In the world of ink, the most spectacular depictions are not always the most complex. Simplicity is often the way to achieve the greatest impact and unmistakably deliver the poignancy of a deliberate meaning.
Awesome simple tattoos can be small and unobtrusive, or they can be immense and eye-catching.
A simple design is often the best way to display a bold and intense image on skin. Single-color designs fascinate the eye because the interplay of line work is eminently visible. Color blocking is one of the most fundamentally uncomplicated techniques in a tattooist’s tool kit, and it creates some of the most impactful and mind-bending tattoos imaginable. Negative space illustrations create an added atmosphere of drama by surrounding the main image in solid color.
More conservative tattoos pack another kind of punch by utilizing only as much ink as is necessary to impart their distinctive effect. A small, distinct tattoo standing out against the wrist, neck or ankle creates a sense of familiarity and affection for those who notice them.
Simple designs denote clear and masterful intentions. Unnecessary intricacies only distract from a precise message. No one can doubt the strength of intention behind an image that is crisp and unambiguous in its execution. There’s no need to dilute a stylish but simple image with excessive embellishment. Check out these examples and see for yourself.
1. Circular dotwork tattoos
Simple tattoos are a great choice to convey powerful meanings through the use of limited designs. One shape that is utilized to great effect in these pieces is the circle: this simple shape is packed full of symbolic meaning for a number of reasons. The circle is a shape that represents perfection and is strongly associated with the divine. The ancient Greek philosopher Hermes Trismegistus—whose work laid the foundation for Hermeticism—is quoted as saying “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
Beyond philosophical musings, we can examine the unique nature of the circle with the help of mathematics. By inspecting the physical world around us we are able to understand the smallest and largest structures, and realize that they are both circular; from the heavens above us to the molecules that make up our very cells, the circle is there. One only has to look at the unique mathematical concept of Pi, with its infinite decimal points carrying on forever but never repeating, to catch a glimpse of the mystical nature of circles.
Here are some great examples of tattoos that use dots—the circle’s smaller cousin—and these powerful shapes to create unique pieces.
This is a clean piece that uses a gradated consistency of precise dot work, excellent negative space and eschewing a solid black outline to create a simple globe tattoo on the wearer’s wrist.
This piece uses dense stipple shading and a clean, but limited use of line work as well as exact negative space to create a clean tattoo that is reminiscent of art from newspaper comics.
Here is an excellent black and gray piece that uses a precise variation in dot work, as well as a clever use of negative space and limited line work to perfectly capture the silhouette of India’s most famous structure, the Taj Mahal.
This tattoo makes great use of varied stipple work, along with clean lines and smart negative space to create a design that takes a celestial scene and anthropomorphizes it to create a face.
2. Unique small tattoos
For some people, tattoos are a way to identify with a group of similar-minded individuals, whether it’s a club, a military unit, or simply a group of friends. For others, there is no better way to set themselves apart from the crowd than by getting a unique tattoo. In fact, this is one of the greatest aspects of this permanent body art: the shape and designs of a tattoo are limited only by the imagination of the wearer and the skill of the artist.
Inspiration for these unique pieces can come from anywhere. Some people take images from existing art and movies and incorporate them into absurdist compositions, while others draw inspiration for these one of a kind designs from their own dreams and imagination. One thing is for sure, wherever these pieces arise from, there are few feelings better than wearing a tattoo and knowing that there is absolutely no chance you will find anyone else with the same ink. Here are some interesting tattoos that are almost guaranteed to be unique.
This tattoo takes an iconic image—the silhouette of Sasquatch taken from the iconic Patterson-Gimlin film—and uses bold, black and white line work to perfectly capture this mythical creature mid-stride.
Here is a unique, simple tattoo with meaning that uses black and gray ink, along with clean line work to create a one of a kind flip-flop creature that is sure to turn heads.
These crossed arrows are formed with perfectly straight lines, clean, consistent shading and prominently displayed on the forearm to ensure everyone can see this cool, simple tattoo.
