How Do I Choose a Meaningful Tattoo?

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Photo by Cristian Borquez; licensed via Creative Commons.

Tattoos are a beautiful way to express your uniqueness and individuality. The sheer abundance of tattoo designs and ideas can make it difficult to choose a significant tattoo rather than just a design that you like; after all, the only limits are your imagination and the artist's skill. Many people select their art simply based on aesthetics; many others, however, choose a design that represents something significant about your life, beliefs, values, loves, or experiences.

If you fall into the latter group and are considering a new tattoo, you'll need to channel your thoughts and come up with a unique idea. Where to start? Here are a few ideas:

Dates

Births, weddings, and other significant occasions are easy to commemorate with a tattoo that shows the calendar date. Dates can be written in various styles, fonts and characters (think Roman numerals, calendar graphics, calligraphy). Zodiac symbols are always significant and do not change, so they're an interesting choice, too. Along with birthstones, every birth month has its own flower and animal, too, either of which are good choices. You can also go the route of the Chinese horoscope and tattoo the animal that represents your birth year. 

Portraits

Renderings of children, spouses, and parents also make very meaningful tattoo designs. These tattoos are timeless when done in black and gray. You can also frame your portraits with filigree details that will create a Victorian cameo style.

You can even have your artist do a locket-inspired piece featuring a person's likeness for a beautiful jewelry-inspired tattoo. The talent of the artist takes center state in this style of tattooing, so ask around for recommendations check ratings online, and view artists' portfolios. Portraits can be very good—and very bad.

If you choose this type of tattoo, make sure to provide a clear, high-quality source photo to give your artist her best shot at replicating it faithfully.

Verses and Lettering

Tattoos featuring words and phrases can express your favorite sentiment and be worn as a daily affirmation. Placed on your inner wrist or forearm, where it is most visible, script tattoos can be inspired by song verse, poetry, or book quotes. Consider asking a loved one—a child, a parent, a friend—for a signature that the tattooist can copy. Some people honor loved ones who've passed on by using their signatures as tattoo designs, too.

Favorite Movies, Book Characters, and Video Games

From Pokémon to superheroes, the tattoo industry has broadened enough in both style and talent to render whatever you can come up with in this realm. 

Lost for Ideas?

If you just can't seem to decide on the perfect design, take the time to find an artist who will work with you to create a tattoo that suits you. Once you've revealed a few personal details, most tattoo artists can brainstorm a few designs based on your interests, hobbies, experiences, and circumstances, and can suggest some that fit your desired placement and size. No matter how good the artist's suggestion is, make sure it really fits you before committing.

Don't be in a hurry to commit to a design, especially if you want a tattoo with meaning. Remember, this is permanent (unless you undergo painful tattoo removal).

Tattoo magazines provide plenty of visual inspiration. Keep a notebook filled with all of the design ideas that have caught your eye. When the time is right for your next piece of art, you will have plenty of ideas and musings ready to work with; they might inspire more for you and for your tattoo artist.

Always keep tattoo placement in mind, too. This will have a bearing on its size and styling. Some people group several meaningful tattoos together. Some even plan their next tattoos as part of larger designs that get inked over a period of time.

Gradually and thoughtfully are the best ways to proceed with your body art. Once you have a plan for your art in a style you like, you can scope out inspiration for design ideas that will have more significance and meaning later, as your life unfolds.

Today's artists are exposed to many more opportunities within the industry as tattoos become more socially acceptable. Taking ample time to plan a tattoo with meaning is worth it. You'll be wearing your body art for a lifetime, so choose wisely.