Thousands of years ago, ancient peoples used inked markings on their skin to mark them as a certain group. From the Egyptians and Greeks to the early Britons, tattoos had a firm footing in many different cultures. As the years went on, so did the practice of tattooing.
Lines and patterns developed into depictions of animals. Swallows began gracing the arms and chests of sailors to mark them as seafaring men. These swallows also had a deeper meaning for these people. Due to their dangerous jobs at sea, a swallow tattoo came with the hope that the sailors would always find their way back home.
In the 21st century, tattoos have glided into the mainstream with birds at the forefront. There are so many different types of birds each with symbolic meanings – many from ancient stories – that they make for fantastic tattoo inspiration.
Not only that, but the adaptability of bird motifs also make it an easy tattoo choice. Whether you want a tiny hummingbird tatted behind your ear, or a watercolor design along your collarbone, it is all completely possible.
Let’s explore bird tattoos in different styles for every aesthetic.
1. For The Attention Seeker: Detailed Hummingbird Tattoo
Not an attention seeker in the negative sense, but a tattooee who is focused on the small details and is looking for a bird design that looks like it might fly off of their skin.
The hummingbird is on the miniature side of the bird world, but it has powerful symbolism attached to those fluttering wings. These tiny birds come from the Americas, and are the stars of legends and myths in these areas.
“[Hummingbirds] are also strongly associated with the Aztecs, whose royalty and religious leaders wore feathers and dead hummingbirds around their neck in small bags. The Aztecs believed dead warriors were reincarnated as hummingbirds,”Tat Ring
Today, a hummingbird tattoo can represent overcoming difficult times, hard work, as well as an independent spirit.
For the finer details of a realistic hummingbird tattoo, you could stick to black with gray shadings, or you could take the next step and go colorful. Hummingbirds are head turners, mainly for their bright hues.
Click here to learn more about Hummingbird Tattoos.
2. For The Dedicated: Phoenix Tattoo Sleeve
Sleeve tattoos take commitment. If you want one, you’ve got to be okay with sitting in the tattoo chair for hours, multiple times before your tattoo is complete. But, it could all be worth it for the end result.
A phoenix is one of those ideas that can be perfectly translated into a full sleeve or half sleeve tat. Because of its expansive wings and commanding presence, a powerful phoenix can easily take residence on an arm.
Not only do phoenixes look amazing, they also have an interesting backstory that can resonate with people who have had to transcend negative experiences and create a new life for themselves.
“The symbolic meaning of the phoenix is about renewal. The phoenix is about overcoming darkness and rising to the challenge to become powerful and succeed. But the phoenix has a legacy in many cultures,”What’s Your Sign
The phoenix is an ancient mythical creature that has flown into mysteries and traditions the world over, including in Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians viewed the phoenix as an immortal creature, and associated it with the worship of the sun.
“The Egyptian phoenix was said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry,”Britannica
It is said that a phoenix lived for at least 500 years, and, as its rebirth came into sight, it would build a nest of aromatic boughs and spices, set it on fire, and allow itself to be consumed by the flames. From the ashes sprang a new phoenix.
A phoenix tattoo is at its most recognizable and commanding when it is in full color. However, you should definitely think twice before getting tattooed with red ink.
Red ink contains ingredients that aren’t found in other tattoo inks, which can cause a heightened sense of itchiness. Not only that, but this color of tattoo ink also tends to fade faster than black ink.
Click here to learn more about Phoenix Tattoos.
3. For The Traditionalist: Old School Bird Tattoo
If you love bold lines and saturated colors, then old-school traditional American tattoos might be the ideal style for you. Besides swallow tattoos and the idea of return for travelers, another bird often seen in sailor tattoos is the eagle.
“Eagles are symbols for America, representing honor, prowess and intelligence,”Sailor Jerry
However, the symbolism behind the eagle tattoo dates back long before the United States. In some Native American tribes, the eagle represents protection and great achievement; while Japanese style eagle tattoos mean strength and force.
4. For The Minimalist: Single Line Dove Tattoo
While doves often serve as a symbol of peace around the world, these birds can also represent love. This is because they stay with one mate throughout their mating season, and for some this partnership extends for the rest of their lives.
In the Christian faith, a dove can also mean new beginnings. This is from the story of Noah and the ark, where a dove brings a sign of land.
Many birds can easily be broken down into their basic elements for a single line tattoo. As you can see from the image above, even though the bird is done with minimal details, you can still easily tell that it is a dove.
If you like the idea of simplicity, but want to take it even further, you could get your single line dove tattoo done in white ink.
