San Diego is rich with tradition when it comes to the art of traditional tattooing. Being a port and military town, San Diego tattoo shops started popping up in the early 1930’s and grew into a booming business. Most of the first clientele of the shops were the young sailors and merchants either stationed in San Diego or on leave between deployments. They would get tattoos that symbolized the places they had traveled to, military ranks or dedications to the people they loved in their lives.
Traditional tattoos are commonly defined as patriotic influenced or classic Americana icons such as eagles, American flags, snakes, daggers, women, swallows, skulls and roses. Properly done with very bold lines, blue-black outlines and primary colors to fill in the piece with black shading. Also commonly referred to as Sailor Jerry style, nautical elements are popular in the traditional style, knots, anchors, ships, and battle scenes are common imagery.
San Diego has several artists that specialize in the style of traditional tattooing. As with getting any tattoo you should view an artists portfolio and be comfortable with both their style and experience. Below is a list of local San Diego tattoo artists who specialize in traditional tattooing and would be a good place to start if you are looking to get a tattoo in the traditional style.
Phil Hatchet-Yau – Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo
I enjoy American traditional as a common language amongst those who tattoo that way. It is a style that was really developed out of necessity in the early 20th century that we now carry on as a tradition while injecting our own style and ideas. The category really runs the full gambit, from the bare bones 3 color guys to those who bring in influences from other genres and I think that is what keeps it interesting as a whole. I personally enjoy taking non traditional themes and subject matter and executing them in a traditional way (bold lines, black shading, bright color). My favorite traditional tattooers all have very different styles and approaches to their work, but that is the point. You can pick out any one of their tattoos from the crowd and still understand that they all originate from a common point.
I tattoo mostly by appointment at Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo Fridays-Tuesdays 12:30-7:30.
Chris Cockrill – Avalon 2 Tattoo
I started tattooing in 1998, and have always enjoyed doing traditional tattoos. The subject matter is usually timeless aging well with the client. The bold lines and strong shading make a nice readable design from a distance that look great on guys a girls. San Diego is a great town to draw inspiration from this with all its military heritage and long history in American style tattooing.
Dan Pryor – Seven Seas Tattoo
Todd Smithson – Nothing Sacred Tattoo
I started tattooing 11 years ago at Sacred Heart Tattoo in Little Five Points, Atlanta, Georgia. From there I worked in Florida, New York, and Los Angeles until 2007 when I decided to move to San Diego and open my own shop “Nothing Sacred”. I do fully custom tattoos and love traditional colorful tattoos. I like traditional because unlike so many styles in tattooing today, traditional will last forever. It’s also bold and legible from far away. My favorite tattoos are when people bring me an idea and I can to create something that they love and will be able to wear proudly forever. I have been very fortunate the past 7 years in San Diego to have such great clients that come to me with such great ideas and we are able to work together. It’s great because not only are they excited about their tattoo but I’m just as excited about drawing and tattooing it. Big thanks to everyone that I have had the pleasure of working with over the years I’m truly appreciative San Diego!
Tim Howell – Midway Tattoo
My name is Tim Howell, I’ve been tattooing in San Diego for 7 years I prefer to do a tattoo with a black outline and black shading because as we have seen over the years these are the components that keep a tattoo alive for the longest period of time. I don’t want to fool a customer with magic tricks, bells and whistles and then a month later it’s just another flat boring tattoo. I’m very fortunate to tattoo people that trust my judgment and they are usually just as happy with the results as I am. If you would like to contact me for appointments or consultations you can find me on instagram as tim_howell22 or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kurt Deetjen – ACE Tattoo Co.
I love Tattooing and history… Traditional Tattoos are American folk art; they utilize rules of proportion and classic imagery; black carbon lines, shading and intact skin make for a design that’s built to last. What began as a working man’s tattoo became a classic style in itself. Preserving history within a style is what craftsmanship is about. I am available to serve you Tuesday through Saturday at San Diego’s oldest operating Tattoo parlor, The Ace Tattooing Company, opened in 1947. www.kurtdeetjen.com
Frank Chavez – Midway Tattoo
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