For far too long, sailor tattoos didn’t really do justice to the sea. Trying to portray scenes like a clipper cutting through the waves underneath a setting sun with only black and a few other colors at your disposal was too stifling. But with so many different shades of ink at their disposal today, artists are working to change this. Building on his extensive knowledge of traditional style and an eye for dynamic color palettes, Samuele Briganti is making maritime tattoos that rock the boat in terms of coloration. His pieces capture life on the open ocean in all its vibrancy, channeling the myriad hues, tints, and tones that make real-life seascapes so beautiful.
Briganti began tattooing at the early age of 13, using India ink and his mother’s sewing needles to do stick-and-pokes on first himself, and then the older kids in his neighborhood. “I often get asked what triggered my interest in tattooing, and I honestly don’t have an answer. I just loved them, but it was probably unconsciously because of my grandfather. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of memories about him,” says Briganti. “He died when I was two, but he was a sailor on cargo boats in the early ‘30s, and my mom always told me stories about him and that he had a tattoo on his arm. It was so fascinating to me, that one day I had to try it myself. I poked my initials S.B. on my arm. I later covered with other ink, but I can still see them though."
When Briganti first started tattooing in his hometown of Orbetello, Italy, stylistic categories were less defined than they are today. “In the late ‘90s, at least where I grew up, there was not a distinction between different tattoo styles. Tattoos were tattoos you know, everything was exciting to me,” Briganti recalls. “After a few years, I began to study, first from magazines and books and then attending conventions, meeting other tattooers, getting tattooed, and finally working with them.” By thoroughly immersing himself in the history of sailor motifs, Briganti grew the tattoo equivalent of sea legs and has been working in the traditional style ever since.
“At that time, a small ‘traditional movement’ was starting among fellow tattoo artists. We would take Sailor Jerry or Bert Grimm's designs and try to do it just like them, in the old way — three colors, bold lines, tons of black,” Briganti explains. “It was so hard to get a customer to choose colors over the black and grey. People wanted fairies and vikings, so when I had the chance to do traditional stuff, I really wanted to put more into it.” Fortunately for Briganti and other sailor tattoo enthusiasts, the tides of the industry turned for the better in Italy during the early 2000s, when people began to see the merits of classic nautical designs.
With the popularity of traditional tattoos on the rise throughout Europe, Briganti was able to expand the horizons of the style. “It was a constant search of new things to draw, new colors to try. Tattooing all day, and in my free time painting and drawing,” says Briganti. “Ultimately, what inspired me the most was the simplicity and boldness of traditional stuff. Motifs that people like my grandpa would get. Simple, strong symbols with deep meanings.” Looking to designs by his predecessors — Sailor Jerry for style, Bert Grimm for character, Amund Dietzel for elegance, Percy Waters for sense of composition — Briganti envisioned a bright future for sailor tattoos.
By returning to his roots — the seafarers that he descended from, tattooists who came before him, and Italy’s rich maritime history and majestic coastal landscapes — Briganti found all the inspiration he needed to reinvent the style. “I was bored by the three-colors rule, so why don't I put a blue shade in a banner. Or purple in a rose. Although I was traveling a lot, I still was living and working in a very small town, with nothing much to do. I really got inspired by the nature around me. Sunsets in Orbetello are so beautiful, I wanted to put those vibrant colors in my tattoos."
Through intrepid use of color, Briganti has blown a new tailwind into the style’s sails, setting it on a course to a sunset of his own, one filled with all the colors that make life — whether it’s voyaging across the sea or looking at it through the windows of a tattoo shop — such a vivid adventure.
To see more of Briganti’s vibrant traditional tattoos, make sure to follow him on Instagram. He own and operates out Bold Will Hold in Florence, Italy. Should you want one of his outstanding sailor designs for yourself, he can be contacted via his website.