Swallow Tattoos

Swallows are a staple of American traditional tattooing, and were first tattooed on sailors. They are as popular as ever to those who love travel and the sea, and are now done in other styles such as black and grey, realism, linework, dotwork, surrealism, and watercolor.

The meaning of a swallow tattoo was firstly to indicate that a sailor had sailed 5000 miles. They also mean a return home, as swallows would migrate, returning to their homes. A metaphorical return also meant that if a sailor died at sea, the swallow would carry their souls to heaven.

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Traditional swallow and rose by Josh Stutterby in Melbourne, Australia.
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Black and grey matching hand swallows by Ryan Jessiman at Old Habits tattoo in London.
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Surrealist starry sky swallow by Adrian Bascur in Viña del Mar.
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Linework swallow by Diana Katsko in Russia.
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Watercolor matching foot swallows by Simona Blanar at Black Bull tattoo in Prague.
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Simple traditional swallow by Harry Harvey at Vagabond tattoo in London, England.
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Traditional swallow by Hugh Sheldon at Cloak and Dagger in London, England.
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Dotwork and linework hand Swallow by Dr. Woo at shamrock Social Club in Los Angeles.

Which one is your favourite?

Hot Air Balloon Tattoos

Hot air balloon tattoos usually symbolize a need for adventure and or travel. They are often done in traditional style, new school, neo traditional, black and grey, or water colour.

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Brilliant hot air balloon carrying a castle in the sky, done by Uncle Allan in Berlin, Germany.
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Colourful little balloon done by Sasha Unisex.
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American traditional hot air balloon done by Mikael Harrstedt done in Skövde, Sweden.
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Creative American traditional take on a hot air balloon by Ivan Antonyshev done at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin, Texas.
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Water colour hot air balloon done by Iiona Kochetkova, a travelling tattooist based at Good Sign Tattoo.
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Traditional double exposure hot air balloon by Dima Naumov at WitchWood tattoo in Kyiv, Ukraine.
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Black and grey Tim Burton inspired hot air balloon done by David Boggins at American Crow tattoo in Columbus Ohio.
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Water colour, experimental hot air balloon done by Cüneyt Kolata done at Golden Arrow tattoo.
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Black and grey hot air balloon done by Clay McCay at Anonymous tattoo in Savannah, Georgia.

Which one is your favourite?

Grim Reaper Tattoo

The Grim Reaper is a sign of death in many cultures. In Western culture it is often seen as a skeleton in a cloak, with a scythe or a noose, usually a male. He is usually seen as frightening, but in myth does not actually kill people, he merely guides you to the afterlife. This version of the reaper is based off of Charon, from Greek mythology, who steers the boat across the River Styx, carrying the dead across to the underworld.

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American Traditional reaper by Chad Leever at Revolution Tattoo in Indiana.
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Amazing torso portrait of Charon crossing the River Styx by Teresa Sharpe at Unkindness Art in Richmond, VA.

Reaper tattoos are usually done in American traditional style, but are also often done in black and grey, neo traditional, dotwork, and realism.

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Dotwork Reaper riding the waves by Alicia Anderson at Village Ink Tattoos in Clearwater, FL.
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Dark Reaper back piece by Herb Auerbach at California Electric Tattoo Parlour in Soquel California.
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Reaper horse riding by Justin Dion at Sovereign Tattoo in Portland Oregon.

The reaper is often shown in tattoo form as just a hood and skull,with its scythe, but is also often seen in full body form.

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Traditional hooded Reaper by James Armstrong at Holy Mountain Tattoo in the UK.
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Dark female Reaper by Sim at Cosmic Tattoo in Essex UK.
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Female neo traditional hooded Reaper by Justin Harris at Black Vulture Gallery in Philadelphia.

Don’t fear the Reaper.

Rock of Ages Tattoo

The name Rock of Ages comes from a hymn written by Augustus Toplady in the mid to late 1700’s while he found refuge from a violent storm on a rock at sea. The first two lines of the hymn are “Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.” Rock of ages then became a painting about 100 years later. In the 1860’s Johannes Oertel painted a picture that was first called “Saved, or an Emblematic Representation of Christian Faith” which was later widely reproduced and called “Rock of Ages”.

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Painting by Johannes Oertel

The image was perfect for tattooing, with its strong, dramatic nautical theme, beautiful woman, and religious symbolism. As a tattoo this piece often also features a sinking ship, multiple women on the rock, skulls, multiple crosses, etc. The image has been recreated as a tattoo for a long time now, and can be traced as a tattoo as far back as the late 19th Century when it was tattooed by Samuel O’Reilly.

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Back piece by Chris Marchetto at Redemption Tattoo in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It is usually done in old school traditional style, but can also be done in black and grey or realism. The shape and diversity of the piece means it can be done well on many parts of the body. It is most popular on arms or as a full back piece.

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Black and grey back piece by Sterling Barck at White Lotus Tattoo in Laguna Hills.

The image can have many meanings, but most obvious is that your faith, whatever it is, will keep you safe during troubled times.

