You can get a tattoo done in literally hundreds of art styles, varying from artist to artist, but a few really stand out as memorable. Some are steeped in a complex historical past, while others seem to have no rhyme and reason at all, and simply popped up out of nowhere! We’re going to be going over these memorable tattoo styles and inspecting what kind of meanings they have. Each style also has different types of tattoo techniques, which we will be looking at as well. Whether you are looking for an art style for yourself, looking into expanding your technique, or simply interested in tattoo styles—this article should satisfy your curiosity!
New School Tattoo Styles
New School is, undoubtedly, the most popular tattoo style of this time period. It evolved from a more traditional tattoo style after the art of tattooing became more popular and demand for high-quality tattoos rose dramatically. Although they appear more complex than more traditional tattoos, they can still be quite quick to receive. This style imitates the work of airbrush artists, quickly constructing a color image with smooth shading and just enough color to get the image across. You hardly need numbing cream, since the needle set barely grazes your skin in some areas. The lines are thick and the characters will have larger heads, humongous eyes, and exaggerated features. New School tattoos for men have an emphasis on darker lines and shading, but are otherwise about the same. Because of the way they work, blending more than one color together at a time can be tricky business.
Traditional Tattoo Styles
Traditional tattoo styles got their start in…Hawaii! Tattoos were popular enough that sailors visiting the area just had to get a tattoo as a souvenir. We came to know these tattoos as Sailor Jerry Tattoos, and there is already a huge article and gallery that details these tattoos! Tattoo machines had been recently invented, allowing tattoo artists to give a crisp tattoo in a short amount of time. While lidocaine cream was not around to stave off the pain, plenty of aftercare tattoo ointment existed to stave off infection at this time. These traditional tattoo styles normally had a steady line width and a minimal amount of colors that would fill areas of the tattoo. The only extra colors used were red, green, and blue—although red was undeniably used more than the other three combined. These tattoos focused on sailing motifs, which includes sparrows, pin-ups, anchors, sailing ships, eagles, roses with knives, and more.
Traditional and Neo Japanese Tattoo Styles
Traditional Japanese tattoo styles have some themes and standards that are very set-in-stone. They have two types of ink, maximum—black and red—and the inks were always solid, with no shading. The art of tattoing is called irezumi, and there are many other words reserved just for tattoo terminology. Tattoos that are just the linework, with no shading and detail, are called sujibori. There is a distinction between hand-tattooing and machine tattooing, with hand-tattooing remaining the most prevalent technique among many tattoo artists, for tradition’s sake.
Neo Japanese tattoos shake things up by using the same themes and motifs that Japanese tattoos use and illustrating them with a more modern, American style. The images look less like a wall scroll and more like a typical American tattoo, despite the fact that the poses and subject matter are the same. This can be accomplished by making the tattoo’s subject more realistic, adding in gradiated shading, and throwing in tons of colors with gradients. None of these things are present in traditional Japanese tattoo styles, but Neo Japanese tattoo styles can get away with it because they still retain the incredible detail that Japanese tattoos are known for.
Illustrative Tattoo Styles
After New School tattoo styles, illustrative tattoo styles should be what you are most familiar with. It has just as many colors as it needs, along with lines that look like they could be a drawing on a piece of paper. If the tattoo has colors, then mixing them is no problem, and the shading will be gradiated. If the tattoos are black and white, they will feature minimal shading, if it includes shading at all. Many tattoo artists choose to stipple instead of using gradiated shading, allowing these monochrome tattoos to match far longer than they otherwise would. With unique tattoo designs, there is no precedent for what a tattoo should look like, so tattoo artists can take artistic liberties with their illustrative tattoo style.
Modern Tattoo Styles
A Modern tattoo style does not necessarily refer to what’s currently in style. The modern art movement started in the early 20th century and expanded as new technology and printing methods became available. Modern tattoos imitate this style, which focuses heavily on color, line work, printing technique, and the form of the art itself. Black and red—the two standard colors of text printing—are prevalent. The black part of the tattoo will look as if it was painted onto the skin, and sometimes artists even include a bit of ink spatter or trails to emphasize the grungy look.
Shading can be done through halftones or by cell shading. Halftones were invented to allow for shading in print magazines while using only one to three colors available in most printers. Everything is made up of dots that gradually get farther and smaller from each other as the color gets ‘lighter.’ Cell shading uses solid colors and inks, without blending anything at all, which is a common technique in comics that had the same printing restrictions, but didn’t like the way halftones would blend the colors. Modern tattoos could also have prominent text in typewriter fonts, along with a general appearance of being stamped. Artists use specialized tattoo chairs and tattoo beds to deliver the best experience to their client.
As you can tell, these styles are just scratching the surface of what’s possible in the tattoo world. With hundreds of tattoo artists, you get hundreds of tattoo styles! Tattoos are a form of art, so it makes sense that there are so many different styles and techniques. The history behind each style doesn’t matter quite as much as the aesthetic of the tattoo design. When picking a style for your tattoo design, be sure to go with the one you enjoy looking at—that’s the most important part of a tattoo’s style, after all!
Read Also: What Tattoo Should I Get?
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