Tattoos are an art form. And to me, art is creativity. So no list will ever be complete, until there will be someone out there working on something new. But this (a rewriting of an old piece I wrote for ET on tumblr) can help to know a little bit more about modern tattoo styles. Take your time to understand the differencies, go through the names in the list, find your style. A good tattoo lasts forever, and knowledge is the roots of a good choice.
Old School/Traditional: Is usually referred to American classic tattooing. Artists like Amund Dietzel, Sailor Jerry, Herbert Hoffman or Bert Grimm, from the firtst decades of 1900, are the names to start from if you want to know its roots, Classical subjects (anchors, ships, roses, daggers, eagles, horses etc.), simple designs, bold lines and basic color palettes. Traditional tattooing is definitely more than a trend, with its own philosophy and unwritten rules.
Tony Nilsson, Cassandra Frances, Samuele Briganti, Paul Dobleman, Paul Fulton, Florian Santus, Moira Ramone (pics: Moira Ramone, Paul Fulton, Mauro Quaresima)
There is also a different kind of traditional, widly diffused, enough to be considered a style, that people keep considering part of traditional or neo traditional. It keeps bold lines, and part of the classic imaginery, mixed with weird, modern, surreal, pop stuff. No limits for color palettes, no rules. Tradition meets creativity, one of the personal favourites.
El Carlo, Ron Wells, Luca Font, Pietro Sedda, Ray Wallace, Dane Mancini, Laura Yahna, Ibi Rothe, Deno Jr (pics: Ray Wallace, El Carlo, Laura Yahna, Dane Mancini)
Japanese: Originally called Irezumi, its roots runs deep in the history of its country. Its meaning in Japanese culture changed through the centuries, from tebori (tattooing by hand) to Yobori (tattooing by machine), to became part of the classic Japanese imaginaery, as we know it. Not every asian themed tattoo (common subjects like dragons, yokai demons, tigers, hannya masks and so on) is japanese style. Everything from colors to placement, to the shapes of the untattooed areas has its rules. As any other ancient styles, of course, you can find its modern, contaminated, version too (Gakkin or Wendy Pham’s works are a good example).
Shige, Pino Cafaro, Caio Pinero, Bill Canales, Gotch, Rodrigo Souto, Yutaro (Bill Canales, Pino Cafaro, R. Souto, Shigenori Ywasaki)
Modern tribal and ornamental: usually referred to a mix of geometrical shapes, patterns, mandalas, asian motives, and Maori influences.
Guy le tatooer, Thomas Hooper, Marco Galdo, Chaim Machlev, Little Swastika (Guy, C. Machlev, T. Hooper)
Realism: From portraits, to a custom piece, to the perfect reproduction of a picture/painting. Realistic tattoos is one of the most spectacular styles in tattooing. No black outline, and lifelike shades, black and grey or colors. It easily mixes with different styles, like with Simone Pfaff or Andrey Lukovnikov, where realism is just a technical part of their own style.
Robert Hernandez, Chris Gherman, Alex De Pase, Scrappy Uno, Sandra Daukshta, Lippo, Sam Stokes (Lippo, A. Acosta, S. Daukshta)
A trend in the late 90’, basically made of mechanical parts that
looks like fused with the flesh. Organic and unorganic elements are
realistically drawn, to create the illusion to be carved in the
Don McDonald, Carson Hill, Guy Hatchinson (who creates bio organic style) (itp: Carson Hill, Don McDonald, Guy Atchinson)
New School/Cartoonish: Fantasy, big eyes subjects, rounded shapes, bright colors, crazy proportions and prospectives. Another style that was more popular in the 90’, now is often fused with different styles, specially with neo traditional.
Kati Berinkey (she fuses new school and sketchy/illustrative styles for her designs), Adam Hawtorne (another one with his own distintcive illustrative style), David Tevenal, Nathan Evans (mixing neo trad e new school) (A. Hawtorne, A. H., David Tevenal)
Neo Traditional: Illustrative like tattoos, where classical subjects like women, crows, snakes, triangles, wolves etc. (from the classic old school imaginery), are drawn with bright colors, and realistical shading, in a aperfect mix between traditional and realism.
