Few symbols are as resonant as the heart, which signifies three elements that more or less make up the essence of human existence:
- Passionate Emotion
So it’s no wonder that it has featured for many years in tattoo art. The designs have changed over time but the message and the meaning, and the celebration of life and emotion that the heart tattoo represents, remain the same.
The simple and instantly recognizable form of the heart symbol makes it a particularly versatile motif, which can be easily incorporated into a huge range of tattoo designs, for both men and women.
Heart Tattoo Styles and Designs
Traditional Nautical Tattoos
The time-honored use of the heart tattoo is to express love for a partner or family member. Heart tattoos were popular in traditional (or ‘old school’) nautical tattooing.
Sailors would be away for long stretches, and a heart with the name of a sweetheart, or another loved one (‘Mother’ was also popular) would remind the lonely mariner of home.
Some say that these tattoos were also useful for identifying those who drowned at sea and never saw their families again.
A tattoo featuring the name of a loved one is still a popular choice, partly because the permanent nature of tattoos reinforces the idea of undying love and a lifelong bond with a loved one.
Less Happy Connotations
Pretty much everything in life has a flip side though, and heart tattoos can have less happy connotations. A heart with a name included in the design can also commemorate a loved one who has passed away; monochrome black can be an appropriate color scheme for memorial tattoos of this kind.
Broken heart tattoos can serve the same purpose, to signify the end of a love affair or the death of a lover. A heart with angel wings can represent a soul who has gone to another realm.
The old school heart and dagger design juxtaposes the opposing symbols of life and death, and can represent the timeless truth that life is fragile and filled with often painful emotional trials.
12 Small Single Heart Tattoo Examples
Heart tattoos can also be used without a heavy load of symbolism. Because the form is so classic, and because it has a generally happy and optimistic feel to it, it’s a great motif just for its simple, basic charm.
A small, plain, red heart is ideal for anyone looking for a minimalist, uncomplicated tattoo. A single heart can be a small and subtle but still impactful statement that is ideal for behind the ear, the wrist or hand, foot or ankle.
7 Realistic/Anatomical Heart Tattoo Examples
For a more modern twist, the naturalistic heart is an option, though perhaps not for the fainthearted. This visually realistic style draws its inspiration from scientific illustrations in old anatomical textbooks.
But ultimately the message is the same, even if the look is more quirky and contemporary. Hearts can always be incorporated into mixed media tattoos as well.
The plain heart shape lends itself to all sorts of elaborations, and goes well in compositions that include flowers or other nature motifs.
Instead of a plain heart, or heart in outline, the form can be made more complex when used as a border enclosing a pattern that appeals to you, or a word (‘love’ is the obvious choice! But it’s all down to your imagination).
Other Styles and Designs
For a more striking design the Celtic heart knot, and its variations, is a winner. At a glance the heart design is less obviously apparent, and it’s the intricacy of the Celtic design that is instantly eye-catching.
Similar to the heart knot is the trinity lovers’ knot, in which a heart is fuzed with a three-petaled flower. This may have religious overtones. For some people it represents the three faces of the goddess, for others it symbolizes the Holy Trinity.
For a new parent, the Celtic motherhood knot features a series of interlocking strands that form a heart shape. It’s a beautiful but simple design that celebrates an eternal bond with a child and, despite its name, is actually gender-neutral.
Whoever – or whatever – you’re passionate about, a heart tattoo can be a statement about your love and devotion, and a celebration of the gift of life.