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Leg piece by Jake Miller at Cathedral Tattoo in Salt Lake City.
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Huge piece by Dave Halsey at Crying Heart Tattoo in Cincinnati.

What’s your favourite piece?

Artist of the Month: Sean Baltzell

Sean Baltzell is a thirty something year old, old school traditional artist working out of Tower Classic Tattooing in St. Louis. Sean is a talented artist who draws inspiration from skateboard graphics and album artwork from his younger days, mixing them with timeless old school designs, such as nautical themes, Japanese style, women, and animals.

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A portfolio by Brian Cummings shows clients who have been tattooed, some quite heavily, by Sean Baltzell.

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Sleeves, hands, ribs, stomach, chest, back, and even head and face tattoos on this man.
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Japanese style sleeve featuring a Hannya, snake, flowers, and a patterned background.
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Killer chest piece and sleeve.
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American traditional mixed with Japanese traditional makes a great dragon head.
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Smoking woman with a traditional flower.
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Another rad sleeve featuring a nautical theme with a ship in a bottle, swallow, woman, eagle, and more. The dots and stars brings it all together nicely.

What’s your favorite piece of his?

Moth Tattoos

Moth tattoos are the darker version of a butterfly tattoo. They often stand for searching for a light in the dark. They are also often associated with moonlight, searching for this light with little to no regard for their own safety. This makes it a vulnerable, spontaneous, but determined creature.

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Creepy, super realistic moth done by Duncan Whitfield, in Southampton, UK.

Moth tattoos can be done in most styles, but are most popular in black and grey, dotwork, realism, and old school. They are also often done in neo traditional.

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Traditional death moth and moon pairing done by Cory Craft in Lakeland FL, Black Swan Tattoo.

Death moth tattoos are also an extremely popular design. Deaths-Head Hawkmoth get their name from a species of moth that gets it’s name from the skull-like mark on its thorax. It has often been seen as a bad omen in history.In 1840, entomologist Moses Harris wrote that “It is regarded not as the creation of a benevolent being, but the device of evil spirits—spirits enemies to man—conceived and fabricated in the dark, and the very shining of its eyes is thought to represent the fiery element whence it is supposed to have proceeded. Flying into their apartments in the evening at times it extinguishes the light; foretelling war, pestilence, hunger, death to man and beast.” It is no wonder then that it is a popular tattoo design for lovers of the darker side of life.

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Death moth done on the back of the head by Alex Bage, done at Fat Panda tattoo in the UK.
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Neo traditional hand moth done by Ela Berger, a neo trad artist from Germany.
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Black and grey sternum piece by James Armstrong done at Holy Mountain tattoo in Scunthorpe UK.
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A rare watercolor moth and coverup tattoo done by Jay Van Gerven working out of Titan Tattoos in Hobart Tasmania.
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Small colorful elbow piece by Justin Dion at Sovereign Tattoo in Portland Oregon.
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An amazing black and dotwork back tattoo done by Kamil Mokot at AKA Berlin tattoo in Germany.
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Beautiful blackwork moth once again paired with a moon, done by Levi Hatch.
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An amazing macabre neo traditional moth and moon pairing done by Lipa Andrzej. See her work and where she will be tattooing at https://www.instagram.com/_lipa_/
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Amazingly detailed Dotwork tattoo done by Uls Metzger tattooing out of the Black Lodge, in Poland.
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Old school death moth tattoo by Virginia Elwood working out of Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, New York.
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One last traditional death moth tattoo done by Zach Bowden working out of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Do you have your own moth tattoo? Let’s see it in the comments!

Wolf Tattoo

Wolf tattoo’s are often done in American Traditional, or realism, but can also be done in black and grey, neo-traditional, dotwork, tribal, etc. The wolf is often a symbol of determination. It can also stand for having strong ties to family and friends, as the wolf is a pack animal.

The wolf is a particularly meaningful animal for Native American peoples; it is seen as a totem of power and strength, and also a spiritual guide. Wolves are symbolic of family life, as wolves mate for life and are strong parents.

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Bold full chest/stomach traditional piece by Heather Bailey at Black Heart in San Francisco.
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Bloody, menacing wolf and skull done by Andrey Lukovnikov from Poland, Wroclaw.

The wolf can also be used to represent hard times, or surviving hard times. A wolf tattoo that features a dagger often means that the person wearing the tattoo has overcome hardship, as well as a promise to oneself that they will never be defeated by personal struggles. Whatever the reason for a wolf tattoo,it is a strong design.

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American traditional wolf and dagger by Nick Luit from Calgary, Alberta.
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Neo-traditional wolf and dagger by Derek Zielinski tattooing out of Glass Heart Tattooing & Arts in Pennsylvania.
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American traditional wolf and dagger by Dominik Dagger at Illumination Tattoo Works in Germany. The heavy blackwork and bold yellow and red make this piece pop.

Black and grey wolf by Matthew Henning of Sacred Heart tattoo in Manchester, and detailed neo-traditional hand banger by Håkan Hävermark at Crooked Moon tattoo in Helsingborg, Sweden.

