You want a tattoo that looks like an acid trip on your skin, but what do you call that as a tattoo style? You, my friend, are talking about a New School tattoo. Not every tattoo designed in this style...

How to Design New School Tattoos

You want a tattoo that looks like an acid trip on your skin, but what do you call that as a tattoo style? You, my friend, are talking about a New School tattoo. Not every tattoo designed in this style is so out there, but exaggerated elements and multi-dimensional shading are hallmarks of the New School style. We looked into what, exactly, New School is, what makes a design New School, and what you should consider if you’re looking to get a tattoo done in this style. Read on to find out all you need to know about New School tattoos.

What is the New School Tattoo Style?

The New School tattoo style is one of the latest to hit the tattoo scene, and one that’s always expanding. The style originated in the 1970s, but has changed quite a bit since then. Dutch tattoo artist Jamie says that his generation of tattooers are the second to the original New School artists, “Back in the day, when it was normal to draw flash sheets, people like Tony Ciavarro, Jime Litwalk, [and] Joe Capobianco were known for doing them, and being inspired by comic art. They created a new style called New School (Old School themes, drawn in a New School style)”. As pop culture and a new generation of tattoo artists evolved, the New School tattoo style grew. CT, a tattooist in Toronto, explains that New School as we recognize it today:

…Is a style developed by the new generations mixing street art, cartoons, comic and realism. As media evolved, so did tattooing…[modern New School] takes any subject/object and exaggerates it, turning into graffiti/Pixar-like art. Most new school artists are people who love art, pop culture, video games, movies, comics, cartoons and graffiti.

New School allows tattoo artists almost complete freedom in how they approach their artwork. Any theme, content, and technique can be used to complete a New School tattoo, which is why a number of new tattoo artists prefer this over some of the stricter tattoo styles. For some, like CT, it just comes more naturally than others, “I would say New [School] chose me…I guess growing up in the 80s and 90s with comics, cartoons, anime, graffiti, and [making] art had a huge influence”. Jamie feels the same way, “It is just what feels natural to me to create…I love all styles of tattooing, but because of my history, and love of graffiti in my childhood, this is what I grew into”.

Interestingly enough, the emergence of the New School style also marked a shift in viewpoints of some tattoo artists on sharing or collaborating with other tattooists. Prior to this, many tattoo artists would have been hesitant to share techniques or information with their competitors, fearing a loss of business. However, when New School tattooing emerged, so did a change in attitudes toward the tattooing community. It became more open and progressive than it had been before, which can be a point of contention for some of the more traditional artists out there.

Key Elements of a New School Design

How do you know if you’re looking at a New School tattoo? There are a few key indicators to tell you. For Jamie, it’s as easy as looking at the lines of the tattoo, “…the fundamentals of New School are a good outline and cartoony look, that’s it. What you do within these lines is unlimited, if you ask me”. New School tattoos are made up of heavy outlines and exaggerated perspectives, vibrant colors, and they appear to pop off the skin. The shading is always done in a such way that the piece has a 3D element, which is a key identifier of this style.

Contrary to popular belief, New School and Neo-Traditional are not the same tattoo styles. There are elements of each style that make it unique and set them apart. Though the content of New School designs can be inspired by Neo-Traditional classics, how the piece is done determines which of those styles it is. CT explains that “main difference between New School and other styles is that, right away, you can see brighter colors, exaggerated proportions – it is also very 3D and [includes] trippy themes”. There’s a distinct Illustrative element to New School designs as well, but 3D shading and an incredible amount of detail throughout the piece takes it into the New School realm.

Where to Start with Your Idea

Wolf Head with Woman Tattoo in New School Style

First and foremost, as with any new tattoo idea, you need to decide where you want the tattoo to go. Make this decision before you reach out to an artist, because the placement of your tattoo will affect the shape and contours of the design, so this is key to figure out before you start. Because New School takes a ton of inspiration from pop culture, both recent and nostalgic, the options are endless – which sometimes makes it that much more difficult to come up with an idea.

Jamie suggests “getting inspired from nature, fashion, or music”. Even if what you have is a feeling that you’re trying to translate into a visual work of art, let your artist know what you’re thinking and what you have in mind. They can draft up drawings that elicit the feeling you’re trying to capture, whether it be creative expression, nostalgia, passion – whatever it might be. Working with an artist from the start of the process is the best way to get a design you’re 100% happy with.

Things to Consider with New School Designs

Since New School tattooing is such a broad style, pretty much anything goes, so there really aren’t any limitations to getting a tattoo in this genre. The one thing you do want is an artist that understands the style, because, according to CT, “Even though New School looks like a very fun art style, it relies a lot on a deep understanding of art, since it’s one of those styles that breaks the rules. A New School design is anything you can imagine and drawing it in an exaggerated perspective”. Tattoos in this style can work in any size, on any part of the body, so the options are extremely open if you’re going with New School.

Popular New School Designs

New School Tattoo of a Man with a Beard

The choices are unlimited with New School designs, so it’s nearly impossible to single out any one that stands out as common. There are trends, however, that can be identified in a lot of New School tattoos. Cartoon characters make up a large portion of New School tattoos out there, in various forms. Japanese inspired art, like Oni masks, are another recognizable design that are commonly upgraded with a New School twist. Classic Traditional symbols, such as animal heads, items from nature, or daggers are often taken and given a modern upgrade to really make the designs pop with both color and texture.

New School tattooing is the broadest and least strict of all tattoo styles out there. As long as the design features bright colors, 3D effects, or a graffiti quality, it qualifies as New School. This tattoo style evolves and grows alongside pop culture, and allows for true artistic expression for both the client and the artist.

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