Since the first of his kind took to water, the seafarer and his roving mythology have fascinated sailor and landlubber alike.
Life on the high seas was unforgiving, with death among the fathoms always a storm or fatal accident away, but the intoxicating freedom and exhilarating adventure were well worth the danger.
Such a life was worth commemorating in ink, and the sailor’s tattoo catalogue persists to this day.
The anchor is perhaps the most recognizable of the seafarer’s insignias, and likewise the most popular. Simple enough in shape, the anchor carries a litany of meaning and symbolism, historically regarded as a signifier that one has made his first crossing over the Atlantic. Naval officers and newcomers alike proudly bore the anchor tattoo not only as a mark of their first Atlantic passage, but right of passage as well. The anchor is a mark of success over a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, that one’s troubles were ultimately not enough to drag them down.
Your anchor tattoo needn’t be elaborate, but a simple testament of what you’ve endured and triumphed over. You may not be a man of the sea, but you are a man of the world, a risk-taker with a soul as deep as the waters so many have crossed for centuries. Such a life deserves a mark of remembrance, so why not start with the oldest badge of honor of all?
1. American traditional anchor tattoos
Check out the common characteristics of American traditional style tattoo, the old school themes central to anchor tattoo expression. There’s a limited color palette comprising black, green, red and yellow with comparatively little shading and negative space. The keys to American traditional are the intersection of predominantly flat color fills separated by thick, yet still sharp black lines needle work. The tattoos are compact, well ordered, and look extremely fresh on the skin.
2. Small anchor tattoos
Anchors are a great motif for use in small, unobtrusive tattoos. Their natural shape is interesting yet solid which works well for ink that may otherwise be swallowed up by bare flesh or other body art. As can be seen in the examples above small anchors can be dropped anywhere, including the face, neck, and head.
3. Innovative anchor tattoos
Anchors are tremendous for your funkier tattoo effects as well, they don’t have to be confined to simple, efficient black line boredom. In the examples above there are fantastic concepts, such as continuous line, minimalist, basic geometric tattoos, and dotwork/linework hybrid technical application.
Artists are often able to take the stereotypical anchor approach and flip the execution to reflect more modern, exciting methods of illustration,This featured image above mixes clean line elements, painstaking dotwork, and well balanced geometric fundamentals to fashion a brilliantly effective inner forearm piece.
4. Black ink anchor tattoos
I understand it can be hard to get excited about simple black work tattoos. But they underpin this kind of application. This selection shows variety and versatility in the black lines – they run the gamut from thick, solid expression down to fine and delicate line work.
The other thing is, you can test an artist’s skill by getting black ink, as it’s hard to make look amazing and easy to wreck. The best practitioners often achieve the former, and never the latter.
5. Traditional black and gray shaded anchors
There’s superb variety in these traditional black and gray tattoos. Their size and effects are all different, yet retain the simplicity in design which helps the artists flex their muscles in technical application and style. These tattoos feature great attention to detail, some of the gray scale shading and dotwork in particular is precis, time consuming expression.
I also like some of the more bold uses of fine/thick black lines internally, while outlines, borders, and the irrepressible hunks of rope build interesting tattoos by delivering clever changes in shape, scale, and focus.
6. Hand and finger anchor tattoos
There’s plenty of individuality in each of these small, hand and finger tattoo designs. There’s scope for different styles and tiny flourishes of technical application such as dot work, associated single lines and shading. Interestingly, these examples are all small. Some anchors can be larger, more complex pieces covering the whole hand, designed to help retain color and shape over a longer period.
Hand tattoos are a tricky proposition to keep color and definition over a long period. Make sure to talk to your artist about touch ups, future pricing, and make sure to take intensive care of your art after the tattoo process and well into the future to avoid ink drop outs and fading.
Anchor tattoo FAQs
What is the meaning of an Anchor tattoo?
Traditionally, anchor tattoos were crafted almost exclusively for sailors as a ready means of identifying each other and to reference the brotherhood of the ocean. They also represented stability, believed to prevent a sailor from floating away from the ship if he fell overboard.
At one time in the late 19th century, almost 90% of US Navy had maritime tattoos as symbols of good luck. Members of the US Navy would get anchor tattoos to commemorate crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
With the rise in popularity of general body art, and American traditional and neo traditional styles as throwbacks to tattoo history and culture, the anchor now has a variety of different meanings but the theme of stability continues.
Anchor symbolism has expanded to include themes of hope, composure, and calm, with an emphasis on being well grounded, solid, and dependable. They remain favored by sailors, Navy, and Coastguard personnel, as symbols of family, and a life spent at sea.
Are anchor tattoos bad luck?
Quite the contrary, anchors are good luck tattoo symbols that help support and strengthen the psyche of sailors. Legendary tattooist ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins described the anchor as “the most secure object in a sailor’s life, making it the perfect representation of stability.”
If you liked these Anchor tattoos, check out more of our nautical collections by clicking the links below: