I heard her say ‘stupid’, then ‘tattoo’, and I smiled.
I was listening as Skyler told me her ‘big tattoo mistake’ story.
She was off-hand about it, but her tale was brimming with hidden pain & regret. I smiled ’cause I knew there was power there.
And ’cause tattoos kept coming up in my life.
The week before, Pamela was asking me how to design a tat that expressed more of herself & her family, and stood for something awesome.
In high school, classmates came to me to get their tats designed, or temporary ink dawn right onto ’em.
I even recall one gun-toting Chinese ‘Triad’ gangster named Kenny saw my work and approached me to do two massive dragons across him— it was a lucrative job, but it never panned out, and that probably kept me from getting too involved with the wrong crowd.
It also nudged me away from a path as a career tattooist.
For a while, I was a body-elitist, dead-set against tattoos & piercings, but I put that limited view behind in favor of a new one.
I’ve always had a close-but-fringe relationship with body art.
And now I love tattoos.
Point is, even though I’ve never personally inked anybody, don’t have my own ink, and am clearly no expert…
…I’ve given tattoos a lot of thought. I confidently design ’em for others, and…
...I can help your tattoos ryze.And adding meaning, before or after, relieves tattoo regret.
So back to Skyler’s Tiger tragedy.
She was being dismissive about her tat, but I knew tattoos don’t have to be mistakes. Hers included.
They can be more meaningful, magical, and magnificent, and there’s ways to design a tattoo with meaning right from the start.
And if, like Skyler, you already have ink you’re not quite happy with, there are ways to transform it into something truly beautiful, and it’s easy to do if we dig a little deeper.
But first, we’ll soothe fears about tattoo regret.
(If you’re already confident and don’t care about mistakes, then click here to jump straight to How To Get A Meaningful Tattoo.)
This post is focused on avoiding mistakes when getting ink done, but in the end, they’re not that big a deal. Really.
Sky casually said “Oh well, I added meaning after I got it, since my grandma liked tigers.”
Smart. She’s gets some perspective and applies her own meaning to the tiger, in retrospect. That’ a great start on taking the edge off ‘tattoo-nightmares.’
Shortly, we’ll look at 7 tips for designing your meaningful tattoo.
Before we get to that though, we’ll take a quick look at giving whatever meaning we want to Sky’s tattoo. It’ll help anyone who’s worried about ‘tattoo-regret.’
Think of it as tip #0: “Mistakes aren’t always mistakes,” and it’s okay to move forward with your tattoo.
So here’s how to transform crappy tats into tats that matter using mostly your mind, and when you can do that, your first tattoo is easy and fear-free.
Knowing yourself can fix tattoo mistakes.Understand that embracing your personality can turn mistakes into masterpieces.
Know what you love.
Understand what brings you joy. Often these are things you’ve loved since you were a child, other times, they’re undiscovered things waiting for you to meet them.
Look at the people, hobbies, values, etc. that make you happy, jot ’em down on in a list. Highlight ones that stand out to you, you might be surprised at the results.
For example, Sky impulsively got a tiger tattoo on her leg, and she waved it off as a silly, meaningless tattoo, but if her list of things she loves is this:
Knowing herself flips the script on her ‘mistake’ tiger tattoo.
(If you want to do this yourself I created an “How To Discover Your Purpose” exercise for you.)
It didn’t take work, it didn’t need cover-up or laser-removal, it just took creative self-knowledge.
Often the things we experience ‘randomly’ are driven by our deepest desires or our hidden natures.
Other times they lead us to connect with someone great we would’ve missed.
There’s countless stories of peeps who went through something that ‘looks’ at the start to be a terrible regret but which becomes a huge gift.
The crazy tattoo of your boyfriend’s name you got in high-school may seem terrible, until it becomes the reason you meet your loving tattoo-artist husband, or leads to a new best friend; Joe Laser-Surgeon, who brings you laughter, good times, and years of joy.
