Neo-Traditional Tattoos in Los Angeles, a Short History

Neo-Traditional Tattoos in Los Angeles, a Short History

Nov 25 , 2022

Digital Team

Tattoos are one of the best ways to express yourself. After all, tattoos are solid and permanent statements of your unique identity.  With a wide variety of tattoo styles to choose from, just about anyone can find one that suits their taste and personal style. Techniques, such as American traditional, stick and poke, black and gray, fine line, and blackwork tattoos, are popular today. However, the tattoo style that continues to evolve and stands out is the neo-traditional tattoo style.

What Are Neo-Traditional Tattoos?

Neo-Traditional Tattoos in Los Angeles

Developed in the 1980s, neo-traditional tattoos are relatively new to the tattoo scene. What makes them stand out is the flexibility of design choices and the extensive power it provides the artist through creative freedom. Whether you seek an animal tattoo, portraits of people, or artful renditions of objects meaningful to you, the neo-traditional style is ideal. However, its perfect execution depends heavily on the artist's ability to conform to the principles of the neo-traditional style. 

The simplest definition of neo-traditional tattoos is that it is a style that provides a modern take on traditional American designs. What sets the neo-traditional style apart is the additional  design elements available today, such as color, intricate details, finer lines, and startling highlights. 

Neo-traditional tattoos have more depth than American traditional tattoos. That is, they have an appearance that is more 3D than traditional American tattoos. To distinguish neo-traditional styles, look for the following traits common to most examples:

  • Use of black ink
  • Clean lines, which may vary throughout the tattoo
  • Bold outlines
  • Minimal shading on details
  • Fewer but saturated colors in highlights

American Traditionalist Style: The Genesis of the Neo-Traditional Style

American Traditionalist Style: The Genesis of the Neo-Traditional Style

An understanding of neo-traditional tattoos can't start without mentioning their roots. Suppose you see a tattoo that you usually would associate with old-timey sailors, such as an anchor or a boldly-rendered eagle. In that case, you are likely looking at a tattoo of the traditional American style.

American traditional tattoos are characteristically two-dimensional with bold and defined lines. They also have little color variations with no shading. Though the style is dated, these are still quite popular today and are the foundation of the neo-traditionalist style.

Traditional tattoos can be traced back to early 18th-century sailors. These tattoos reflected their travels and the cultures they encountered, and they admired the artwork they found in their travels. Some traditional tattoo styles today can be traced back to designs that adorned pirates.

Traditional tattoos were also popular in many cultures as a form of rebellion and to show individualism or their lifestyle. 

From its early inception to the present time, traditional tattoos have evolved into forms of fine art. By the 20th century, the traditional style had incorporated other sources of inspiration and new techniques as tattoos were adopted by a more mainstream audience. This was due in large part to the introduction of the first electric tattoo machines.

American traditional tattoos became more known for their straightforward style. As mentioned, they are characterized by bold lines and a few contrasting colors, mostly using saturated tones and bold shading. Because of the technical limitations of tattoo machines, traditional American tattoos typically have fewer details. By the 1970s, this tattoo style was gaining popularity with mainstream culture, not just with sailors. Soon blue-collar workers, soldiers, and people from all walks of life, especially fringe society types, started getting tattoos as a form of rebellion, individualism, and a sign of prosperity. 

By the 1970s, as more people got their tattoos, styles, such as American flags, skulls, and animals, especially eagles, grew in popularity. At the time, traditional American tattoos were the most intricate option. Though the choices of colors widened through the decades, the color palette was still limited. However, bolder shades and more design patterns became popular as more colors became available. 

The Rise of Neo-Traditionalism

The Rise of Neo-Traditionalism

Los Angeles and the West Coast substantially contributed to the rise of neo-traditional tattoos. West Coast artists helped give rise to the neo-traditional style by improving the thick lines involved in monochrome inking by employing exceptional colors and designs. Unlike the "new school" tattoo style, which focused on pop culture subjects such as cartoons, these West Coast artists looked toward Native American traditions for motivation. This period in Los Angeles and Southern California also gave birth to the Chicano tattoo style that reflected Aztec and religious inspirations.  Though, it is important to note that the Chicano tattoo style evolved into its own distinct style.  

