Traditional Tattoos: A Complete Guide With 85 Images

Traditional tattoos are also called Western, American or Old School. They are mainly characterized by bright colors, black contours and minimal shading. The traditional tattoo has an iconic style highlighted by its characteristics, making it iconic and daring. Most traditional tattoos often depict roses, women, skulls, daggers, wolves or ships.

The traditional tattoo style entered American culture in the 1930s. They were used as a symbol representing the rebellion against the “dominant society” box. Sailor Jerry, whose official name was Norman Collins, was the pioneer of this tattoo style in Hawaii during the Second World War.

Traditional Tattoos
Traditional Tattoos

A brief history of traditional tattooing

Many people assume that Captain Cook’s explorations catalyzed the spread of the tattoo across the Western world. However, thanks to tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman who studied the history of tattooing deeply, we have another idea.

Judging from texts that date well before the middle of the 18th century, it seems that many scientists, authors and explorers were aware of the practice of permanently including a substance under the skin to mark it.

One of Cook’s peers, Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, wrote about the Marquesan inking he witnessed in 1791. According to the explorer, the European tattoo had similarities and contrasts with the Marquesan tattoo. Apparently, the European tattoo was not only common but of great antiquity.

The traditional tattoo was therefore built on the history of many countries and cultures. In traditional America, however, there are few reasons why it has flourished so much.

Sailors and soldiers were early adopters because of their constant travel to different countries. This allowed them to exchange new ideas and practices.

Soldiers in the American Civil War kept tattoos as symbols of protection and also used them to remind them of their loved ones. A major reason was also to mark their bodies to facilitate their identification if they were to die in wartime.


Common design topics

Towards the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century, flash sheets were exchanged and distributed via mail-order catalogs to help tattoo artists keep pace with the market.

These flash sheets were, in fact, a preservation of pieces that artists had been tattooing for years, even decades. The pieces were designs symbolizing courage and strength, religious iconography, pin-ups and much more.

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Typically, traditional tattoo designs depict animals, military badges, landscapes and shapes like hearts and stars. Each drawing has a specific meaning attached to it.

For example, tattoos of animals such as snakes or sharks symbolized strength, while animals such as swallows symbolized the desire to return. Many tattoo designs chosen reflect the personality of the wearer.

Visually, traditional tattoo styles have bold black lines and a specific use of pigment. European designs may have influenced the illustrative look, but bold black lines may have been a technique borrowed from tribal tattooers of the Polynesian or Native American people.

The carbon-based ink used keeps its shape for centuries, aging incredibly well. It also contributes to the clarity of the design.

Neo-Traditional Tattoos
Neo-Traditional Tattoos

Skills and techniques required for tattooing as a profession

There are four basic skills that you must learn as an artist and continue to develop. There are more techniques that are constantly evolving, but these four are the basic traditional techniques that any good tattoo artist knows and practices:

Line tattoo technique

The online tattoo technique is used to create basic shapes on the skin. The lines can be very thin or extremely thick. Lineage is a basic tattoo technique, but it is also one of the most important. The outline of traditional tattoo design depends on the line, hence its importance.

Tattoo Coloring Pages

Filling your drawing with color is called coloring. The technique may involve the use of black ink, but it is not necessary. Some artists use black ink only for shading.

The coloring is normally done as a mixture of dark to light colors, the tattoo artist working from one side to the other of the drawing. To prevent the dark colors from mixing with the light colors, the tubes, needles and other accessories must be cleaned each time the color changes.

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Tattoo Shading

Getting the right shading helps you create interesting images to see because of their depth. Shading is normally done in black ink and there are other techniques that artists use to create lighter or darker shadows.

It is not uncommon for a tattoo artist to mix black and white to create a personalized gray. Some artists choose to add more water or fluids to their black color.

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Tattoo Lettering

Having the skill to tattoo letters beautifully and precisely is an advantageous skill for any potential tattoo artist. Not everyone wants a complex design. Some people just prefer to have a word or letter on their skin.

Before you can incorporate letters into a tattoo, you need to understand concepts such as shape, fonts and spacing required to design words aesthetically.

Skull and Rose Tattoos

How to choose a suitable tattoo artist

The decision to get a tattoo is a huge decision and you should be able to trust the artist you choose because you are giving him an irreversible task. Before making this final decision, here are some tips for choosing the right tattoo artist:

Ask around you

Have you seen other people with traditional tattoos that you admire? Ask them where they got a tattoo and who made them. Word of mouth is always a very useful research tool.

Visit local studios

Find the studios that operate in your area. Don’t be too quick to make a decision when doing your research. If the studio or the artist’s work is not convincing enough, then they probably don’t suit you.

Go further and ask the artist for his portfolio so you can see some of his best work. If the wallet does not work sensational you, it’s likely that nothing else will.

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Go online

In the digital age, many tattoo artists are online. You can check out a studio website or even the social media pages of specific artists. See what work they have done and the clientele they have served before making the final decision.

Browse magazines and directories

If you don’t know where to start, you can make a list of salons to consult directly in directories and magazines. The fact that a tattoo shop appears in a magazine or directory does not mean that the publication approves the salon.

Browse different magazines and decide which ones you like, after which you can physically go find out.

Travel a little

Why not go to a different state to see what other choices exist? You can search for the nearest tattoo parlor, which would be an opportunity for you to be tattooed by some of the best artists from around the world. You can also take the opportunity to learn more about the trade as a client as well as to discover the latest trends in the industry.

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Do not rush

It can be tempting to go with the first good studio or artist you see, but it’s wise not to be too quick. A seemingly harmless decision made on impulse could leave you in a world of regret. The tattoos are permanent, so take your time and do your research.

Try to find out more about the artist of your choice and seek customer feedback to guide your decision.

Tips for choosing an appropriate design

Trying to restrict a traditional tattoo design can be confusing at best. If you’ve never had a tattoo before, there may be a million questions that cross your mind as you search for a suitable design.

The nervousness and occasional anxiety should not affect your decision-making season. Here are some tips that will help your decision to take some kind of direction:

Research, research and research A little more

Take a look at the different traditional models; there is bound to be something for everyone. Are there designs that come to mind? These may be specific colors that seem to catch your eye. Save all of your favorites and show them to your artist.

Choose a design to which you connect

As a beginner, you might be tempted to choose a design that looks good. You need a design with which you are ready to age. Getting a tattoo is a lifelong decision, so be sure to consider something dear to you.

Reflect your personality

If you are a cheerful person working with children, then this terrifying skull may not be a good option for you. Get a design that naturally reflects who you are as a person.

Take your time

It doesn’t hurt to make sure you’ve made the right choice. Take a step back and analyze your decision. You want to be absolutely sure that you don’t regret your choice 2 years later.

Word of mouth

Share your design with your friends. They may see something you missed or help you develop some ideas before you make the final decision. It’s always good to have another eye that you trust.

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