American traditional is one of the most popular, identifiable and renowned styles in the tattoo industry. They became somewhat of an icon sometime in the 1960s, when Sailor Jerry (Norman Collins), one of the world’s most recognized American traditional tattoo artists, opened his first shop in Hawaii. Don Ed Hardy, a student who apprenticed under Sailor Jerry, later made a clothing line based around American traditional tattoo designs. This further thrust the timeless tattoo style into the limelight. Along with a handful of other influential artists at the time, the bold, black outlines and solid, limited color palette of American traditional became an industry standard and is favoured by clients worldwide.
Besides the colors and linework, the imagery is extremely important in American traditional tattoos. Each symbol has its own complex and intricate backstory, stemming from sailors, soldiers, travellers and gang members alike. For example, the swallow in flight (often tattooed in pairs) has a deep meaning for sailors. The swallow will always find its way back to its nest, no matter how long they are gone from home. In the same way, the sailor will find their way back to land, no matter how long they are stationed at sea. Each icon has a meaning attached to it, which should be respected and properly understood.
American traditional roses are similar in that regard. The rose holds a deep meaning of love, devotion, dedication and passion. Its beauty and prevalence in history makes the rose a coveted symbol and one of the most frequently tattooed designs in a tattoo shop. In the 1930s, sailors often got roses inked on their bodies to remind them of a loved one back at home. It was common and well received for men to have roses and hearts tattooed as mementos of their mothers, wives or girlfriends. Often, names were incorporated into the designs. Tattooed women were not yet accepted in communities outside of circuses. Later, this would change drastically as more women got inked, whether as an homage to the art form or as a sign of rebellion.
Due to its popularity through the decades, the American Traditional rose is seen as a timeless design. As times change, so do the preferences of clientele. New styles emerge and there is a constant need for interesting and unique imagery. The rose, however, has stayed a consistent and well-liked figure and has made its way into various other styles of tattooing.
Traditionally, rose tattoos have different meanings, based on the number of petals, color, accompaniment (such as a dagger or a skull) and the position of the rose on the body. Researching more about the iconography of the rose is recommended, to avoid any misunderstandings.
Although the different colors and shapes a rose may have can seem intimidating and overwhelming when choosing your next tattoo design, the general meaning of love and passion is always incorporated into this enduring design. Tattooed in every studio worldwide, American traditional rose tattoos are a fan favourite, for both artist and client. Whether it is a custom drawn piece or simply chosen off of a flash sheet, a rose tattoo is an overall excellent choice.
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