Quick Guide to American Traditional Tattoo

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An introduction guide about the Traditional American Ink or Traditional Tattoo Style

The American Traditional Tattoo or also known as the traditional tattoo style is one of the most recognizable and iconic styles of tattoos in the world. It is also known as Old School or Traditional, this style of tattooing perfectly represents American freedom and its long and rich history of tattooing in the country. And, that’s why at Joan Zuniga Tattoo we love doing any traditional work!

Origins of Traditional Tattoo Style

Before the ’30s, tattooing in America was pretty much limited to those who lived in the fringes of society. Like those who performed in circuses and soldiers coming back from War. It wasn’t until WWII when tattooing in the US burst into popularity, thanks in part to the legendary tattoo artist Norman Collins, or more famously known as Sailor Jerry.

Like service members assigned in Hawaii would find themselves in Sailor Jerry’s shop in Honolulu, who created designs based on nautical themes and iconic Americana symbols. A former Navy veteran himself, Sailor Jerry would tattoo images of ships, anchors, animals, and women on the arms, backs, and shoulders of these shoulders. Not only did the designs represent their patriotism or their loved ones. But part of the tradition of service members getting tattoos was to make it easier to identify their bodies if they lost their lives in War.

From then on, tattoos in America gained popularity. The iconic style we know of today was brought to you by the works of Sailor Jerry, Don Ed Hardy, Mildred Hull, Lyle Tuttle, and Bert Grimm.

The Traditional American Tattoo Style

These tattoos always have bold, thick outlines, complemented by blocks of saturated primary colors. These colors are mostly limited to a seven-color palette, with black being the first and most important. Some of the other colors used were red, blue, yellow, brown, purple, and green, with black shading. With minimal use of shading is intended to create a 2-dimensional image rather than a realistic 3D tattoo. The images are flat and bold and framed by a black outline, with some tattoos bearing names and quotes.

In the early days of tattoo shops, artists would present “Traditional Tattoo Flash” to clients who would choose their designs from ready-made drawings. These designs will be typical Conventional Tattoo images. However, the standard in today’s tattoo industry is never to copy someone else’s work. Tattoo pieces that the artist initially designs, these “Flashes,” presented an introduction to Traditional Tattoo designs that bore iconic images.

guide to american traditional tattoo

Common Themes and Images of Traditional American Tattoo

Traditional tattoos, as mentioned earlier, are some of the most recognizable. Because, aside from the clear guidelines in the syle, themes are pretty standard. Some of the most common Old School imagery include the following:

  • Nautical Themes

Popularized by Sailor Jerry, nautical themes include pirate ships, anchors, the vintage diving girl, and the lighthouse. The compass is also another iconic Traditional American tattoo design, symbolizing freedom, living life on your terms, and heading in the right direction in life.

  • Pin-Up Girl

The pin-up girl is one of the most iconic traditional tattoos in the world. Until today, many people still have pin-up girls tattoed on their bodies. In WWII, the pin-up girl was popular as sailors, and service members would spend months far from home and away from their wives, girlfriends, and women, in general.

  • Animals

The soaring American eagle with its wings spread out is a traditional American tattoo seen on the chest and backs of many American soldiers. It also symbolizes freedom, patriotism, and power. Other popular animal tattoos depicting traditional American styles include the panther, tiger, lion, swallow, bear, snake, owl, shark, and many others.

The Bottom Line

Though Old School tattoos may look simple, it takes a skilled artist to pull off these detailed designs. There are specific guidelines to making a Traditional American Tattoo. If you unfollow some standards, they can deviate from the style and create something that’s not authentically Traditional or Americana. Some new school artists merge modern styles with the traditional, and others do new styles like black and grey traditional known as blackwork. Still, the main techniques of bold, black outlines, saturated primary colors, and the 2-dimensional aesthetic must always be in place.

At Joan Zuniga Tattoos, you will find one of the very best traditional american tattoo artists near Fayetteville, NC, that knows Traditional Tattoo techniques like the back of his hand. He is well known for clean, solid, and bold lines. Joan creates masterfully done Old School tattoos rich in American culture, traditions, and flawless artistic style.

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