When we look back, mistake-tats can be a blessing we wouldn’t trade for anything, ’cause it led us to a truly fulfilling, joyful life.
So now you know there's nothing to fear......it's time to get to the juicy stuff.
7 Basics Tips For Meaningful Tattoos.
Your ink doesn’t have to have deep meaning.
But if you don’t want meaningful ink, you don’t really need my help. Run out and get a random tribal tattoo or whatever makes you happy, more power to ya. 🙂
That said, creating a meaning is easier than people think.
Designing a tattoo that’s overflowing with meaning is easy and you have all the tools needed, though most don’t realize it.
Let’s clear it up 🙂
Here’s 7 things you have control over that impact the meaning of a tattoo.
1. Lines – Curved, straight, open, closed, none, etc.
2. Color – Mono, duo, more, vivid, none, etc.
3. Size – Giant, full-back, half-sleeve, ankle tat, etc.
4. Location – Neck, finger, lip, calf, etc.
5. Typography – Font, size, boldness, spacing, location, etc.
6. Content – Story, metaphor, multi-level, etc.
7. Artist – Designer, famous tattoo-artist, self-drawn, etc.
Now, you may not know what these mean, but tweaking ’em can be a game-changer.
I’m not gonna cover every meaning under the sun, but we’ll look at some examples and hopefully, after we dig into all seven together, we’ll have a world with more meaningful, beautiful, high-impact ink.
Ready? Let’s go.
1. Choosing Lines With Care
Lines are just lines, right?
They’re communication & expression.
You can have open lines, closed lines, straight ones, curved ones, thick, thin, frequent, sparse, crossed, separate, parallel, converging, and more.
Straight lines tend to be more masculine, curved more feminine.
Thick lines are used for emphasis and to draw attention to stuff that’s important. They’re often seen as ‘loud’ or ‘firm’.
Thin lines are used for detail, subtlety, and to add texture to things without overshadowing them. They’re often seen as ‘soft’ or ‘delicate’.
Keep this in mind when designing your tattoo, some line-types will suit your piece better than others.
If you’re a badass biker dude, maybe you want extra bold lines on your giant eagle feathers. If you’re a playful, girly-girl, maybe you want fine, precise lines for your cute hummingbird tattoo.
But maybe we wanna get extra creative.
Let’s say Sky gets an artist to draw a gorgeous tiger across her back using only thin lines.
“Hey Sky, why’d you get your tiger inked with all those little lines?”
“‘Cause I wanted to show how the most badass majestic animals… are actually a perfect blend of nature’s inspiring finesse & subtlety.”
You don’t need a crazy talented artist to do this. You just need to know that thin lines send a different message than thick, and then make sure desired lines that are used.
Suddenly, Sky’s tiger-piece has off-the-charts meaning, just from playing with the lines.
Imagine what you could do with color.
2. Get Curious About Color
Time to color your world.
Or don’t —lol— Black and white can be great too.
Whether you get colorful body art or stick with shades of grey, have a purpose for it.
It could be as simple as “My heart tat is purple ’cause it’s pretty,” but there’s room to go beyond that.
Using no color can let lines & shapes speak for themselves. Using a tiny splash of color on a black & white piece can give a ton of focus to whatever’s in color. Using a rainbow of colors can signify inclusion, unity, acceptance.
And there’s many other meanings available.
You can even explore the psychology each color symbolizes and inject it into your tattoo design.
These sites usually don’t talk about cultural meanings of color though, for example red means something a bit different in China than it does in America. So if you care about that you’ll have to break out some Google-Fu.
Anyway, let’s say Sky wanted to give her Tiger more meaning through color, she could have an artist go back over the Tiger’s eyes in say… purple.
“Why’s your Tiger have purple eyes, Sky?”
“The tiger says I’m courageous and the the purple means I see life through imaginative eyes.”
It’s worth noting that color ink has unique properties and can look quite different on certain skin tones. (See below.)
