Separating the Traditional Tattoos from the Impostors

Separating the Traditional Tattoos from the Impostors

The tattoo of the month column here on my site highlights one of my favorite tattoos that I have recently had the pleasure of doing. In these columns, I then delve deeper into the makeup of the tattoo, what it is that makes it great; what it is that makes me love it so.

All of these tattoos have one thing in common. They are pure, unadulterated, traditional tattoos! There is just no two ways about it. In the last 23 years of my professional tattooing work as a Dallas tattoo artist, I have seen many styles come and go. I have seen many trends arise, and then die. I have seen the individual perspective of both artist and customer put forward. But all of these fall short, when compared to an American Traditional Black Panther tattoo, or a Traditional Japanese Dragon. There is just no way to beat images like these. They are the tried and true traditional tattoos that people are calling for.

As I am known for my traditional work, which I have practiced for the entirety of my career, I get a lot of calls for this type of tattooing. It is always a joy to open an email with a request for a red rose with a heart and a banner, a clipper ship, a Koi fish, or an Oni demon! There is just something about traditional tattoos that makes the art that I create a piece of history.

Tradition is My Vocation: The Artist Knows Best

But this is my job- and not the customers! The customer has spent their life on their chosen vocation- studying it, applying it, and attempting to perfect it, just as I have done with my work. So it is very often that the tattoo idea the customer comes to me with will not be streamlined yet to make a successful tattoo. That is where I do my job!

I help them to separate their good ideas from their bad. My tattoo artists have also done the same for me. You want to choose an artist who can hear you and visualize what you want, so that they can provide you what you need.
It is true that most tattoo artists will just say “okay,” no matter if your idea is good, bad, or otherwise. After all, it is not their job to talk; it’s their job to tattoo, right?

Well, if you miss the chance to connect with your customer, the work will only be half as strong as it could be. Similarly, if the customer is a mechanic, you wouldn’t want them designing the tattoo any more than you would want me working on your car. So you have to step up and help; you have to be a problem solver. I find this to be the most challenging part of my job and also the most rewarding.

When you look through my portfolio, you are learning about me, looking at my ideas as much as you are looking at the ideas of my customers. There is a standard to the work, a uniformity. I have worked the customers visions for many years, paid my dues. With this experience, I see now what it is that I believe to be a successful tattoo. I see it very clearly. And these successful traditional tattoos, are the tattoos that I want to do!

Deciphering and Navigating Pop Tattooing as a Dallas Tattoo Artist

Sometimes you have customer requests that come so far out of left field that you wonder how they thought that that would make a good tattoo. These ideas are just so far from what you would think of if you closed your eyes and tried to envision a tattoo. Often times these tattoos are never realized because no tattoo artist can, or wants to, turn this idea into a tattooable design. Worse still, someone gives it a shot and the customer has to live with the burden of explaining the overly creative tattoo to everyone who sees it, because nobody can understand it or can tell what it is.

More often, these days, the customers request is linked to a design or style that is heavily trending in the world of pop tattooing. What is pop tattooing? I may have just coined a phrase! Pop tattooing is the fad of the moment. It is not practiced by the masters of the craft. Customers with ten, twenty, thirty tattoos don’t get these kind of designs put on. These fads sometimes pass down from popular singers, actors, and celebrities. They are often chosen by eighteen year old girls, or by the customer coming to tattooing later in life. Designs like this have little to do with the ways tattoos have traditionally been drawn. They are often done in black outline only, and are usually comprised of lettering or simple symbols. Sometimes though, they can be very elaborate, which takes a trite and uninspired design and just makes it bigger! It is important to note as well, that these designs are usually pulled off google, printed, and slapped on without much care- making the application almost as poor as the design itself. Then, these customers are ridiculed for choosing to get what they got.

I think that it is a big part of my job to give people tattoos that will be looked up to, and never down upon. The customer does not really know that the design they found on google has been done over and over on every tattoo beginner in town. But I do. Therefore, it is my job to say something. To solve the problem. And to set about charting a course together for a tattoo that will be of a higher level- I must say it, a real tattoo.

In Search of the Real Tattoo

And so what is a real tattoo? It is a tattoo that looks like a tattoo, is drawn like a tattoo, and is shaded and colored like a tattoo. All of these looks have been handed down to us by the tattoo forefathers that came before. They used what worked, they discarded what did not. Collectively, and over a number of years, they distilled all the pictures in the world into a small elite group of very impactful\ designs. Designs imbued with so much meaning without even trying. We have all seen some of these designs!

  • The dagger piercing the Rose
  • The screaming eagle
  • The cherry blossom flower

There are many such designs- and yet, they are finite in number.It is not a free for all. It is a set of standards, it is traditional tattooing. Now all that is left to do is get them tattooed! Reinventing the wheel is not the way to go. Following the wisdom of the ages is the secret!

I had a strange experience while traveling recently. I saw a young hotel clerk with a tattoo on her forearm. Cool, right? Well, no… It was a larger triangle, intersected by a smaller triangle, with some smaller design work here and there.

I just thought, “Wow. that’s not a tattoo, man! That’s just a couple lines under the skin.”

There was nothing in that tattoo that had been passed down from our ancestry. It looked like a doodle a girl I used to know would do on her book covers while we sat in homeroom. What!?!? Why???
Having a tattoo used to be a key; it could get you into places heretofore off limits. It could put you inside, where once you were locked out. Traditional tattoos are still like this- but you have to have the right tattoo. It needs to look like you know what you are doing. That you know your history. That you belong. The girl with the triangle tattoo did not join us as a tattoo family. She simply had some markings on her skin. So close, and yet… so far away.

Alot of the help that I give in consultations is just fine tuning and editing. The customer is so close to having a perfect tattoo idea, but they have added one too many elements, or an element that does not belong, or they have become attached to a photo that they saw on the internet of inferior work. In these instances I can help to refine the idea, or, ask for the freedom to create a superlative design for the project, unburdened by the example that they found on the internet.


Traditional Tattoos by a Real Dallas Tattoo Artist

I am thrilled when my customers notice and appreciate all the thought and time I have put into their tattoo idea. They can see that I care, it makes them feel that they have the right man for the job. And when the piece is all said and done, they can see that they made the right choice in hiring an artist with vision. That it was wise of them to let go of control, and to trust in tradition.

And then, they venture out in the world, with this tattoo, this true tattoo that looks like a tattoo, and follows the rules of tattooing. They get compliment after compliment on it. It is done the way it is done for a reason. It has survived design Darwinism. It is a winner, successful every time. People are drawn to it. They ask “Who did that?” “Where did you get that done?”

They notice it out of the pack of all the other tattoos at the club, at the ballgame, or at the mall. It is one of the last of a dying breed. It is a real tattoo! If you are interested in traditional tattoos, visit a Dallas tattoo artist that can perfect the tattoo on your skin. Get in touch with me today to schedule a consultation.

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