have an obsessive interest in tattoos, but dare not have one. They’re an art form all of their own, and the popularity appears to keep rising.
Preserved tattoos on ancient mummified human remains reveal that tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for many centuries. In 2015, scientific re-assessment of the age of two tattooed mummies identified Ötzi as the oldest. This body, with 61 tattoos, was found embedded in glacial ice in the Alps, and was dated to 3250 BCE. In 2018, the oldest figurative tattoos in the world were discovered on two mummies from Egypt which are dated between 3351 and 3017 BCE.
Here's a quick rundown on the major tattoo styles of the contemporary tattoo scene.
When it comes to selecting the right style for a brand-new tattoo, it is important to know how to talk the talk before just walking into a shop and requesting some flash off the wall. That's why we thought it would be helpful to give you our insider perspective on the most prominent tattoo styles in the industry today. After reading this, you'll be able to tell a traditional piece from a Japanese one at a glance, distinguish between neo-traditional and new school without breaking a sweat, and see the differences in blackwork and tribal designs without batting an eye.
The traditional style, also called old school tattoo style, American traditional tattoo style, classic tattoo style or Western traditional tattoo style, is known for its bold lines, bright colours, and iconic designs like roses, anchors, and gorgeous lady heads. This style of tattooing is one of the most well-known and beloved aesthetics within the tattoo community.
Realism or Realistic Tattoo Style
Though classic realism has been a part of the fine art since as far back as the Renaissance, it only found its way to the world of tattoos recently, cropping up around the latter half of the 20th century. Since then, this new tattoo style has become increasingly refined and extremely popular. As it now stands, you can find jaw-dropping colour and black and grey portraits of as well as realistic depictions of nature and just about anything else imaginable, even the surreal.
Watercolour Tattoo Style
The watercolour style is currently in vogue. It's in extremely high demand by the most recent generation of tattoo enthusiasts, who seem to be looking for modern tattoo types to match the new millennium. It looks like what it sounds like, as if rendered with a brush dabbled in watery pastels. However, looks can be deceiving, while it's easy to create this aesthetic when working with actual watercolours on paper or canvas, doing it with ink on the human body is no simple feat. Still, artists make all sorts of whimsical and poetic pieces using this innovative approach to tattooing.
Tribal Tattoo Style
Tribal tattoos — i.e. indigenous body art — are the oldest in the world, dating back thousands of years. This style should actually be thought of as multiple styles or more so different traditions of tattooing from aboriginal communities all around the globe. These diverse and beautiful styles are frequently referred to under the umbrella term ‘tribal,’ but to the trained eye, Polynesian body art is distinctive from Marquesan or Maori tattoos, just like tattoos on Inupiaq matriarchs' faces are different from those found on Berber women. Though these styles are all unique, they are somewhat similar— almost always done in black with elaborate patterns.
Neo-Traditional Tattoo Style
Neo traditional, as the name implies, is an evolution of the traditional style. It features the core properties of its predecessor, like pronounced line work and extremely vibrant colours but it also has an illustrative quality to it. This is because Neo-traditional artists are highly influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco aesthetics. The main difference between traditional tattoos and neo-traditional tattoos is that neo-traditional tattoos often have a broader colour palette and a broader range of motifs.
Japanese Tattoo Style
The traditional Japanese style, aka Irezumi, originated during the Edo period (1603-1868) alongside ukiyo-e — woodblock prints that were hugely popular among the merchant class at the time. Because of this, the icons found in this time-tested genre of body art come from the country's age-old folklore, featuring tattooed heroes from the Suikoden and mythological creatures like dragons, kirins, and phoenixes. In short, every tattoo done in this style tells a story about Japan's rich past, and beyond their dramatic smoke and wave filled appearance, this is what makes Irezumi masterpieces so powerful.