This artist uses black and gray ink and a variety of shading techniques to perfectly capture the different texture of the objects that undoubtedly hold personal significance to the wearer.
This is an excellent tattoo that utilizes bold lines and a limited use of hatching and stipple work to create a stylized human heart, complete with veins and blood spurting out of the arteries.
3. Black line ink
Tattoos go through fads and styles just like any other element of creative expression; tribal pieces, butterflies, and skulls have all ebbed and flowed on the waves of changing trends. Barring some specific exceptions (see watercolor-inspired designs) all of these different styles have one thing in common: lines. Due to the complex nature of human skin as a medium, tattoo art is different from other mediums like oil paints and ink, and because of this, special considerations must be made when considering different designs.
An old adage in the tattoo world says “bold will hold”. This refers to the line work that forms the backbone for these designs, and the paramount importance of bold line work in creating a tattoo that will stand the test of time. This line work can come in any number of different styles and designs, from script work to American traditional pieces, but a consistent application and full saturation of ink are required for any tattoo that can be expected to last. Here are some great black ink pieces that are sure to last.
The script work in this simple tattoo is clean and precise, with prominent placement on the forearm serving as a permanent reminder to the wearer of the significance of these two important dates.
This unique, but simple design uses bold and clean line work to create glyphs, conspicuously placed on the wearer’s arm for the entire world to see.
This piece is a great example of a classic American traditional design that, thanks to bold lines and consistent application, does not suffer from a lack of color.
Here, the artist takes an interesting approach that is reminiscent of gesture drawings and utilizes clean lines and a loose composition to perfectly capture two hands completing the unbreakable bond of the “pinky swear”.
This is an interesting piece that takes a clean, single line and twists it into a unique and abstract shape that must hold some deeper significance for the wearer that is not readily apparent to the outside observer.
This great tattoo creates a simple but unmistakable rendition of wax palms, the world’s tallest palm trees, taking a minimalistic approach that uses the least amount of ink to depict these fascinating trees found in the Colombian Andes.
4. Innovative dotwork tattoos
An interesting stylistic trend has gained popularity in tattoo work in the last ten years. While there is no doubt that dot work has been incorporated in tattoos for thousands of years—in fact, the mummified man found in the Italian alps known as Otzi Man shows evidence of dot work tattoos from 5.3 thousand years ago—stipple work has become more popular in the tattoo scene recently.
Many people use this technique to create an effect that is reminiscent of lithographs and illustrations from books printed using traditional techniques. In reality, the sky is the limit when utilizing the precise application of small dots to create interesting designs. Stipple shading is becoming a bold alternative to more classic shading techniques that can add layers of texture and depth to designs that make for more eye-catching tattoos.
The featured pieces are interesting examples of the way dot work can make for unique tattoos that stand out from other, more traditional designs.
This piece takes bold line work and uses limited hatching and a dense application of tiny dots to create a stylized lightning bolt that could come straight out of a comic book.
In this piece, the artist uses an informed understanding of negative space as well as expertly applied stipple work to create a Valknut, a symbol common in ancient Nordic and Germanic traditions with a variety of significance attached to it.
This artist takes an illustrative approach that utilizes clean line work and precise stipple shading to expertly create a Native American peace pipe, a sacred object used by a number of tribes in a variety of traditions and ceremonies.
Here, bold lines and varied densities of stipple work are used to create this simple tattoo on the wrist of the wearer that depicts a stylized cloud floating in the sky.
This is a great little tattoo that takes clean lines and excellent dot work and creates a classic UFO using its tractor beam to pull an ant into the ship for an examination.
5. Clever small tattoos
Some tattoos are straightforward in their meaning: family names, inspirational quotes and photo-realistic portraits of loved ones are very direct ways to show the importance these things play in the wearer’s life. For some people, however, less candid designs better suit their personality and sense of style—as well as their sense of humor.
Once again, these clever tattoos demonstrate the wonderful diversity of styles and significance that tattoos can represent: some people get tattooed with designs that can act as a sort of inside joke. While not everyone will understand the significance of a design, those that are in on the joke will appreciate the deeper meaning of the piece. Other tattoos take common objects and incorporate them into a composition that imbues them with a more profound significance, taking the ordinary to the extraordinary with the use of a clever concept.
