The New School Tattoo
New School Animal Tattoos
One of the most popular concepts seen in New School Tattooing is the use of animals as the focal point. These creatures are designed as caricatures of themselves. Generally, they’ll include a large, oversized head, exaggerated features, and large, bubbly eyes. In some cases, the animals are inked in their natural hues, however, most times you’ll see them in unnatural, neon colors.
The most frequently seen animals are owls, cats, ducks, bats, and dogs—but no animal is truly safe from the cartoonish style that is the New School Tattoo. Everything from sloths to reindeer have been seen in this bubbly flair.
New School Graffiti Tattoos
Script has been a big thing in the tattoo industry for many years, but when the New School Tattoo designs began to hit the streets, words took on a whole new format. They were more than just words, they became art. Replicating the flamboyant style featured in street graffiti work, short phrases and single words became vibrant statement pieces. Featuring curved, bubbly edges, bright, bold color choices, and intricate lighting sources—this style quickly became popular with those enamored with pop art of the 80s and 90s.
New School Portrait Tattoos
Unlike conventional Portrait Tattoo work, New School Portraits aren’t as realistic as they are caricaturized. Similar to the portraits you can get drawn up for twenty bucks at the street fair, a New School Portrait Tattoo will generally home in on one or two main features of a person, making them the focal point of the image. Bright, bold coloring is used alongside solid black outlines, which aren’t utilized in standard portraits. Often, a New School Portrait Tattoo is accompanied by a complementary pop of color in the background, making the dramatic color choices all the more intense.
New School Skull Tattoos
One common element featured throughout most tattoo styles is the human skull. Carried over from the style’s American Traditional roots, New School Skull Tattoos are often exaggerated in anatomy—featuring larger than life eye sockets or enlarged foreheads. Funky, highlighter-style colors often accompany this subject matter. Fashionable hats, mustaches, and cigarettes are often featured in more masculine style tattoos while feminine New School Skulls will don brightly colored hair bows, eyelashes, or gemstones.
Human skulls aren’t the only subject falling under this subheading—animal skulls and sugar skulls are also extremely popular in New School Tattoo Designs.
New School Cartoon Tattoos
Perhaps the most famed element of New School Tattooing is the cartoon character. As cartoons were one of the driving forces behind the New School Tattoo Design, it’s no surprise that those favoring the style seem drawn to them as the actual subject matter for their tattoos. Everything from Disney characters to old school Looney Tunes have appeared in this audacious style of tattoo, with more modern characters beginning to creep in as the style continues to grow and change with the times.
The cartoon-style of New School Tattoos does not stop with actual television cartoon characters. You can find everything from popsicles to spark plugs cartooned within the New School style.
While some styles are easy to pinpoint their beginnings, the New School Tattoo’s origins are a bit more of a mystery. It is believed that the style began to appear in the 1970s, but in its early format. The form we recognize the most today really grabbed its foothold in the 1990s, as bright colors and funky patterns became the mainstream notion in music, television, art, and fashion.
The style itself truly began to emerge thanks to the changes in the society around it. Mainstream media began to lean toward cartoony, bubbly designs in the 1980s, with comics and cartoons taking the top of the pop culture pyramid. Graffiti became an angsty-teen obsession while vivid colors trickled into the high-class runways across the world. As the conventional idea of fashion began to grow bolder and tattooing became more prevalent, it was only natural that the tattoo industry would begin to see an evolution of style. American Traditional, most popular from the 1960s to the 1990s, began to warp and bend as customers began to request new, inventive spins on traditional concepts.
Leaning on its predecessors, the New School Tattoo followed many of the existing rules of tattooing. It borrowed the thick black outlines from the American Traditional tattoo, while using an alternative color palette like the Neotraditional Tattoo and sticking with the large-scale storytelling of the Traditional Japanese Tattoo.
Themes of the New School Tattoos themselves were often that of pop cultural icons blended with the latest trends. Everything from old school cartoons, like Betty Boop, to television shows like Fresh Prince of Bel Air began to get worked into brightly colorful, broad pieces. Of course, as the designs began to grow in popularity, the New School Tattoo became the artwork of choice for many different themes, including animals, celebrity portraits, and wording.
While referred to as New School, this particular style of tattooing is actually a few decades old. Coming in hot off the American Traditional fad, this unique style took nods from several different popular tattoo styles during the 1970s-1990s—American Traditional, Neotraditional, and Japanese Traditional. Of course, these weren’t the only influences that found their way into the New School Tattoo Design. As the style grew and twisted into its own format, it adopted elements from pop culture—cartoons, graffiti, anime, video games, graphic novels, and fine art styles.
Early versions of New School were focused on bubbly, cartoony elements in regular color palettes, but as colors throughout the mainstream media and fashion worlds began to pop with even more vibrant tones, the tattoo industry followed suit. New pigments of ink began to surface, creating a playground of color options for tattoo artists across the industry. Neon and highlighter colors began to surface, and the New School Tattoo became a rainbow of assorted effervescent color selections.
The New School Tattoo continued to evolve, but yet maintained many of the core elements from each of the tattooing styles it idolized. The thick black outlines from the American Traditional Tattoo were featured in every New School Tattoo, while the large-scale storytelling of the Neotraditional Tattoo was prominent, as well. It was perhaps the Japanese designs that seeped into this new format of tattooing, though, although not in the manner you would think. When it came to pulling elements from Japanese art culture, the New School Tattoo not only pulled from the Traditional Japanese Tattoo, but leaned into the newer forms of art, such as television anime, manga, comic books, and more.
New School Tattooing enveloped an entire new world into its fold, giving anime fans a style of tattooing that would fit their needs. Television shows such as DragonBall-Z, Pokemon, and Sailor Moon gave way to new color schemes and cartoon-like anatomy. New School tattooers found themselves inundated with clients requesting caricaturized objects and people, with insane color palettes and vivid imagery. These designs featured much more rounded edges, flowing elements, and happier themes than the Traditional styles of tattooing. Even simple words and phrases began to develop a new personality, being inked in big, bouncy lettering similar to that of street graffiti art instead of the stiff lettering featured in the earlier styles of tattooing.
New School also gave birth to a more feminine style of tattooing as colors like hot pink and electric purple were introduced to the industry in an audacious and gallant format. Gemstones, bows, and animals with large eyelashes featured in brilliantly girly scenes and caricatures of well-endowed females with pouty lips and big, blue eyes gave women their own unique edge on tattooing that hadn’t been seen before. It was like all things girl power rolled into a tattoo design and led into the era of Spice Girls, Power Puff Girls, and Sailor Moon.
While not as popular as it once was, New School Tattooing is now often linked to childhood nostalgia, with 90s cartoons playing a big part in the imagery of the style. Comic book heroes, cartoon characters, and video game themes show up frequently. Household items, such as number 2 pencils, spray cans, and popsicles, tend to be envisioned as bendy, fluid beings—usually with eyes and a mouth. All of which hint to the client’s earlier childhood days.