, paper lanterns, and hand-held lanterns are often seen, as well.
Neo-traditional Paper Fan
Neo-traditional Tattoos have pulled a lot of influence from the Asian cultures of the 1800s. Elements such as bold colors and cultural patterns find their way into a lot of neo-traditional artwork. Because of this, many Japanese concepts have pushed through to the forefront of popular Neo-traditional imagery. Items such as kimonos, noodle bowls, and hairpins have appeared in this newer style of tattooing, but perhaps the most frequently seen concept is the paper fan. Usually featuring culturally appropriate patterns on the blade of the fan—for example, cherry blossoms—this dainty image has become a favorite of female Neo-traditional lovers.
The American Traditional tattoo gave birth to many different styles since its inception—but the most recognizable child of the American Traditional style is the neo-traditional, or neo-trad as it is sometimes referred to. Paying homage to its parent style, the neo-traditional style maintains the black outlines and utilizes many of the technical rules of traditional tattooing. The designs stick with larger imagery that is able to tell its story from a distance and often features many of the common elements of its parental style.
While it keeps many of the base components, neo-traditional tattooing ventures off in the textures and details that are blended in with the original traditional elements. Considered to be one of the most opulent styles of tattooing, neo-traditional designs often feature touches of fine lace, pearl beading, and other luxurious details and textures. While the style takes its main cues from the simplistic styles of Sailor Jerry and other traditional artists, it steals notes from many different styles of past artistic movements such as Art Nouveau, an artistic style popular from 1890 to 1910, and Art Deco, which rose during the early 1900s.
Art Nouveau shows its artistic flair in neo-traditional tattooing most often in portrait work— elegant filigree details are blended with 2D portraits contrasting with a background of lush florals. Japanese art traits sank into the style, concepts like flattened perspectives, cultural patterns, and even household items. Art Deco displays Egyptian and African influences along with Jazz-age nuances.
Have you ever seen a tattoo with bold outlines and large open spaces paired with fine details and modernized, solid shading and coloring? Chances are, that was a neo-traditional tattoo. A neo-traditional tattoo, simply put, is a modernization of the American Traditional Tattoo with just a splash of other art-movement nuances.
Neo-traditional Tattooing began to appear on the scene in the 1980s, as tattooing became more respected and approved in modern-day culture. During this time period, tattooing moved away from basic designs, like biker dust and traditional swallows, and began venturing into the art movements of the 19th century—giving birth to neo-traditional tattoo designs.
As more classically trained artists began to dabble in the world of tattooing, they brought their influences with them, blending their own training with that of their tattoo masters. Not straying too far from the industry’s origins, these new-generation tattooers kept many of the techniques of the American Traditional Tattoo in their artwork—like bold, clean linework and large-scale, easy to read designs—while adding their own touches such as softer imagery, fine details, and a different color palette.
Although the style took its namesake from the American Traditional Tattoo, that wasn’t the only style of art that you can see traits of within the neo-traditional design. In fact, there are—at minimum–three unique styles of artwork featured within the neo-traditional concept: American Traditional, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco.
American Traditional got its start in the early days of tattoo’s rebirth in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Launched in the tattoo industry, the style is now featured in other mediums—but this is only as of the 20th century. This style features simple designs, minimal details, and thick, bold outlines. This style was mostly worn by sailors, soldiers, and bikers well into the 1980s. American Traditional Tattooing paved the way for the neo-traditional artistry—losing its popularity as its counterpart became more prevalent.
Art Nouveau’s high time was from 1890 to 1910—a rather short time period given the circumstances. This style was featured in paintings, architecture, interior design, and even printed advertisements. It didn’t begin to appear in tattooing until the birth of neo-traditional Tattooing, several decades later. Art Nouveau takes its notes from Japanese culture and design. This particular form of artwork became a Western obsession as a direct result of the Japanese government sealing its borders—making Japanese culture a commodity. This art form blended Asian-inspired elements with vivid colors and Western tastes.
The third influence on the neo-traditional Tattoo was Art Deco. Art Deco saw its rise in the 1920s-1930s, the era of the flappers. The style was characterized by defined geometric shapes and strong color choices. Born of the pre-World War I France, the style found its home mostly in architecture and household décor—but dripped into paintings, jewelry, cars, and other luxury items. Today, art deco is mostly seen in prestigious cruise ships, hotels, and restaurants.
All of these qualities blended surprisingly seamlessly into the unique, luxurious tattoo style of neo-traditional. Touches of fine lace, pearl beading, and other luxurious details and textures mesh with different weights of black outlines, geometric shapes, and opulent borders and frames. Elements of nature are infused into the neo-traditional concept along with a surrealist impression of glamor and magnificence unlike anything tattooing had seen thus far. Today, Neotrad work is still extremely popular—dominating the pages of Pinterest with its beautiful, unique imagery.