No longer a women-only style, the ankle is rapidly becoming a popular place for men to discreetly show small, symbolic images. Ankle tattoos not only show off a man’s modern sensibility, but they have the advantage of being versatile and easy to hide.
For the modern man, showing a bit of ankle is bold.
Out with socks, out with stuffy pants that go all the way to the floor! Ankles are where it’s at.
With an ankle tattoo, showing off this bit of unexpected skin is even bolder. You can choose to pack in the punch of an ankle tattoo with a small, sleek images that holds tremendous personal meaning. Gruff classics like celtic and tribal symbols are perfect for this small patch of skin, as are names, dates, and personal mottos.
More daring men might even choose the ankle to make an even more audacious statement. While the ankle is small, it is an unparalleled starting place for a large, intricate masterpiece that extends all the way up the leg. There’s no reason to think of the ankle as an isolated spot that can hold only one minuscule symbol.
Take advantage of this usually-overlooked patch of skin to put something that truly represents your aesthetic and values. The limit is where you decide it is, be it the knee, the hip, or the armpit.
1. Winged Ankle Tattoos
In this ankle tattoo the artist takes a realistic approach to create the different layers of feathers, using black and gray ink to create the subtle variations in the feathers, completed with an excellent use of white ink for the highlights.
Here, using precise lines and an expert application of black and gray shading the artist creates a wing that looks like it belongs to an archangel, perfectly evoking images of the wings of Hermes, messenger of the Gods.
This tattoo uses stipple shading and a variation in dot density to create this ankle wing that is reminiscent of hand etched lithographs.
There are dozens of different designs that can be utilized in ankle tattoos, although one trend that is growing in popularity uses wings as the focal point of these interesting pieces. Images of winged ankles are a reference to the Greek god Hermes.
In the ancient Greek tradition, Hermes was the fastest of all the gods thanks to his winged sandals, and as such was the messenger of the gods. Hermes was also the only god permitted to visit all three realms—Heaven, Earth and the Underworld—and his penchant for stealing earned him the patronage of thieves and cheaters.
Whether the wearer uses ankle wing tattoos as a legitimate ode to this Greek god or as a broader dedication to the tenants of light-footedness and speed is of no consequence: these are great ankle tattoos for both men and women.
2 Palm Tree Ankle Tattoos
The unmistakable silhouette of a coconut palm is perfectly recreated in this simple, black ankle tattoo that represents the wearer’s love of all things beach.
This is a lovely tattoo that uses black and gray ink to create a moonlit beach scene that brings to mind swaying coconut palms and gently lapping waves, all framed by a bold black outline that ties everything together.
In this piece the artist uses a limited design scheme and color palette with a simplified composition to create a palm tree tattoo that is reminiscent of new-wave sticker art.
Here is another tattoo that uses stipple shading, this time with a more cartoon-like approach that applies a variation in the density of the dots to create depth while a circular outline frames the piece and improves overall composition.
People have been tattooing palm trees on their bodies since the earliest days of Western tattoos. Sailors would often get island scenes complete with palm trees to carry a bit of land wherever they went, and these interesting trees are still popular elements today. These trees bring to mind tropical islands, tiki drinks and lazy days spent swinging in a hammock; however, palm trees hold significance other than just symbols of a beach bum’s way of life.
Starting in the ancient Middle East, palms came to represent victory, triumph and peace, and this deeper significance spread throughout the Greek world. Victorious athletes and warriors alike were presented with palm fronds as a symbol of their success; this tradition carried into Rome whose god of victory—name Victorious—was often represented by a palm frond.
Whatever the significance that these trees hold for the wearer, the distinct look and interesting meaning they represent make them excellent subjects for unique ankle tattoos.
3. Anchor Ankle Tattoos
This small, black ink anchor piece is applied using clean and precise line work, capturing only the essential lines to create an interesting nautical ankle tattoo.
Anchors are another design element that has been used in Western tattoos as far back as they go. Born of the nautical travails of sailors travelling to the South Pacific and the Orient, American traditional tattooing originally drew inspiration from this rough and tumble lifestyle, and the anchor was an essential part of a sailor’s life.
Part of this tradition was the very specific meanings behind these tattoos. While certain ink represented different ranks aboard a ship—ropes on the wrist signified the rank of deckhand while crossed cannons represented military service—other work was even more specific. Within this scheme, an anchor meant that a sailor had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, thus earning their ink.