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Great muted tones in this American traditional chest piece by Mike Adams out of Homestead Tattoo, Frederick MD.
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Great colour in this elegant neo-traditional piece by Aniela Fruduva from Stockholm, Sweden, tattooing out of Black Byran.
Giena Todryk
Nature piece by Giena Todryk from Krakow, Poland.
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Black and grey realism piece by Sven Rayen, tattooing out of Studio Palermo, Belgium.
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Full wolf, dotwork piece by Pony Reinhardt at Tenderfoot Studio.

Another popular wolf design is a woman wearing a wolf as a cowl, often inspired by Little Red Riding Hood or Princess Mononoke.

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Neo-traditional wolf cowl piece by Justin Hartman tattooing out of Urban Art Tattoo and Piercing, Mesa, Arizona.
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Another great neo-traditional wolf cowl piece by Evany ink at Chronic Ink tattoo shop, Toronto.

What’s your favourite wolf tattoo style?

Jesus Tattoos

Tattoos of Jesus Christ are a very popular design, particularly scenes depicting him wearing the crown of thorns or him on the cross. Jesus tattoos are also often paired with his mother Mary, or angels.

Jesus tattoos can be done in many styles, but the most popular are American traditional, realism, and black and grey. Here are a few of the best!

Jacques Boyer
Black and grey chest and stomach piece by Jacques Boyer.
Benjamin Laukis
Great coloured realism piece by Benjamin Laukis at The Black Market Tattoo in Melbourne Australia.
Led Coult
Black and grey realism by Led Coult. Amazing sense of direction and depth in this piece!
Josh Mason Canonsburg, PA
Brilliant black and grey, American traditional back piece done by Josh Mason from Canonsburg, PA.
NikkoHurtado
Absolutely stunning colour chest piece of Jesus at the last supper done by the talented Nikko Hurtado out of Black Anchor Collective.
Niki Norberg
More black and grey realism, in an amazing full back piece done by Niki Norberg out of Konst & tatuering Art & tattoo.
Robert Ryan Asbury Park, NJ
Matching American traditional hand pieces of Christ and the virgin Mary, done by Robert Ryan out of Electric Tattoo in Asbury Park, NJ.
Tonez
Subtle, light black and grey piece by Tonez at Street City Tattoos.
Yomico Moreno
Muted colours in a detailed, realism piece by Yomico Moreno.

Which piece is your favourite?

Devil Tattoos

Devil tattoos are one of the classics in tattoo history. Devil doesn’t always refer to a red man with horns, it can also be just a symbol of evil. Having a symbol like this on your body can mean protection from demons/the devil by scaring them away. It can show a mischievous side of you, or a rebellious attitude. Sometimes they can be portrayed with an angel counterpart, or a woman, generally symbolizing the balance between good and evil.

Here are some of the best devil tattoo designs. They come in all kinds of styles, from American traditional, to neo-traditional, new school, black and grey, watercolour, realism, and experimental. Whatever the style, a devil tattoo is bold “as hell”.

Alena Chun knee cap
American traditional knee blaster by Alena Chun at Icon Tattoo Studio.
Adrian Edek
Intense full head piece by Adrien Edek at Lowbrow Tattoo Parlour. Those yellow eyes stand out wonderfully from the red, black and white space.
Dustin Barnhart Kitchener, Ontario
Another head piece, only for the toughest clients, these have got to hurt! Done by Dustin Barnhart from Kitchener Ontario at Berlin Tattoo. Another great example of a mischievous looking American Traditional devil.
Franz Stefanik Toronto
Franz Stefanik, helping represent Canadian artists, from Toronto at The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop. Juxtaposing life and death in this stomach piece. Ink right in the belly button must have been fun.
Gordon Combs
This piece has a definite Greek mythological feel to it. Done by Gordon Combs at Art Work Rebels.
Heath Clifford
Fantastic Neo Traditional, black and grey piece done by Heath Clifford at Throne Room Tattoo.
James Armstrong
More black and grey in this wonderfully inventive leg piece, done by the talented James Armstrong at Holy Mountain Tattoo.
Jon Larson - Ypsilanti Michigan
Huge devil and burning church done by Jon Larson from Ypsilanti Michigan at Depot Town Tattoo. Great use of the devil’s fur turning into the flames!
Paulina Szoloch
Interesting water colour, experimental piece by Paulina Szoloch.
Phil Hatchet-Yau - San Diego California
Palm pieces are tricky as they tend to fade quickly. This one looks like it isn’t going anywhere though. Done by Phil Hatchet-Yau from San Diego, California at Felix’s Master Tattoo and Museum.
Robert Borbas
Brilliant realistic black and grey leg sleeve done by Robert Borbas at Rooklet Ink in Hungary. Some seriously intense detail in this piece.
Sergey Vaskevich
Another stomach piece, done by Sergey Vaskevich. The muted tones in this fit the theme perfectly. Nothing too overpowering in this.
Thomas Flanagan - Leeds
Neat matching hand pieces done by Thomas Flanagan out of Leeds, at Oddfellows Tattoo Collective. Quite a bit of detail for such a small space.

Share your own devil tattoo’s in the comments!