With modern tattoo machines being more widely available to artists, they could now experiment with various colors, line widths, and shading techniques to improve the traditional American style. 

The Rise of Neo-Traditionalism

Neo-traditional tattoos are highly technical. Though there are variations in choices of colors and widths for lines, black borders are still a key element of neo-traditional tattoos. The art nouveau movement heavily influenced neo-traditional aesthetics. Natural themes were prevalent, as well as the influence of Japanese culture, whose compositions were embraced by the art deco movement. Today, traditional Japanese artwork is sometimes present in neo-traditional tattoos.

Neo-Traditional Tattoos Today

Neo-Traditional Tattoos Today

Neo-traditionalism is one of the most popular styles today among tattoo artists and enthusiasts because of its wide variety of styles, its substantial cuts, vibrant colors, and the popularity of themes they can adopt. The influence of older design cues from traditional American tattoos is still present, and highly visible. On the other hand, with neo-traditional tattoos, design choices are more flexible and can approach realism by allowing for varied line thicknesses in portraits including animal tattoos.

The details contained in each tattoo make them stand out. Their vibrant and whimsical quality makes these tattoos eye-catching. Moreover, artists can now create more realistic portraits, especially with improved tattoo machines and the quality of inks available.

Neo-traditional tattoos today have further evolved to feature smoother and continuous transitions in colors and lines. Tattoos belonging to this style have more depth which couldn't be achieved in the past. 

Neo-Traditional Tattoo Examples You Can Adopt

These are a few of the most popular neo-traditional designs in our Los Angeles tattoo shop. However, we work closely with our clients to create a unique design that can either be a combination of these styles or something exceptional.

Neo-Traditional Tattoo Examples You Can Adopt

Animal Portraits:

Themes, such as eagles, tigers, and other wild animals, are the mainstay of American traditional and neo-traditional tattoos.  However, the neo-traditional style can include a wider variety of animals that are not generally seen in the American traditional style.   




Neo-Traditional Tattoo Examples You Can Adopt

Portraits of People:

With the improvements in tattoo machines and the broader selection of inks available to artists, more realistic renditions of portraits are now possible.




Japanese-themed Tattoos

Japanese-themed Tattoos:

One artistic movement that characterizes neo-traditional tattoos is adopting traditional Japanese themes, which take natural designs.




Natural Themes tattoo shop los angeles

Natural Themes:

Flowers, plants, and natural themes are popular neo-traditional tattoo designs. With the flexibility of the latest tattoo machines, more depth can be achieved for these tattoos.




Skulls and Dark-Themed Designs

Skulls and Dark-Themed Designs:

Another popular tattoo design theme for neo-traditional tattoos, is dark themes surrounding death. Whether the recipient of the tattoo belongs to the gothic subculture or they just love the profound expression provided by these themes, the neo-traditional style is a perfect fit.




Conclusion: Neo-Traditionalism Combines Art, Technology, and Conventional American Tattooing


Neo-Traditionalism Combines Art, Technology, and Conventional American Tattooing

Today, neo-traditional tattoos are trendy because they can provide enthusiasts with the most aesthetically pleasing artwork. Technology and the artist's skill combine to create works worth having on your body for a lifetime because of their solid lines and vibrant colors. Neo-traditional tattoos are not just a trend but an exceptional style with a deep philosophy and rich history. Because of the cost of tattoos and body modification, traditional tattoos and neo-traditional styles have become a sign of prosperity in our current culture as much as they are about individualism and style. People such as law enforcement officers, soldiers, medical professionals, attorneys, judges, and actors and models, are now adorned with tattoos, not only fringe of society types. Our artists are enthusiastic proponents of this style. To see the best variety of neo-traditional tattoos available, check out our artists' work on Instagram and visit our tattoo style page. They are like-minded individuals who share your passion for creating the best tattoos that reflect your character and personal style. Book an appointment now, or call us at (323) 879-9407.