How to Avoid Trendy Tattoos

Having worked in the tattooing industry for a quarter of a century I’ve seen quite a few trends come and go. Whenever a new fad comes about it always causes a tattooing frenzy. For an industry so deeply rooted in the glorification of raw individuality, I’ve always been amazed how many tattooist and collectors impulsively glom onto the latest fad.

Every shop and tattoo artist rush to incorporate into their portfolio at least one example of the hot new style.  You think I'm kidding or perhaps don't know what I'm talking about?  Have you noticed how everyone is losing their minds over clowns these days?  The sight of one is triggering folks in mass and sending them running for cover in their safe spaces.  Well, guess what?  Clowns are now the hot new thing to have tattooed.  Trends may be cool and even lucrative to follow for the collector of traditional fine art, but this mindset can lead to incredible disappointment and regret for those collectors trying to stay in vogue with their tattoos.

The biggest downside for anyone getting a flash tattoo, one of the thousands of designs that commonly litter the walls of your typical tattoo parlor, is that your piece is guaranteed not to be original and there is a good likelihood you will see the same design tattooed on at least one other person in your life time. The thing about flash is that anyone getting a flash design pretty much understands this. The problem with trendy tattoo styles is that the client often times thinks they are getting something totally original, when in fact they are getting some knockoff of a passing fancy that thousands of others are busy stamping themselves with.  Seriously, the bad ass Santa Muerte piece you’re thinking about getting has been played to death, pun intended.

As someone who specializes in cover up tattooing, I can tell you that these fads do not hold up to the test of time. Many of them don’t even hold up as tattoos technically speaking. One of the reason old school tattoos don’t ever seem to completely go out of style is because they are solid designs. Old school type tattoos have been designed specifically to be tattooed in skin. They are not simply a nice piece of art to be drawn or painted on paper. Traditionally they are images designed with a black outline and shaded with black ink and then filled with color. The reason these type of designs, whether you want to call them tradition, retro, vintage, new school or whatever variation, are still so common place among collectors is because they hold up and have stood the test of time. They are dependable because they age well. Unlike regular art done on paper, tattoos are a living art. Pigments in living flesh fades and migrates. The black outline so common in tattoo art is the foundation of good tattooing and helps to keep the appearance of fading and pigment migration to a minimum.

When I started tattooing neo-tribal work of the 90’s was the big thing. Of all the trendy tattoo styles that have come and gone, this one was particularly cruel. I can’t tell you how many tribal tattoos I’ve been asked to cover over the years. Only a few were able to be covered with not too much trouble, but the great majority required several expensive laser lightening before a cover up could be attempted over their bold dark meanless shapes. A close second to this cruel bastard of styles was the so-called Trash Polka tattoos that everybody was rushing out to get there for a split second. This was nothing more than tattoos done in the propaganda art style common in Eastern Europe and Russia in the early part of the 1900’s by famous designers like Gustav Klutsis, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Sergei Sen’kin. These designs were known for their sever graphic use of red and black design elements mixed with photos and bold text. The dominate design elements in this style also proved to be extremely challenging to cover.

The latest incarnation of those two trendy styles seem to be hugely popular watercolor style tattoos and the dot work, mandala, geometric type tattoos that are so popular among today’s hipsters. So how do you avoid becoming one of the herd, lining up to be branded with latest fashion stamp? Before I moved my studio from New York City to Seattle just about every tattoo shop in the City, the bulk of artist’s portfolios were filled with retro Americana style designs. In some ways this makes since. The economical use of line and limited color pallet makes these designs very quick to tattoo and the designs are generally speaking tried and true. It was difficult to find a tattoo shop that wasn’t busy pumping out this kind of work. At least these designs don’t become a blurred mess a year or two after they’d been tattooed like is so common with the watercolor type tattoos being churned out these days.

The point being, before you become a fashion victim, look around at the various arts portfolios in your area.  Also look online and check out the latest work of the so-called "Best Tattoo Artist".  You'll find several links with featuring the top 10 or whatever "Best Tattoo Shop" and so forth.  Google can't help themselves from putting this kind of crap on the first page of any tattoo related search.  If you see an overwhelming commonality in style from one shop and artist to the next then you’ve spotted the latest trend. Do yourself a favor, no matter how totally awesome you think you’re going to look donning one, be honest with yourself and know they’re not original. Move on. Be an individual not a sheep. Trust me, ten years after getting that uber hip piece you will regret it, just like many poor folks sporting those tired old tribal bands do now. Choose wisely before getting inked or it could leave you filled with regret and also cost you dearly when you attempt to cover it or remove it one day.