Okay! Line, color, what’s next?
3. Keep Your Eyes On The Size
Does tattoo size count?
Picture meeting a chick with a two fully-inked sleeves. Do you get a different vibe from her than one with a tiny butterfly on her cleavage?
For me (& a number of rappers :P), the answer’s ‘yes.’ With tattoos, size does matter.
Got so many tats, you can’t even count ’em up
In the shop every week, I can’t seem to get enough – Wiz Khalifa
And since permanent body art is a personal expression, you want the size of your ink to send a vibe that matches your personality.
Express mystery & social flexibility with a tiny, easy to hide tattoo. Express daring boldness & social rebellion with giant, in-your-face ink. (See Rick “Zombie Boy” Genest in the splash photo above.)
Tiny, dainty tattoos are often have a feminine feel, while big, impactful tattoos often have a masculine feel.
Either way, size counts, but there’s room to play.
Maybe you get a giant chest-piece of scrolls, roses, and skulls winding around each other, but hidden inside it is a tiny little musical note.
“What’s with the mini music-note in your skull-rose tat, Sky?”
“It’s a nod to me dancing to my life’s rhythm no matter what my journey brings, and only certain people are aware of it.”
“Sheeeeeee-it, that’s awesome.”
It may seem like a small thing, but the size of your tat makes a big difference.
So there ya go, size on the ryze 😉
4. Location, Location, Location
Location matters (ta)too.
Is Cara Delevingne the reason behind the ‘finger-tattoo’ trend? What does it say if your tats on your neck? What about a half-sleeve?
Lots of peeps know what they want their tattoo to be, but often placement is whatever’s easiest.
I hear stuff like “I’m trying to make it hide-able,” or “I want somewhere that won’t hurt.”
But that’s not exactly ‘deep’ criteria. Personally, I’d love to hear lines like these:
“I got a tombstone with a happy-face on my hand ’cause I want a highly-visible reminder that we all die, and to make every moment count.”
“I got L-O-V-E tattooed on the inside of my middle finger, ’cause I wanna show love even when I’m flippin’ the bird.”
“I got Marilyn tattooed on my ass ’cause I want my boyfriend to see my beauty, inspired by beauty, and a tribute to beauty.
Meaning’s an individual thing, but as in our examples, I encourage creativity. If you wanna look into tattoo placement further, this post from allwomenstalk.com is a decent start.
Speaking of unique tat placement, Billboard-charting rapper Fetty Wap, has ink on his face, focusing attention to his missing eye: “I don’t give a fuck, who cares, tats on my face…”
Where most people would cover up their missing eye with a patch, he flaunts it, and inks it up.
Changing the location of your tat can turn something standard into something symbolic.
Which brings us to the next tip about 26 symbols from a to z.
5. Leverage Your Letters
Text in tattoos can be telling.
You could study typography for a long time and still not learn it all, but if you understand the basics of lines, you’re on your way.
Bold, angular fonts send one message. Thin, curvy fonts send another. And then there’s various degrees in between.
You couldjust walk into a parlor, give no guidance, and say “I want the word ‘Soul Sisters’ inked.”
Orrrrr… you could put some thought into it, some intention, some meaning.
For example: “Soul-Sisters” in a heavy, headline font has a different meaning than “soulsisters” in handwriting font, so you could specify one or the other.
Another possibility: use one font for ‘soul’ and another for ‘sisters,’ and overlap them. Eventually someone’ll ask about the meaning:
“Why is ‘soul’ a big font in black, and ‘sisters’ in a handwriting font, in white?”
“‘Cause the soul is a strong foundation for sisterhood, and only in soul, are Alessia and I sisters.”
“Nice! Now I want one, can I be a ‘soulsister’ too?”
And that’s just two words.
Imagine adding in inspirational quotes or resonant phrases like “Carpe Diem” or “When we’re drowning, all water is an ocean.”
