Skull tattoos have been popular for a number of decades. Although skulls are primarily thought to represent death, they are still highly requested tattoo subjects. Some of the most recognized skull tattoos around the world are the “Jolly Roger” skull and crossbones designs that were popularized by pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. Symbolizing the presence of pirates, the skull and crossbones was used to ward off trespassers and promise death if they did not turn back. Today, it is one of many well-known and widely recognized skull tattoos.
Variations of Skull Tattoos
There are many variations of skull tattoos that are available in today’s tattoo studios. The addition of roses within a tattoo design can help to soften the hard nature of the skull while inviting vibrant colors into the design. Many times, these types of skull tattoos also incorporate a flowing ribbon or banner where a name or message can be added. Designs pairing snakes and skulls symbolize immortality and knowledge. Candlesticks (referencing black magic), daggers, swords and spider webs are other elements that are commonly featured in skull tattoos.
Flaming Skull Tattoos
Skull tattoos featuring roaring flames is another popular design combination. Flaming skulls are not only popular as body art, but as airbrushed art on motorcycles, helmets, snowboards, and in a variety of other applications. The burning flames add bursts of yellows, oranges and reds to otherwise monotone skull tattoos. Today, flaming skulls have become a common symbol for outlaws, making them popular among bikers.
Styles of Skull Tattoos
Skull tattoos can range in style from laughing cartoon skulls to finely detailed evil skull drawings. Light-hearted cartoon skull tattoos may feature a skull wearing a top hat, smoking a cigar or singing into a microphone – all drawn in simple outline form or in an “old school” style. Evil skull drawings commonly feature screaming skulls or those with an evil laughing expression accessorized with spider webs or blood. These evil skull drawings are generally more detailed, and popular, than their cartoon counter-parts.
Southwestern Skull Tattoos
Skull tattoos are not always drawn referencing human skulls. Designs incorporating animal skulls such as cows and bulls are popular selections for those seeking tattoos with southwestern flavors. The inclusion of rattlesnakes, lizards, feathers and cacti are standard additions to these themed skull tattoos. Many southwestern skull tattoos incorporating cowboy themes also include cowboy boots, spurs and lassoes. Almost all southwestern skull tattoos have one commonality: desert landscapes and dry soil.
Religious Skull Tattoos
Skull tattoos featuring skull cups, or “thod phor” in Tibetan, are symbols of Buddhism. Cups such as these were made from the upper, oval portion of human skulls. It is believed that the age and cause of death would determine the power of the skull. The younger or more violent the death, the more effective the skull was during tantric rituals. During these rituals, a half skull cup filled with blood would be called “Asrkkapala” and “Mamsa kapala” when filled with flesh. Participants would partake of these parts that were thought to be those of a demon.
In Christianity, there are a few ideas as to why the crucifix sometimes appears with a skull at its base. One theory is that it symbolizes the location where Christ was crucified. This location is called both Calvary and Golgotha, translating to “Place of Skulls.” Another theory is that Christ was crucified at Adam’s burial site; therefore, the skull is that of Adam. Lastly, it is thought that the skull is at the base of the crucifix to represent Christ’s victory over both evil and death.
Tribal Skull Tattoos
Finally, the ever-popular tribal tattoo makes a bold statement when combined with skull drawings. The unified theme of death between the skull and the color black are almost harmonious as a team. Additionally, the sharp points found in most tribal patterns contrast beautifully with the smooth curvature of human and animal skulls. With limitless design options, tribal skull tattoos can be found on countless flash sheets adorning tattoo studios around the world.
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