Traditional American Tattoos

What Makes a Traditional Tattoo?

The traditional American tattoo has a very distinct look that is unique to the medium of tattooing. The subject matter and the execution are both very important aspects of this art. Let's take a quick look at the subject matter now.

Each modern and true traditional tattoo image has its precedent in the tattoos of an earlier America. Many of these designs have been in use from the turn of the 20th century. Since then, the imagery has been tried and tested. Design Darwinism destroyed the weaker designs. The strong designs got tattooed over and over again.

These strong designs were then offered in different configurations, different sizes, and for different parts of the body. Each tattooist painted up his own tattoo flash, or design sheets, to provide choices for his customers and to show off his skill. And so the strange art of the traditional tattoo proliferated.

Today, we stay true to these roots of the early American tattoo design base. I consider myself a student of these images, and a devotee of them as well as a practitioner of them. The more I study them, research them, draw them, and tattoo them, the more I realize that all of our human tattoo needs are well served by this relatively small group of designs. 

The dagger piercing the rose, the clipper ship sailing homeward bound, the rock of ages, the black panther, the red rose. In just this tiny handful of tattoo designs already the complete poetry of it's meaning is evident. Each mysterious design contains so much emotion, so much power, so much expression. This a complete language. It's incredible when I think about it!

As for the execution of the American traditional tattoo, it is a look that really puts itself out there! It is brave, uncomplicated, and obvious. It does not rely on sleight of hand, or fancy tricks or complications. It is honest. Bold. Straightforward. Wholly American!

In literal and more explanatory terms, the traditional tattoo is presented with a foundation of bold black outlines. This provides clarity to the piece. It should be crisp and clean, and yet, imbued with energy and humanity. There should be no question as to what is pictured. There is an instant and powerful recognition when looking upon a traditional tattoo drawing or outline.

Then, in a look that is so intrinsic to tattooing, that strong black shading is added to the corners or extremities of the piece. This beautiful shading starts off black and breaks up into a series of dots as it thins and lightens as it expands. The tools are visible in the work. It is a joy to see the tiny needle marks, the stroke of the tattoo machine, in these marks on the skin. This is just one subtle beauty of tattooing.

Next, solid color is added to the open, empty areas of the piece, and into it's details. A limited color pallete is often used. This is a nod to early American tattooing as well, as few colors were available to early tattooists. A good deal of skin is left untattooed as well. This provides relief against the heavily rendered areas, and allows the work to breathe. This is the recipe to success. This is the look!

It is my belief that the Dallas tattoo artist you choose to work with should understand, cherish, and practice these tenets of traditional tattoo heritage. To the initiated, anything less just falls short. As an added benefit, I have found that the tattooist that has a high respect for tattooing's traditions will also have a high respect for you.

On that point, when seeking the best tattoo artist in Dallas, make sure to consider those personal factors as well. What will your tattoo experience be with them? What is their general attitude? What is their relationship to the history and culture of tattooing? These invisible factors can very much affect the visible aesthetic of your work. 

Don’t Settle for Less Than the Best Tattoo in Dallas

When you have the desire for a traditional tattoo, make sure that you go with a trusted tattoo artist. Your tattoo artist’s experience level, knowledge of the craft, and skill behind the needle will determine the outcome of the work you will wear. His willingness to help you with design, placement, size and scope of the design is also crucial. His ability to connect with you can really bring your tattoo work to life. 

In the end, choose an artist who can gain and keep your trust, exhibit an understanding of the medium, as well as provide visual examples of his work and be able to answer questions you may have about traditional tattoos. As with everything, be honest with yourself and go with your gut and you should do just fine!

Keep an American Tradition Alive with Carl Hallowell

If you want a traditional American tattoo from an artist that truly admires the great tradition, Carl Hallowell can help. Carl knows how to create that traditional look that will keep your tattoos classic and timeless. Contact Carl Hallowell today to begin your tattoo consultation.

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