While the rules and significance associated with naval tattoos have fallen by the wayside, anchors are still powerful symbols of resilience, hope and a steadfast nature, although the truest meaning remains up to the wearer.
4. Simple Ankle Ink
Thanks to a precise application of black lines and well planned composition, this simple ankle tattoo perfectly recreates a set of spinning cogs that undoubtedly holds powerful meaning for the wearer.
In this piece—reminiscent of pencil sketches— the artist takes an illustrative approach to the molar tooth that utilizes a bold black outline, expert hatching for shading as well as darker tones to add a sense of depth and complete this excellent ankle tattoo.
This clean and simple tattoo uses a limited number of precise lines to create a pineapple, eschewing any shading or gray tones in favor of a stripped down interpretation of this tropical fruit.
Two arrows crossed, probably one of the simplest tattoos you can find, this piece is applied to the ankle using clean lines and a steady hand.
Here, a laurel wreath, the quintessential Greek symbol of victory— both in the arena and on the battlefield—is created using black ink with excellent placement framing the ankle joint that makes for a more pleasing composition.
This is an interesting tattoo—as much for the line work as for the intriguing use of negative space—that perfectly recreates the naturally chaotic nature of a spider’s web.
There is no doubt that large and intricate tattoos are appealing, however there is something to be said for small and simple designs. There is an understated elegance to these clean pieces that more complex tattoos often lack. These simple designs are perfectly suited for the ankle thanks to the limited line work and use of negative space; from the classic smiley face we all know, to more unique and interesting designs that call to mind pencil sketches, these unpretentious pieces make for excellent ankle tattoos.
5. Ankle Script Tattoos
A straightforward way to add meaning to a tattoo that is a bit more obvious than the shapes, patterns and designs is to add script. For some people the best way to commemorate the birth of a child or two people entering a marriage is to get the date alongside a meaningful quote inked on their skin.
Thankfully, tattoo artists understand the importance of script in their work and most artists spend time developing this skill in order to deliver clean, precise script. The endless variety of different fonts and typefaces also means that everyone can find a style that fits with their sensibilities, whether that is bold and straightforward or a more complex and stylized script.
6. Geography and Ankle Compass Tattoos
Tattoos are great ways to commemorate different aspects of life, from family and friends, to the hobbies and past times that make life a bit more fun; these are all great inspiration for permanent body art. It’s no surprise then that many choose designs that incorporate specific geographical features and maps into tattoos.
Many people use cartographic elements in tattoos as a way to represent the bond they have with specific parts of world. Whether it is the town where they were born and raised, or all the different counties they have lived in, geographic tattoos are great ways to commemorate these deep feelings of connection with a location.
Compasses are another powerful element that can be utilized in these tattoos. A compass is an instantly recognizable instrument that holds a variety of meanings. Probably the most common significance associated with these cartographic tools is the power they have to help someone orientate themselves: when you have a compass you always know where you are, and many people choose to get these ankle tattoos to remind them that in order to know where you are going, you first have to understand where you are.
7. Sun Surf and Sand Ankle Tattoos
Life is a beach. While this is a funny play on another common phrase, for some people it really does sum up their easy going attitude and laid back way of life. For these people there is no better way to commemorate their love for all things sun and surf than with tattoos. For other folks, these tattoos are inspired by their respect for and bond with the ocean, using these tattoos to display their relationship with the most powerful of natural forces.
From crashing waves and sea creatures to playful, comic tattoos, the limitless potential for inspiration that comes from the ocean means that there is a tattoo for every walk of life.
8. Skulls and Bones Ankle Tattoos
This is an excellent black, line work tattoo that uses an expert understanding of hatching to create depth and texture in this skeleton piece that is equally reminiscent of Greek tragedies and The Grateful Dead.
Using clean lines and precise stipple shading, this artist creates the unmistakable symbol for rock ‘n’ roll on the wearer’s ankle and adds a slightly macabre twist thanks to bare bones approach.
Skulls have been common elements in tattoos for decades, and while these macabre designs were originally associated with bikers and some of the rougher tattoo enthusiasts, in today’s world where Justin Bieber is covered with ink from the neck down, anyone can get a skull tattoo.
When we start to look at the different styles and methods that can be utilized to create these interesting pieces it is no wonder why they are popular.
There is something fundamentally appealing about skulls. They are the quintessential symbol of death and decay, however a feeling of accepting—if not overcoming—the passing nature of life can be achieved by inking skulls on our bodies. Sure, everyone dies, but when you get a skull tattoo it is a way to acknowledge death, and even embrace it by decorating your body with death.