Point is, even a bit of typography can help add meaning.
6. Tattoos - Content With Heart
From the inside out.
Most people understand that WHAT you get tattooed is pretty important, so I don’t need to say much on that, but whatever ink you get, make it a great outer-expression of who you are inside.
A basic heart tat can be meaningful if you’re a simple, loving person, and that’s what you wanna express.
In fact, Mashable recently covered 25 Meaningful Yet Subtle Tattoos For Introverts.
But you could also add a bit more subject matter. Let’s say Sky creates a heart that also has her starsign in the middle, on a background splash of ink.
“Hey, I get that you’re a Gemini, but how come your heart has a splash background?”
“It’s a splash of ink, ’cause my heart’s at the center of my writing.”
“Oh snap, that’s awesome, wish my tattoo was that cool.”
Adding more elements to a heart tattoo shows that Sky’s an affectionate Gemini who loves to write, but keeps life simple.
Anyway, when you’re thinking of what elements to include in your body art, even if zodiac signs aren’t your thing, consider these:
Anyway, this list of elements can be helpful when designing your tattoo.
7. Be An Artist Of Artists.
No “Tats off the rack.”
Imagine someone impulsively walking into the nearest Walmart, pointing to something from the Walmart Tattoo book, and getting inked by whoever happens to be available.
Now, there’s no actual ‘Walmart Of Ink’ that I know of, but people often get their work done by the lowest common denominator.
And hey, going that route can be a big step for ’em, something they needed, and like Sky, it’s totally fine to add meaning after the fact. (That’s why the first section on this page took the edge off ‘fixing’ tattoo regret.)
Yes, you can totally make it meaningful, post-parlor, but that route isn’t for everyone.
So why go to an artist? Pride. Identity. Self-worth.
Basically, you deserve it.
Do you know anyone who absolutely adores their ‘off-the-rack jacket from Walmart’ for more than a couple years? Sure, it can get you out of a jam. Sure it can help you stay warm when you need it, but it’s not exactly an item of lasting pride.
Tattoos last— so hiring whoever’s easily available may not be your best bet.
Sometimes you deserve a nice piece of favorite clothing, and sometimes you by a throwaway.
When dealing with tattoos, treat yourself right, do yourself a favor and dive into the world of tattoo artists, there’s plenty out there.
Connect with one who’s personality, style, or creativity gets you psyched.
You have options.
You can aim-high for a famous tattoo-artist at a designer studio, you can connect with a local artist you believe in, you can even drawn your own.
Here’s eight artists, each with their own style, to get you started.
Traditional American Ink
Fine Art Tattoos
Kat Von D
High Voltage Portraits
A great artist can replace tips 1-5.
It’s worth connecting with a great artist, ’cause they know how to convey your message well and express what you want.
So… you tell ’em your story & meaning of your tat as best you can, and they translate it into something artistically beautiful.
Most great artists prefer minimal direction and as much trust and freedom as possible. You want an artist who takes pride in their work and style.
I’d encourage you to find one where you can say: “I want a tiger on my calf, but I want it to be sexy and feminine,” and they’ll blow your mind with the results.
Doing the same job or artwork every day is boring, artists get excited when you present them with a fun, creative challenge.
Even if you’re hooking up with a local artist or an artsy friend, if you both really care about creating a truly fulfilling tat, you’ll be able to get great results.
But you’ve gotta be attractive to great artists.
Great artists can easily turn down ‘fluff’ jobs.
They’re usually in high-demand, and bold enough to turn down jobs that don’t sound inspiring or aren’t a right fit.
If you can tell a story that shows how your tattoo matters, that it offers creative opportunities, and that you’ve thought deeper about the things we’ve talked about here… that’s way more enticing than “Uh, I think I want a rose please.”
Bring something to the table and collaborate (I go into this more in my post which teaches models how to attract talented photographers).
