Nailing Neotraditional Tattoos with Oba Jackson | Painful Pleasures Community

Nailing Neotraditional Tattoos with Oba Jackson

Nailing neotraditional tattoos is all about standing out and adding your own personal twist. Learn from the best: Oba Jackson.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: July 3, 2024

Neotraditional tattoos are all over the tattoo scene, blending old techniques with new ideas. Bold lines, bright colors, intricate details, and a huge range of subjects define the style. So many artists have taken it on as their specialty. But making it your own? That’s a big challenge, particularly when it comes to standing out among all the other neotraditional artists out there. It takes meticulous practice, creativity, and the right tools to nail this style… and neotraditional artist Oba Jackson knows how to do it.

Enter Oba Jackson

Tattoo artist Oba Jacksont attooing a client

Meet Oba Jackson, neotraditional artist and owner of Push Tattoo Studios in Wilmington, Delaware. He’s been tattooing for eight years. In that time, he’s taken the neotraditional style and made it his own. If you’re looking at an Oba Jackson piece, you know right away. This is largely because he’s blended neotraditionalism with his own heritage. Plus, his neotraditional style is informed by other areas of expertise.

“I mostly like to focus on Black Americana. So like all the things we developed when we came here: long braids, long fingernails, gold chains […] but then I also am a portrait artist. If you got a family member, I can do a portrait of them, Black, white, Asian, whatever they are.”

Oba’s Instagram portfolio is full of exactly the kind of work he describes. Check it out for inspo!

Top Tips for Making Neotraditional Tattoos Your Own

Black and gray Black Americana tattoo by Oba Jackson

Master the Basics

As with the traditional style, neotraditional work calls for mastery of core techniques: solid line work, shading, and color packing (if you’re a color artist). If, like Oba, you choose to blend your neotraditional style with other styles—like portraiture—then it calls for an even more thorough understanding of the basics.

For that reason, Oba stresses the importance of being a ninja at your craft. Study up. Draw, draw, and draw some more. Use high-quality tools to nail the basics—Oba reliers on the Bishop Fantom rotary machine, Peak Stellar needle cartridges, and Dynamic black tattoo ink. Build a huge portfolio that showcases your skills if you’re seeking an apprenticeship, and never stop growing that portfolio. Oba is happy to point you to books and digital resources to learn about art. All styles of art and mediums matter when it comes to growing your skills.

Build Your Brand

Black and gray Black Americana tattoo by artist Oba Jackson

Oba believes in the power of personal branding… making the style your own. For him, that means interweaving elements he’s connected to and passionate about into his neotraditional style: Black Americana, Zimbabwean cowboy culture, the unique styles of motorcycle gangs, and more. So, what impassions you aesthetically? What elements can you incorporate into your neotraditional work that other artists can’t offer?  Developing a unique style and sticking to it can help you stand out in the crowded, competitive industry. Oh… and as we mentioned above, Oba advises artists to create a portfolio that showcases their best work and to use social media to build a following.

Prioritize Customer Service

Oba highlights the value of listening to your client. Before you gloss over this section, take a minute. Pause. Because that’s not just part of the job. According to Oba, and countless other seasoned artists, that’s a skill—a muscle to grow. Until you’ve had to re-draw a stencil from scratch when a client suddenly changes their mind about everything, you don’t know the full challenge of being a tattooer. Theory and artistic prowess are all well and good, but customer relations is half the job.

Oba says bending for clients, being flexible, and making adjustments isn’t just respectful… it also ensures you can work together for a long time. While this pro tip isn’t style-specific, it’s a solid rule of thumb no matter what your specialty is. Respect your clients and you’ll be rewarded with longstanding relationships and more work to be done.

Take Neotraditional into Your Own Hands (And Needles)

Black and grey Black Americana tattoo by Oba Jackson

Oba Jackson’s work is a testament to the versatility of neotraditional tattoos. Infuse them with any elements that are meaningful to you. That’s how you make it your own. But be sure to master the basics… and no matter what style you’re taking on, gear up with quality tools and be sure to build relationships with your clients. Now get out there, take a leaf from Oba’s book, and start experimenting with your own version of the neotraditional style.

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