Understanding the Origins of Neo-Traditional Tattoos

Neo-traditional tattoos are an intricate and eye-catching style. The style originated after the 1970s resurgence of tattooing and used thick lining, dimensional designs, and bright coloring.

Art Nouveau is an everyday inspiration for neo-traditional tattoos. The beauty and refinement of florals and graceful filigree-esque details adorning portraits are reminiscent of this artistic movement.

Art Nouveau

What is neo traditional tattoo style? It is a fashion rich in symbolism and meaning, frequently incorporating motifs like skulls, flowers, anchors, birds, and other well-known images. These recognizable symbols are more than ornamental features since they convey deeper meanings and individual significance. Neo-traditional tattoo designs have a rich history, unlike new school tattoos’ cartoonish and exaggerated aesthetics.

For example, the curved vegetal forms that characterize Art Nouveau represented the sexual reawakening at the time, with curves and rounded shapes appearing on women’s chests and buttocks. It also reflects the Japanese influence, whose woodblock prints broke down hierarchies between art and everyday culture.

Much like how new school artists began improving thick lines by incorporating bolder color choices, neo-traditional artists have focused on making the designs more realistic and detailed. It has led to a richer and more colorful tattoo aesthetic. Los Angeles and the West Coast have also played a prominent role in this evolution, with design inspiration leaning toward Native American patterns.

Art Deco

Although Neo-Traditional may sometimes seem a far cry from traditional tattooing, they align with many of the same fundamental techniques. Clear outlines, the importance of a black carbon barrier to hold color, and shared themes are some of the most common similarities. With Whistler’s gilded The Peacock Room and Alphonse Mucha’s posters and advertisements, Art Nouveau is the most famous artistic movement that has inspired Neo-Traditional tattoos.

The overlapping of organic shapes, stylized natural patterns, and motifs with more traditional faces, animals, and objects is one of the most distinctive elements of this tattoo style. 

Other popular neo-traditional motifs include a variety of flowers and different nature-inspired designs, as well as traditional portraits and iconic images like pin-up girls. Compass tattoos, thought to represent purposeful action and the right path or direction, are also a common feature of this style.

Native American

Across the globe, indigenous people have long used body art to identify themselves and their families. It was more than just body art; it signified tribal identity, marked rites of passage, reflected spiritual connections to the natural world, communicated healing medicine, and enhanced beauty.

Yupik tattooers make marks by threading fine strands of reindeer or whale sinew through pigment on a skin-colored cloth. They stitched them on with a needle made from bone or reindeer sinew. The resulting designs were often intricate and beautiful, like a warrior’s honor mark or the symbol of a young hunter’s first kill.

For example, a wolf tattoo is a powerful neo-traditional tattoo representing strength and power, a motif that Native Americans have a deep connection to. The eagle is another popular Native American tattoo that is a symbol of bravery and strength. Ultimately, neo-traditional tattoos are an excellent choice for those interested in honoring their heritage and the values of their tribes.


Mermaids are a common motif in neo-traditional tattooing. The mythical creatures, which have women’s heads and upper bodies and the lower bodies of fish, are found in folklore worldwide. In Greek legends, Sirens were mermaid-like creatures that sang beautiful and seductive songs to lure sailors to dangerous rocky cliffs, leading to many shipwrecks.

Likewise, the koi fish is often used in neo-traditional tattoos because of its vibrant colors and strong lines. The fish also symbolizes perseverance and strength in Japanese and Chinese culture.