9. Innovative Ankle Tattoos
This is a great tattoo that allows the artist to show off the meticulous nature of their skill thanks to the painstaking application of hatching and stipple shading that is used in this otherwise simple ankle tattoo.
In this bio-mech inspired piece, the artist is able to recreate the look of an actual circuit integrated into the wearer’s body through the variation in gray tones that add a level of depth, giving the piece the impression of being underneath the wearer’s skin.
Here, the artist takes a loose approach, using fully saturated black ink and negative space to create this ankle tattoo that is reminiscent of near- forgotten MTV programming like Beavis & Butthead and Liquid TV.
This is a beautiful tattoo that uses an illustrative approach reminiscent of hand cut lithographs to create a camp fire that is impressive for the contrasting lines of the fire and smoke, giving this tattoo a sense of movement that is difficult to achieve in such a simplified design.
In the world of art, boundaries are meant to be broken. The only way to create new and exciting designs is to push the limit of what is acceptable and possible, and few mediums more actively follow this ethos than the world of tattoos. Artists are constantly working on their technique, expanding their tool box by experimenting with different methods and applications to create art that is new and innovative.
We need only to look at how far tattooing has come in the last 80 years. From the origin of Western tattooing in American traditional, all the way to the hyper-realistic color pieces that are achieved today, the level of improvement in every level of the work is on full display. If Sailor Jerry could see what the artists of today are capable of his head would explode.
10. Tree Ankle Tattoos
Humans have been interacting with trees for millennia; it’s no surprise that we would incorporate them into this most permanent of body art. Trees make interesting tattoos for a few reasons, and the variety of meaning that different trees hold means that there is a tree out there for everyone. Palm trees have much different connotations associated with them, compared to evergreens, and cypress trees undoubtedly mean something different than maple trees.
While there is variation in the meaning that specific trees hold, in general trees are associated with steadfastness, loyalty and perseverance. These qualities make them interesting choices for ankle tattoos thanks to the opportunity to incorporate roots into the tattoo creeping onto the foot, further enhancing the qualities of strength and resilience.
11. Tribal Ankle Tattoos
There dozens of different styles that fall under the umbrella of tribal. From the “modern” tribal designs that gained popularity in the 2000’s to the traditional Ta Moko of the Maori in New Zealand, there is plenty of material to draw from. Many of the tattoos that take inspiration from traditional tribal designs hold deep significance and it’s important to research prospective designs to ensure proper respect is given to these powerful tattoos.
That being said, tribal pieces can make for great ankle tattoos. Whether the wearer wants a single, standalone piece or the end goal is a full leg sleeve, tribal design is a popular style that will continue to turn heads.
Ankle Tattoo FAQs
Do ankle tattoos hurt?
Short answer: yes. All tattoos hurt, and while there are definitely areas that hurt more and some that hurt less, it is important to understand that pain is a necessary part of the process. That being said, the ankle is actually one of the more painful parts of the body to get tattooed.
The sensation of pain is caused by the nerve endings in our body being irritated, in the case of tattoos, by a needle puncturing the skin hundreds and hundreds of times per minute. As such, the more densely packed the nerves are, the more painful that tattoo will be. Another mitigating factor in how much a tattoo will hurt is the amount of muscle and fat in the area: the more muscle and fat usually equates to less pain.
Back to the ankle. There is very little muscle and fat surrounding the bones in the ankle, meaning that the needle will be penetrating the skin stretched over bone and ligaments, making for a much more painful experience than, say, a tattoo applied to the bicep.
While there is no doubt that an ankle tattoo will hurt, the reward is worth it. Everything from cute simple designs, to full blown tribal leg sleeves that extend to the foot, look great on the ankle; and an added bonus is that you’ll earn some tough guy points from anyone else who has ink in painful spots.
Where is the ideal placement for an ankle tattoo?
Just like any other tattoo, the placement of an ankle piece is determined by the style, shape and design of the tattoo. Some pieces mimic anklets, wrapping around the entire ankle. For these tattoos a placement a little bit higher on the ankle is optimal. Other designs fit better beneath the protruding bone on the outside of the ankle—which is actually the fibula meeting the foot.
It is also worth contemplating how the new piece fits in with existing work as well as how other tattoos can be incorporated into larger compositions further down the road. Whatever the case, ankle tattoos are a popular choice for the fully-covered veteran as well as new comers getting their first ink