How to Design a Meaningful Tattoo

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For the creative mind, tattoo design can come from any number of sources. Since, by their very nature, tattoos are permanent markings on the skin, it's important that a lot of thought go into their design. Considering all of the styles of tattoos, from traditional old-school to contemporary models, reflecting on all of the places on the body suitable for tattooing and grasping the extent of the mind's creativity and flair, there's a rich supply of design ideas to draw upon and great meaning can be derived from them.

Ink What You Think

  • Brainstorm ideas for your tattoo. If you're willing to whip up some tattoo designs on your own, then you need to be able to straightforward brainstorm. Start sketching what's in your head and you might surprise yourself with what you come up with.

    When brainstorming it might help to focus your attention on a subject that interests you and that you might want for a tattoo. Start by drawing things that hold meaning for you or imagery that appeals to you. If you are interested in sea life, for instance, do a page of nautical themed illustrations and see where that leads you. Maybe a page of illustrations inspired by your favorite film or song could get your ideas flowing, too. Entertain whatever thoughts start to appeal to you. This is a step in tattoo design that you will want to revisit time and again. Don't concern yourself at first with how usable your sketches will be. What's important is the generating of ideas and the concept of expressing and illustrating them. Don't worry about accuracy or details at first, just that there are designs happening.

  • Research tattoo designs and styles of art that interest you, as this will help strengthen your design knowledge and help you attribute meaning to your work. This is a vital step, particularly if you have challenges with brainstorming ideas. It's naive to assume that you can independently dream up perfect tattoo ideas without first exploring pre-existing works and having some sort of grasp on tattoo designs in the past. No art is generated in a vacuum and you can better your understanding only by examining well-known tattoo styles.

  • Go to tattoo shops and look at designs there (called flash art) and talk to tattoo artists about styles. Get familiar with traditional and contemporary styles so that your own ideas will be influenced or at least respected by the medium and its stylists. Between visiting tattoo parlors and viewing on-line tattoo galleries and portfolios you will get a very good grasp of what's being done in the tattoo industry. Helpful websites include Tattoo Finder, Tattoodles, and Kool Tattoos.

Look Before You Ink

  • Look to your interests to motivate your designs. There's a good chance that whatever is in your orbit will provide some of the best tattoo ideas you will come up with and hold the most meaning for you. For instance, if you're a fan of rock music, that's a great place to look for inspiration. Musical instruments, rock stars, attire, lingo and lifestyle elements connected to rock 'n' roll all provide images and interpretations connected to that scene. Similarly, if you're a fan of genre films, which are lush in visuals and style, you'll have access to many ideas for design work.

  • Explore other cultures or look deeper into your own for inspiration. Tattoos exist all over the world and many of the wide varieties of tattoo designs have influenced styles here and vice versa. For instance, tribal design work originated from different native cultures in the Americas and has influenced popular trends the world over. Incorporating Chinese writing characters is popular and Celtic designs have seen a huge swell in popularity, too.

    If the tattoo shops you have frequented seem limited in some of these more exotic designs, the Internet can yield kind results. Sites such as Tribal Tattoo Gallery, Chinese Tattoos and Celtic-Tattoo.net can help inspire you.

  • Consider where on the body your tattoo design will go. The human body is the tattoo artist's canvas. If it's an armband you are wanting to design, or say, a lower back piece, then the area the tattoo will cover may be very different. You may want to work in the shape of the body with the shape of the design. Doing so can make your designs even more customized to the individual.

  • Ultimately, whatever meaning is attributed to the tattoo should arise from capturing an image or idea that is valuable to you or whomever the design is for. It might be a memorial tattoo, a sweetheart's name or likeness, a snippet of poetry or just about anything else that is significant in your life.

Tips & Warnings

  • A fun exercise is to use water soluble markers and draw on yourself or your friends to see what might emerge. It's also important to have a pretty good understanding of the human body and to keep this in mind when designing. If you are familiar with the body it's possible to create meaningful and elegant tattoo designs that are symmetrical with the body or work with its shape and definition.

References

  • "The Artist's Way [10th Anniversay Edition]"; Julia Cameron; 2002
  • "The Mammoth Book of Tattoos"; Lal Hardy; 2009
  • Photo Credit Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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