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5 Underrated Tattoo Styles You Should Know About

Eagle Tattoo @taras_shtanko

With artists being able to put their work on the internet, there are so many different styles of tattoo designs and inspirations out there – from watercolor roses to delicate mini tattoos. Naturally, certain styles gain popularity while others become rarely requested in tattoo studios – that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be considered, though. 

Here is a list of some underrated tattoo styles out there:

1. Traditional American Tattoos

There’s a lot to admire about simple tattoos. They may have taken a back seat with the rising popularity of realistic tattoos with lots of tiny details, but there is still something attention grabbing about a well-done traditional tattoo. 

The use of the word “traditional” in this context refers to old school American and sailor tattoos. Roses, hearts, anchors, and portraits with well-defined outlines and bright hues.

Old School Tattoo @oldworkers

One pioneer of this tattoo style was Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins, who passed away in the 1970s. 

The Sailor Jerry website explains,

“Old-school tattoos are rooted in the American serviceman’s interpretation of traditions and symbols that go back thousands of years. Every tattoo or ‘Flash’ is a personal statement but there are certain common meanings.”

A popular image in this tattoo school is the swallow. Years ago, a swallow tattoo on a sailor would mean that he had sailed 5000 miles and returned – quite a mean feat for a sailor back in the early 1900s.

Related Post: What Does Your Swallow Tattoo Say About You?

Swallow Tattoo @debbiejonestattoos

Another popular depiction in this tattoo style is the bird representation of America: the eagle.

“For Sailor Jerry, as a patriot who was acutely aware of (and vocal about) the shortcomings of his country, the eagle was a symbol of his idealized America … Jerry’s eagle tattoos are fierce and iconic, often depicted in association with the flag.” 

For more on bird tattoos, click here.

2. Neo Traditional Tattoos

A natural evolution from traditional American tattoos is the neo traditional style. 

This school of tattooing takes the basics of old school depictions and adds modern twists, such as contemporary colors, technical designs, and new application ideas.

Dragon Tattoo @rodrigokalaka

As Tattoodo points out, the distinct line work and vibrant colors of traditional American tattoos are still seen in the neo traditional style, but with an influence of Art Nouveau and Art Deco aesthetics.

“Pieces done in this style are known for their lush, decorative details as well as the use of natural imagery such as florals and animals.”

3. Tribal Tattoos

Tattooing has been a part of certain cultures for centuries. In fact, the word “tattoo” comes from the Polynesian word for “to tap or mark something”: tatao, tattow, tatu or ta-tau. This word came to the western world following Captain Cook voyages to Tahiti where he witnessed tattooing as a cultural practice.

Tribal Sleeve Tattoo @argentina.black

In recent years, hyper realistic styles of tattooing, some featuring vibrant colors while others focus mainly on gray shading, have become very popular. However, the positive and negative, skin against stark black style of tribal tattoos is still eye-catching.

The different patterns of tribal tattoos hold different meanings, so it is important to do your research before getting inked. As Authority Tattoo explains,

“Different cultures have their own techniques and designs for their tattoos, and some still use their art to depict social status, family identification and rites of passage. In certain cultures, tribal tattoos are used for what people believe are medicinal benefits, while in others, they are drawn to represent a rite of passage.”

Tribal Forearm Tattoo @desmond_neil

To read more about tribal tattoos, click here.

4. Blackout And Neo Tribal Tattoos

Just getting one portion of your skin colored in with black ink isn’t the only way to approach this style of tattooing. While it has been used to cover up tattoos and to get the effect of your skin being completely painted, the style has evolved to incorporate some interesting designs that take inspiration from tribal tattoos.

Intricate links and dot work can be incorporated, resulting in a stark contrasting effect, giving rise to a different moniker, neo tribal tattoos.

Blackout Tattoo @alexa_zeitel

“A style has evolved often referred to as neo-tribal, where artists are inspired by the deep roots of the body art tradition but often with a more contemporary feel. Tattooists across the globe are merging their own individual style with ancient, tribal symbolism, creating pieces that are rich in heritage and meaning. They can often be incredibly aesthetically pleasing,”

Vivid Ink Tattoos

As with tribal tattoos or any tattoo designs with a cultural history, it is important to do your research to figure out exactly what your chosen design means.

Another important point to consider when getting a large portion of your skin covered with black ink is that it could be difficult to see skin conditions on your natural skin.

Blackout Sleeve Tattoo @samtokelytattoo

When it comes to complete blackout tattoos – no design, just black ink over your arms or legs – Byrdie points out that this can be construed as cultural appropriation,

“While blackout tattoos may not have originated as a way to purposely darken your skin, that is exactly what they do. And it’s difficult to ignore the fact that choosing to darken your skin in any capacity as a non-Black person is problematic, particularly when Black folks face daily discrimination because of their complexion.”

5. Freestyle Tattoos

Usually, when you decide to get a tattoo, you find a design you’re inspired by, visit an artist whose work you love, create a design that you want on your body forever, get it stenciled, and then comes the ink. Would you forgo these steps?

Freestyle Dragon Tattoo @freestyletattoostudio

If so, you might consider a freestyle, or free hand, tattoo. With no previous sketches to guide them, the artist draws your tattoo directly onto your skin.

One artist that focuses on this style is Jay Freestyle, a tattoo artist in Amsterdam. His bold and bright designs are done completely unprepared. As he explains,

“Give me a piece of your skin and I’ll give you a piece of my soul.”

If you choose this style, you’ve got to really love your chosen tattoo artist’s work. Make sure to view their portfolio before making this decision. 

Freestyle Tattoo @jayfreestyle

When it comes to choosing a new tattoo, dig a little deeper than the most popular designs that are having their moment in the sun – you might just find a style that speaks to you. Just because it doesn’t speak to the whole world, it doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

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