Emily Rose, Dusty Neal, Lu’s Lips, Christophe Bonardi, Debora Cherrys, Rodrigo Kalaka El Uf, Jack Goks Pearce. (E. R. Murray, R. Kalaka, Teresa Sharpe, Lu’s Lips)
Lettering: Text tattoos are usually a bad idea, unless they are done in the proper style, and from a specialized artist.
Norm Will Rise, Justin Wilson, Big Meas (N. W. R., J. Wilson, Big Meas)
Chicano: the word “Chicano”, referred to American citizen of Mexican origin, ceased to be a slur in the 60’, while the style itself was born a couple decades before. Common subjects are wemen, skulls, roses, and religious icons, usually in black and gray.
Boog, Macko (Macko, Boog)
These are the most common, radicated, worldly reconized style. But is just a partial view of what the contemporary tattoo scene can offer. In the last 15 years, more and more styles are born. Some of them still don’t even have a name, some have more than one. Some of them will became classic and some are just a trend.
Fun fact: wikipidia’s italian “tattoo” page have “genital” listed as one of the most common styles.
Watercolors: The colors are spread to simulate watercolors. Often mixed with other styles. People keeps debating about how watercolor tattoos will age. Only time will tell.
Klaim, Amanda Wachob, Niko Inko (A. Wachob, G. Smash, Klaim)
Photoshop: the names probably comes from a folder where the artist Xoil (still one of the best in this style) used to store his works’ pics.
If you have ever used PS, you know what I’m talking about. PS style is basically a collage of different images and techniques, from watercolor to dotwork to lettering.
Xoil, Niko Inko, Voller Kontrast, Little Swastika, Jef Palumbo, Arlin ffrench (J. Palumbo, Xoil)
Illustrative Geometrical style: geometrical elements are common in modern tattoo designs, but some artists generated a new trend, mixing illustrative elements, modern tribal patterns, and geometrical lines.
Maxime Buchi, Daniel Meyer, Valentin Hirsch, Kamil Czapiga (C. Machlev, D. Meyer, Maxime Buchi)
Illustrative, sketchy: The artist draw on skin all the lines that usually are ereased in a finished design, to create the illusion of a pencil sketch.
Lea Nahon, Sam Rulz, Nomi Chi, Sven Groenvald (Lea Nahon, S. Groenvald, Nomi Chi)
3D: Again, not exactly a style. The artist uses realistic shading, shadows and prospectives to give the illusion of depth.
Russ Abbott, Jesse Rix (itp: Jesse Rix, Russ Abbott)
Engraving: on a thin line between illustrative, sketchy, and traditional tattoos, engraving uses black lines to simulate ancient wood engraving techniques, taking inspiration from medieval like illustration.
Sam Rulz, Maxime Buchi, Andrei Svetov (A. SV, Sam Rulz)
Next style has no name yet, and it’s slightly less diffused.. But I like it, so it’s in the list. ;) Tipical traditional pieces but coloured with flat colors, almost no shades, and twisted, experimental, original designs.
Adrian Edek, Sany Kim, Aivaras Lee, Patryk Hilton
Girly: It’s a definition I hate, cause I’m convinced there is no room for sex differencies in art. I’m a big bearded boy and still I would proudly wear a Jody Dawber or Cassandra Frances’ piece. Still, this is how people call it. Bold lines and flat shading are mixed with bright colors like pink, yellow, light blue, that perfectly fits the “cuteness” of the subjects, often inspired from pop culture and cartoon characters.
Jody Dawber (basically a traditional artist), Alex Strangler, Sasha Mezoghlian (A. Strangler, J. Dawber, S. Mezoghlian)
The last style of this list have no name yet, but it’s still worth to be considered cause of it’s diffusion and people response to it. Basically the artists recreates a simpler, geometrical, version of the subjects, with no black outline, and a watercolor effect.
Sasha Unisex, Marius Trubisz, Marcin Surowiec, David Cote (M. Surowiec, Sasha Unisex)