Skull tattoos have a wide variety of symbolic meanings, depending on how the skull is used. There are so many ways to depict skulls that they can be used to make statements as diverse as how powerful a person is to how cute and girly he or she is.
There are skull tattoos that are meant to be frightening, ones that are drawn to be as realistic as possible and some that are drawn in pink with hearts for eye sockets. The skull is such a universal symbol that it can be adapted to literally any meaning, from religious to political to simply an artistic design with aesthetic merit.
It used to be the case the skull tattoos were only for certain ‘kinds’ of people – those who, for one reason or another wanted a dark and threatening tattoo image. For instance, skull tattoos were – and still are – common prison or gang related tattoos. For bikers, skull tattoos served as a sort of talisman to protect themselves from death.
Skull images are, first and foremost, associated with death, and we are a society that prefers not to confront death until we absolutely have to!
Death head images have been a motif used in a lot of classic art, denoting the fact that time passes and we all die. Think of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations – complete with decorative sugar skeletons and skull cookies!
Skulls are a reminder to many about their own mortality. A skull tattoo can be a reminder to live life to its fullest because it will ultimately end.
For others, the skull represents their spiritual belief in a life after death. Many religious works of art use skulls to do just that, and tattoo art can do the same.
Skull Tattoo Art
Skull designs come in all shapes and sizes and some are surprisingly attractive. After all, another reason why the skull image is so popular is that its dramatic lines lend themselves well to art.
Custom skull tattoos have become so popular that the art behind them has evolved significantly. Extremely elaborate scenes involving many skulls are possible, as are painstaking details that bring the skull to life. For women, a popular skull design is a pink skull with a bow perched on top.
Skulls are often combined with:
- Tribal patterns.
- Roses and other flowers like cherry blossom.
- An eagle.
- Guns & grenades: a typical tattoo for the military.
- Wings: a typical design for bikers.
- Stars: together they symbolize the infinity of death.
- Butterflies: skulls are the symbol of death, butterflies the symbol of rebirth.
Sugar Skull Tattoos
Mexican Sugar Skull Tattoo
The Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) is a celebration in Mexico in which the skull (calavera) plays an important role. On the Day of the Dead (November 2), family and friends gather to remember dear ones who have died. Sugar skulls are created that are highly decorated and edible.
Sugar skull tattoos are popular with women because of the original blend of skull and color, dead and life. Above that they are highly decorated with colorful flowers and patterns.
Some people pick a sugar skull tattoo as an in loving memory tattoo, to honor someone dear who has died. Like the Day of the Dead itself, the tattoos can be both a symbol of mourning a life that is over as well as a celebration of that life and of everything that life has to offer.
Girly Skull Tattoos
Here are some typical girly skull designs:
Grim Reaper Tattoos
Some skull tattoos are meant to be macabre. Take for instance the ‘grim reaper’ – a tall, hooded figure, usually holding a scythe (to harvest human souls).
Sometimes the skeleton is dressed differently – he may be wearing more casual attire, or holding a guitar for example. These images blend humor with a prevailing feeling of hopelessness or impending doom.
The grim reaper has been used a lot in medieval art to remind us of the fact that life is not infinite and that there is an afterlife. He is not affiliated with Satan, as some people believe, he's the symbol for death.
Bull & Deer Skull Tattoos
A skull tattoo doesn’t have to use a human skull design. There are a number of animal skulls that also make interesting tattoo designs.
There are many who choose a Southwest-style bull skull tattoo to represent their own style and the area that they love. They usually features the skull and prominently displayed horns, sometimes combined with Native American symbols like feathers.
Deer skull tattoos are another twist on the Southwest theme. They can be done with or without antlers, though the antlers are the best way to showcase the type of animal skull that is being depicted.
The Skull & Crossbones Tattoo
The skull and crossbones tattoo (aka Jolly Roger tattoo) is a popular design as well. A Jolly Roger flag was used by pirates to intimidate their victims. Skull and crossbones are also an international symbol for poison.
Sometimes, the black flag is replaced by a Confederate flag. Confederate skull tattoos may use the skull and crossbones in other ways as well, such as a skull that is covered in the Confederate flag’s stars and bars.
Skull and Flame Tattoos
Skull and flame tattoos are another popular design, here are 2 examples:
Famous Skull Tattoos
- Allen Iverson: NBA player, has got a skull with military helmet and the word SOLDIER underneath. His life has been a war and he's a soldier in it.
- Ben Affleck: has a skull and crossbones tattoo on his right arm, combined with a fish. He regrets his tattoos though and is thinking about laser removal.
- Chris Brown: has a skull with a halo over it tattooed on his right hand. He got this tattoo soon after his 18th birthday. It signifies that when you are dead, your flesh disintegrates and all that's left is the memory of you and you become an angel. He wanted to have something not too demonic, so he put a halo over it to turn the skull into something positive.
- Rihanna: has a girly skull tattoo on the back of her left foot.
- Slash: has a skull with guns and roses on his left arm.
- Jon Bon Jovi: celebrity with a longhorn skull on his right shoulder.
- Nicholas Cage: has a flaming skull tattoo on his left arm.
- Nick Cave: has a winged skull and bones design on his right shoulder with the name of his ex Anita underneath.
- Kelly Osbourne: has a skull and cross bones tat on each foot.
- Mickey Rourke: has a bull's skull with feathers on his right arm (Native American design).