Instagram is a perfectly good place to research tattoo designs, or to find an artist whose work you admire, but it can quickly become a sea of interchangeable infinity symbols, feathers, skulls, anchors, cheesy inspirational quotes, and mistranslated Kanji. And we all deserve better than that, right?
Perhaps you would be surprised to learn that tattoo design research is one of the many services librarians can provide! In addition to compilations of tattoo designs, the Art, Music, & Recreation Department has collections of illustrations, historical clip art, and graphic design, and other inspirational sources to help you design a tattoo that’s unique, beautiful, and perfect for you.
If you’re looking for a few off the beaten path ideas right now, here are some librarian-recommended and librarian-approved design ideas.
Floral tattoos never go out of style, but you can freshen up those motifs by looking to the source for material that’s unique. One such source for precise yet phantasmagorical plantlife designs is the 1696 Accurate Description of Terrestrial Plants. Art Nouveau florals, in the style of Will Bradley’s Victor Bicycle posters, are breathtaking as well.
Animal designs are also extremely popular, especially cephalopods, birds, and butterflies. You can find many reference drawings of these and other inkable critters in the library’s collections of 18th-century and 19th-century animal illustrations, as meticulous as they are beautiful. And if you feel like strolling from the beaten path, may we suggest a Malayan sun bear, a Blood pheasant, or a skate or ray.
I love a sexy devil or a rockabilly pinup as much as the next person, but nothing says timeless like an Alphonse Mucha beauty. Look to work from the Golden Age of Illustration as well—the enchanted wonderlands and fairytale dreamscapes of Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, and Edmund Dulac will hold you spellbound.
Skulls and angels are two more perennial favorites, and you can find unusual variations on those themes in medieval and Renaissance illustrations. This cupid, holding a cup of tears in one hand and a spit full of hearts in the other, is crying out to be tattooed on someone’s forearm. Aubrey Beardsley’s saucy and subversive illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome are similarly inkable.
The barbed wire armband is another common tattoo. If you’re interested in a pattern that’s more unique, consider a pattern motif from ancient Egyptian or Mesopotamian art.
If it’s going to be inked on your body for the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to do a little research. Don’t be afraid to ask a librarian for help tracking down the right source material. Clearly, we have strong opinions about this.