White ink can add an element of whimsy to your tattoo. However, it is important to know that white ink is a different composition compared to black; it is thicker, which can make it difficult to work with. As such, it is important to go to an experienced tattoo artist no matter how simple your tattoo design is.
Click here to learn more about Minimalist Tattoos.
5. For The Lovers Of Subtle Ink: Paper Crane Tattoo
The paper crane is probably the most well known creation within the Japanese art form of origami.
“Based off the red-crowned crane which is said to be one of the rarest forms of crane in the world, this bird represents longevity, fidelity, and luck. This red-crowned crane is also referred to the ‘Honorable Lord Crane’ so needless to say, the Japanese thought very highly of this beautiful, exceptional, creature. The red-crowned crane was believed to carry our human souls on its wings, soaring to paradise,”Tattoo SEO
A paper crane tattoo can be done in a negative space design, with your blank skin representing the paper. If you want to add a bit more to your tattoo, you could take the depiction of paper to the next level by adding a design within the design.
6. For The Colorful: Mosaic Bird Tattoo
If the thought of single lines and simplistic designs doesn’t get you excited, but you want something different to highly detailed tattoos, a mosaic inking could be for you.
A tattoo doesn’t have to have black outlines, or any outlines at all – you could opt to create a tattoo from different colorful shapes as seen in the design above.
Geometric tattoos rely on angular shapes to portray an image, and this can contain as many colors as you want to represent your out-of-the-box personality and style.
However, with a lot of colors comes a lot of responsibility. Color tattoos do tend to fade faster than traditional black and gray inkings. The lighter the color, the quicker it will fade from your skin.
Don’t give up on your many hued tattoo design just yet, though. There are other factors that contribute to the longevity of a tattoo, not just colors.
The UVA and UVB rays from the sun break down the ink in tattoos. So, to slow down the process, make sure to always lather up your tattoo with sunscreen when you’re out and about.
Your placement choice also plays a role.
“Any areas of the body that commonly rub against other body parts will generally be places where a tattoo will fade quicker. This includes places like in-between the fingers and lips,”Authority Tattoo
This also applies to areas that rub against clothing and shoes.
7. For The Whimsical: Watercolor Bird Tattoo
Watercolor is an amazing tattoo style for those who want to go colorful with their ink, but in a less rigid way than with solid, saturated shades found in traditional tattoo styles.
“Where most styles you want there to be saturated color and values, watercolor tattoos are done by doing fades of colors that blend and play into each other the way it would if you were painting with watercolor,”Allure
There are different ways to approach the watercolor style. For those who want to leave behind rigid lines, you could opt for free flowing strokes. You can still have the emphasis on color and include solid lines by using an outline to define your tattoo, then fill it in with watercolor shades.
Or, you can bring together both options: The outline of your bird can be with solid lines, then the watercolor can come after in vibrant splashes.
As with any tattoo style, watercolor tattoos do come with cons. One being that they can fade quickly. In a blog post, tattoo artist, Deanna Wardin, explains,
“It is true that watercolor tattoos with little to no black, and all soft colors will probably fade much quicker than a traditional tattoo, but here is the kicker… watercolor tattoos can and should use high contrast and a black base. That way if some of the colors begin to fade, there is still a skeleton to the piece and it will still read well as it ages.”
There are ways to delay the fading, namely:
- Choosing a tattoo artist who is experienced in watercolor tattoos.
- Keeping your tattoo away from sunlight, or put on sunscreen if it is exposed.
- Choosing a tattoo placement that doesn’t rub up against clothing or other body parts.
- Keeping your skin moisturized.
Click here to learn more about Watercolor Tattoos.
Birds are an incredibly versatile subject for a tattoo. There are tons of bird species to be inspired by, and so many tattoo styles that can appeal to all aesthetics.
Once you’ve got an idea of what tattoo design you want, another important aspect to consider is tattoo placement. Where you place your tattoo can have an impact on how it ages (as touched on above) as well as job opportunities.
Even though tattoos are now considered part of the mainstream in many places, there are still some companies that don’t want visible tattoos on their employees.
If you need to be able to hide your tattoo, some of the best spots include: Back of the neck, upper arm, thigh, hip, and the chest.
Another important consideration is pain. There’s no getting around it: Getting a tattoo is a painful process.
But, if you’re worried about this, there are certain placements that are less sensitive than others. The more fat and muscle the area of your body has, generally the less painful the tattoo experience will be. The forearm and outer thighs, for example, tend to be the least painful, while the ribs and sternum the most.
If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, take your time! Spend time chatting to tattoo artists and creating a tattoo that you’ll love for years to come.