Originally named Naval Tattooing, American Traditional style tattooing bore its roots from maritime traditions. Sailors were some of the first to begin getting tattooed after seeing the practice done in the islands they visited. After seeing the tribes men adorn themselves they too wanted permanent keepsakes to keep them safe.
Different images had different symbolism and represented different milestones in a sailors career. One would have a pig and a rooster on each foot to keep you safe, propellers on your butt to keep you from sinking and birds on the chest to show how far you’ve been at sea. Since tattooing has had its origins in oral history most of the designs have been passed down through the generations which is why there is still a heavy nautical theme to many traditional tattoos.
The style was categorized by simplistic bold line work that could be done quickly and efficiently. Most tattoo shops were based outside military bases or on the boardwalks with Sailor Jerry being the most well known pioneer of the style. Flash sheets became popular as artists had an arsenal of tattoo designs they could create and pump out in a quick and efficient manner. It wasn’t until later with the rise of custom work that traditional tattooing became what it is today allowing the client more control over the subject matter. The heavy line work designs and simple imagery has made American Traditional tattoos one of the most iconic styles of tattooing.
Click here to see examples of American Traditional tattoos.