Once you get your ink done by an amazing artist, imagine the exchange:
“Wow… Sky, that tiger tattoo is riveting! So elegant. Where’d you get it?”
“Oh, it’s a great story— I ended up collab’ing with famous Toronto-artist, Fabrizio Divari!”
“OMG. I. Can’t. Even— wait, is your tiger shaped like Africa?”
“Yep! That was Fab’s idea, cool eh? So honored to be a canvas for that genius.”
Better artists, better tattoos, better life.
Choose Your Preferred Blend.
You don’t have to do it all.
All this may seem like a lot of thinking, a lot of work to put in, just to get a tattoo.
But injecting some meaning is better than none, so at least apply one of the tips above. I know you’ll love it 🙂
And I’ll repeat it one last time, at the risk of being annoying—
Quick, fun, easy tattoos are fine too. I respect ’em. There’s different degrees of meaning, and it’s all a personal thing.
Maybe you’re happy to put more thought into your tattoo placement, but you wanna leave line-types up to the tattoo artist.
S’all good, whatever works for you. 🙂
And if after all this info, you’re having trouble deciding on an image…
Nibbles has a fantastic tip about taking an image of a tattoo you’re interested in getting, and keeping it in your sight for a few months.
If, after your chosen time period, you still feel the image represents the real you and you’re proud of it, it’s likely a good fit for permanent ink.
Sheesh, how could I write all this and still not have my own tattoo? lol.
Hmm… we’ll see in the future. 🙂
Bonus Tattoo Resources
First-Time Tattoo Resources.
Sometimes people find this article ’cause they’re super-new to the tattoo world, so I felt like offering some bonuses resources that deal more with the nuts and bolts and practical steps of getting a tattoo.
But since I’ve never gotten my own tat, I also don’t really feel qualified.
So, for now I’ll link you to stuff that’d speak to me if I were looking into getting ink done, I’m pretty discerning with my information sources and viewpoints, so hopefully my high-standards point you in the right direction.
You’d think googling “How To Choose A Tattoo Parlor” would turn up a bunch of great results, but honestly, most of the sites on the first page are annoying, not helpful, ugly, or all three.
I found this post at Tattoo Temple to be in-depth, informative, and real: Choosing A Tattoo Studio
Common Tattoo Mistakes
Lack of research is number two on “No Regrets Studios” list, so… aren’t you glad you’re here? (There’s also a youtube video that goes over some of this stuff at the end of the post.)
Like most forms of healing, advice varies widely here, and everyone has their own preferred method, but I’m happy to share the most comprehensive aftercare guide I’ve found. It’s broken down into eleven sections covering almost any question you might have on how to take care of your tattoo. I originally had Inked Magazine’s 2015 take on it but this is waaaaay more in-depth. I hope it helps you 🙂
Wishing you tons of tattoo-success!
Note: Most of the images here are ‘found’, and they make this piece more readable and enjoyable. My whole intention is to help tattoo-getters & givers, but if for some reason you want an image removed, contact me and I’ll take care of it. Much love!
UPDATE! Marilyn La Jeunesse over at Mashable recently highlighted a brilliant product from “Momentary Ink” that lets you get gorgeous, color, custom-designed temporary tattoos that look and feel like real ink. Founder Jordan Denny says this allows for people to skip cookie-cutter tats and experiment with more meaningful designs, affordably and safely. 🙂
Thus ends Ryze's 3600+ word 'Meaningful Ink' post.If you enjoyed it, share! Help create a more beautifully tattooed world.
Update: I’m honored that my friend Pamela’s brother was inspired to get a tattoo that has some extra personal meaning to him shortly after reading this post.
There’s a bit of a language barrier, but I believe the basic message is he’s ready to “kill for love” – check it.
Bonus — Tattoo Videos:
First Tattoo Survival Guide
Common Tattoo Mistakes
What Do Tats Feel Like?
How To Get Unregrettable Tats
Tattoos When You’re Old?
Top 10 Tattoo Models