Just about everyone loves flowers and floral tattoos which never go out of fashion. The question is: which one to go for? There are literally thousands of flowers to choose among – or you could even go for a whole bouquet. Do you want classic or quirky? Is it going to be all about the look, or do you want a floral tattoo that has additional meaning and symbolism?
If there’s a flower that you already know and love, the choice might be relatively simple. If not, then you’re bound to find a flower that suits you and sends the message you want your tattoo to convey. Here are some ideas and things to consider if you’re thinking about getting a flower tattoo.
The Language of Flowers
Apart from a flower that appeals to your sense of taste and beauty, the meanings of flowers are also an important consideration for most people. Almost all cultures have attached specific meanings to flowers and used them as powerful and richly resonant symbols. Communication using flowers even has a name: floriography, which translates as ‘writing with flowers’. And that’s also what flower tattoos often are: messages written on the body.
Although messaging with flowers is probably thousands of years old, it really took off in Victorian times. The first dictionary of flower meanings appeared in 1819 and the Victorians used flowers as a secret code to ‘say’ things, especially about interpersonal relationships, that were considered unsuitable for open discussion in the strict etiquette of that time.
Of course, flowers have different meanings in different cultures and times, and even within western culture. If you do some research, you’ll find all sorts of different meanings for the same flower, but there are some flowers whose meaning is widespread and more or less agreed upon by most people. Sometimes a lot depends on where you are.
For example, chrysanthemum tattoos have strongly positive connotations in the US, but in eastern Europe chrysanthemums are linked to death and funerals and associated with expressions of sympathy. You’ll find plenty of internet resources on flower symbolism and meanings. Fans of Japanese style tattoos may find inspiration in hanakotoba, which is the Japanese language of flowers.
Let’s start with some of the flowers that are favorites for tattoos. At the top of the list it has to be the rose. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s rich in symbolism, with different color roses having different meanings:
- The red rose is the classic emblem of true love and passion but, because of its thorns, also symbolizes the crucifixion and blood of Christ.
- White roses mean purity or innocence. (White daisies have a similar meaning.)
- A black rose (which is actually a very deep purple variety) is associated with death and dark mysteries.
- Rosebuds are linked to ideas of youthful promise and potential.
Japanese and oriental cultures have provided many flower motifs that make attractive tattoos and also have deeper meanings. The lotus flower, which symbolizes new beginnings, is one of the most popular tattoos.
So is the cherry blossom (sakura), which bursts into bloom in spring and has similar connotations of starting afresh, as well as signifying gentleness, kindness and the transient beauty of life in Japanese culture.
It’s not all about spirituality and profound meanings though. Sometimes the beauty of the flower and the skill with which tattoo artists today can reproduce it is more important. Small sprays of lavender have become very popular in recent years, simply because they look great. But lavender also has its own symbolism, and is linked to ideas of tranquility, serenity and grace.
The current massive popularity of dandelion tattoos is also as much about their visual appeal as it is about their meaning. With the inking technology available today, wonderfully fine detail can be achieved. It’s perfect for a tattoo of a dandelion seed head, with its delicate white seeds floating away on the breeze. As well as being beautiful, it also evokes the cycle of life, with the dead flower head giving rise to the new.
From Color to Subject
You may want to start by deciding on the color you want for your floral tattoo, rather than choosing a flower species first. If you want an eye-catching red tattoo, then you can speedily narrow down the possibilities.
A hibiscus flower is a bright, bold and exotic alternative to the traditional red rose. Alternatively, think tulips or poppies. For yellow, consider sunflowers and daffodils. Some types of flower give you lots of color options. In nature, lilies, carnations, and tulips are some types of flower that come in a wide range of colors.
Bear in mind that swapping the flower color will probably change the symbolism too, but if the meaning isn’t your main priority you can pick whatever color you like best.
Of course you don’t have to stick to naturalistic tattoos that faithfully reproduce what a flower really looks like. With the right design, the color palette doesn’t have to imitate nature.
Also, although people love flowers because they are colorful, their appeal also lies in their many beautiful forms. A monochrome tattoo, typically consisting of black outlining, allows you to emphasize those forms, rather than trying to mimic the world of nature.
Styles and Designs
As with all tattoos, you’ll also have a choice of a huge range of styles and designs. The placement of your floral tattoo will be one consideration. A delicate single color tattoo with fine lines is ideal for the hand, wrist or neck. A simple floral tattoo could be a single flower or a stylized, stripped down treatment, such as the classic daisy shape or the simple lines of the always popular lotus flower.
But flower tattoos don’t have to be delicate and feminine, and in the twenty-first century they’re not just for women either. Bolder designs include complex compositions made of floral motifs, used for full sleeve tattoos, and bright flower bouquets bursting with different colors.
If you’re aiming for realism, expert tattoo artists can give your flower tattoo a 3D treatment. Highlights and shadows are used to create the impression of depth, which in turn makes your tattoo look like a real fresh flower. (You could also add a perching butterfly that looks as if it’s just landed on the blossom, or a bee).
Or you can go in the other direction, emphasizing the styling. Little posies of wildflowers in the style of nineteenth century watercolor paintings or old botanical prints are soft, subtle, pretty and nostalgic. For a totally contemporary look, flowers also work well in mixed media tattoos, in combination with other motifs in contrasting styles and with textured background effects.
Floral motifs are versatile as well as timeless. If you have an existing tattoo that you’ve grown tired of, adding some flowers could be just the thing to spice it up and give it a fresh new look. You can add floral flourishes to word tattoos. You can use a floral tattoo for all the things we use flowers for in other areas of life, like remembrance (white tulip, rosemary, poppy, forget-me-not) or to celebrate the birth of a child (a pink carnation signifies a mother’s love).
Or just enjoy them for their all-round charm. If you want something unusual, there are some extraordinary flowers in the world, like the striking strelitzia (bird of paradise flower). Whatever you select, flower tattoos will surely give you many years of pleasure.