Here are some great examples of tattoos that are a bit funny, a bit clever, and definitely one of a kind.
The unmistakable shape of an X-Wing is created here with precise line work, and a simple, almost child-like script, gives a nod to the original film that set this franchise on its way to world domination.
This artist utilizes excellent negative space as well as a limited use of stipple shading and color to perfectly capture the paper airplanes that we all spent our childhoods tossing across classrooms.
A common design element in American traditional tattoo work, this artist takes a more realistic approach with great use of black and gray shading with white ink highlights to create the wheel of a ship.
This is a unique piece that uses dense stipple work and an informed understanding of negative space to create the effect of the moon, stars and a galaxy swirling on the surface of an ice-cream bar.
6. Blackwork tattoos
Many people like their tattoos to be vibrant affairs that use vivid colors to create abstract designs or photo-realistic scenes straight out of National Geographic, but tattoos are deeply personal, and for some people, bright colors just aren’t true to their personality. For these people, black is the only way to go. When tattoos originated there was far less choice when it came to colors, in fact, there was no choice and many people still prefer the striking nature of these blackwork tattoos.
These designs—sometimes simple, sometimes more elaborate—use black ink and negative space to create bold tattoos that stand out without the need for vibrant colors. While many people use blackwork to create tribal designs that are primal in their appeal, script work, cross-hatch shading, and clever composition can all be utilized to create black tattoos that are as unique and varied as any color piece.
The pieces featured here are just a taste of what is possible with black ink and a talented artist.
Here, the artist uses limited black line work to create a rhinoceros with fangs, breaking free from chains that is reminiscent of old-school comic book art.
This is a great piece that uses fully saturated black ink and negative space to create a unique skeleton tattoo that looks like it could come off the flash wall of a macabre American traditional shop.
This artist takes a simplified Old-English font and uses fully saturated black ink to create the number 13, a common element in tattoos for decades that holds a variety of meaning and significance depending on who you ask.
This is an interesting tattoo that uses deep, fully saturated black and negative to create a stark contrast to create this simple scene that appears to be inspired by Greek mythology.
7. Tattoos featuring blades
The different design elements that make up tattoos can be pulled from anywhere: nature, film, the real world, nothing is off-limits in the world of tattoos. However, many of the classic elements common in American traditional tattoos found their way into the cultural lexicon thanks to the rough and tumble origins of Western tattoo work.
Before the days of couture tattoo studios and thousand dollar ink, tattoos started as sailors’ physical memoirs of their time at sea and at war, and one of these elements is a dagger. These aggressive pieces originally symbolized a ruthless nature, death or betrayal, although some of this intense meaning has faded over the years.
Despite the dilution of the fierce origins of American tattoos, the art remains, and dagger tattoos can still hold powerful personal significance to the wearer, and at the same time be beautiful works of art.
Here are some great examples of pieces that incorporate daggers to great effect.
This is an excellent piece that uses expertly applied lines and a number of different techniques, including cross-hatching and black and gray shading, to create this black and gray dagger that appears to be a stiletto or perhaps a bayonet.
This artist takes a more illustrative approach to this folding knife that uses cross-hatching on the handle and a number of different techniques in the blade including swirls and stipple work to create a stylized effect of metal reflecting light.
This clean tattoo uses bold line work and a variation in dot work—from complete negative space to almost full black—to create the different textures on this iconic blade that instantly brings to mind images of the Grim Reaper collecting souls.
These excellent, complimentary daggers display a variety techniques and styles, from the limited use of bold colors and a more traditional design on the left, to the more modern design and whip shading used to create texture and highlights in the dagger on the left.
Looking for more approaches to small tattoo design? Click on the links below for more galleries:
- Small Manly Tattoo Ideas
- 47 Bad Ass Small Tattoo Ideas
- Small Geometric Tattoo Ideas
- Coolest Small Tattoo Ideas