Neo Traditional Tattooing

The Neo Traditional tattoo style evolved from the Old School, or the American Traditional (hence the ‘Neo’), tattoo. The style is recognised by a wider array of bright colours that can often have a velvety feel or golden tint to them. They often draw inspiration from Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and the style movements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco and have an illustrative quality to them. They use a lot of the same techniques as American Traditional tattoos, but have their own very clear aesthetic and beyond the imagery of Traditional, they often portray lavish motives of flowers, portraits of women, and animals.

Varying line width

Neo Traditional kitty from Sean

Neo Trad kitty by Sean from Vivid Ink Birmingham

Aesthetically, Neo Traditional is can be quite far from the ‘old’ Traditional. The reason for the name is that it retains many of the techniques used in traditional tattooing. They both have strong line work and solid colours.

Line width in Traditional will usually have one thickness all the way through, but Neo will have varying line widths. Often an artist will use one thicker and one thinner line width, but there could be as many as four different sizes. But in both styles, there is always a black line that holds the colour inside. 

They both have a strong clarity in the composition, and because of that the designs often read well from far away. There is a lot of the same imagery, skulls, daggers, hearts, crosses, marine symbols, but also more lavish Art Nouveau-inspired designs. But you could essentially make any motive into a Neo Traditional tattoo by drawing it in that style. 

Wider array of colours

Whereas an American Traditional tattoo will have a limited palette and mostly make use of primary colours, the rendering of the colours of a Neo Traditional tattoo generally give them a little more dimension. Often there is also a light source for a sense of liveness. They make use of colours that were not available when ‘traditional’ tattooing first took off. You could get any colour you want, from bright primaries to more muted forest greens, earthy bronze tones and reds. The boldness and saturation of the colours lend themselves well to tattoo colour longevity.

Art Nouveau and Deco inspirations

Neo Traditional tattooing owes much to the movements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The former was prevalent in Europe around the previous turn of the century. It was influenced by artworks from the Far East, and its importance was not limited to art but also made its mark on architecture and interior design. Posters and graphic art from this period with portraits set against backgrounds of nature scenes and surrounded by ornate details are quite common in Neo Traditional tattoos. 

Art Deco took over from Art Nouveau as the style du jour (which in those times lasted slightly longer than today’s fashions). Prevalent in the 1920s and 30s, it was more stylised, more linear and somewhat more refined. It was born out of the exuberant and somewhat decadent energy that followed the depression after WWI. It is more this vibrancy and flair, rather than the structure of the style itself that has carried into Neo Traditional tattooing.