Top 73 Traditional Swallow Tattoo Ideas – [2020 Inspiration Guide]
Old school swallow tattoos done in a traditional style have long been an incredibly popular choice for sailors and tattoo enthusiasts alike.
For better or worse, gone are the days where one had to earn their nautical tattoos at sea.
Back in the day, a sailor had to cross 5000 miles of ocean to earn a swallow tattoo. Wearing tattoos seen by other sailors as badges of honor without having earned that honor could result in scorn or even a brawl. Now, these tattoos are as accessible as the nearest ink shop.
Though a far more commonplace sight today, and no longer restricted to decorating the skin of gritty mariners, the meaning behind a swallow tattoo is no less special to those who wear them for their decorative appeal. The image of a swallow still stands for loyalty, protection, seeking home, and ultimately, it symbolizes love. Old-school sailors will tell you that seafaring lore promises a swallow tattoo would even help lift a sailor to the heavens should he perish at sea. This was a sure comfort to those working this perilous trade.
Today, the swallow is a common feature of nautical themed sleeves and back pieces, as well as being a strong standalone tattoo. While any style can be applied, there is something timeless and beautiful about a boldly outlined traditional swallow tattoo inked in simple colors or shaded in black and gray.
1. American Traditional Swallow Tattoos
Sailor Jerry (aka Norman Collins) was the highest profile pioneer of American Traditional tattooing. More than a master of the craft, Sailor Jerry was the inventor and innovator of the American Traditional style we know and love today.
Sailor Jerry responsible for popularizing ancient symbols as modern, iconic tattoos. Swallow tattoos were one of his signature designs. Seen as flash all over the country, you’ll likely be able to recognize the piece on sight. Thick black outlines, limited color palette of a red breast and yellow or blue feathers, two swallows with each carrying a leafy twig.
2. Small Swallow Tattoos
Small tattoos are great for ink enthusiasts that want ink in unusual or hidden locations, or are simply running out of canvas for their body art. Since swallows are rarely depicted via realism, they make great small tattoos. Because American Traditional has such bold outlines and limited detail it shrinks down to scale really well as a style. Silhouettes also do a great job when used to represent swallows.
Small tattoos are also great for saving time and money. Not everyone has the resources or inclination to spend dozens of hours in the tattoo artists chair. And not everyone wants a big, complex piece. You may want something simple to represent your feelings and a small swallow tattoo is perfect for that.
3. Swallow and Dagger Tattoos
Since time immemorial men have been sharpening things and pointing them at each other. The dagger holds a special place of fascination for most of us. A symbol of stealth, danger, and protection all in one. It’s the power of the dagger as a symbol that makes it such a good choice for a tattoo.
On its own the dagger is a fighting weapon. Easily concealed and carried but very hard to use without intestinal fortitude. You either have to be brave enough to go face to face, or bold enough to get up close and personal with your enemy and deal the bloody damage with your own hand. The meaning of course changes with the symbols its paired with. The dagger and swallow tattoo represents good luck, wealth and a safe passage home. The combination of nautical themed imagery with weaponry makes for a rather pirate-y tattoo.
4. Swallow Chest Tattoos
The chest is the absolute go-to area for large, symmetrical pieces. Given the two-part nature of the front of man (two pecs as opposed to one) the chest is a great place to experiment with twin images. That makes it particularly well suited to swallow tattoos. One on each pec with a heart in between is a powerful symbol of commitment, love and monogamy.
Because swallow tattoos go hand in hand with American Traditional style the chest can be used to make a serious combination of imagery. A swallow either side with their own banner can say various things or even names. And they can round out the centerpiece nicely (usually roses, a compass or a heart). If you’re wanting to make a serious statement with your ink you could do a lot worse than a swallow chest tattoo.
5. Hand Swallow Tattoos
A hand tattoo is a serious statement of who you are. You’re almost certainly marrying yourself into that old school sailor or bad boy image. You can’t hide your counterculture statement when it’s on your hand. There’s just no way to keep your gloves on through the whole job interview.
So, hand placement is a real commitment to standing tall and being real in all circumstances. That said the swallow is one of the most visually appealing and least offensive pieces you could choose. As the world becomes more open minded towards visible ink a hand swallow tattoo is a pretty good choice.
6. Twin Swallow Tattoos
Every year swallows return to the same place to mate and nest. And every year they will couple up and stay monogamous and committed to their little swallow partners for the duration of the mating season. Twin swallow tattoos is a great way to represent true love, twin flames or soul mates. It’s a little sentimental but gosh darn it still looks good.
There’s a wide variety of options for placement with twin swallows. The mirror image works well on either shoulder, arm or leg. As a smaller piece it can work on the bicep or forearm. Sometimes as a mirror or alternatively as two swallows flying together.
7. Black and Gray Swallow Tattoos
A black and gray swallow tattoo is a great way to break from the nigh ubiquitous American Traditional style. There is absolutely no reason why your swallow tattoo need look like all the rest.
Black and grey is perfect for a more realistic looking depiction. Small tattoos and silhouettes also work well. Black and grey adds that little extra bit of seriousness too if you’re looking for a more solemn artwork.
8. Mom Swallow Tattoos
Would you like to pay homage to your mother like a World War II sailor would? Then you won’t be able to go past a stylish American Traditional swallow tattoo.
If your beloved matriarch has passed on, then this is the perfect tattoo to honor her: the swallow always returns home. Plus, you want to get something nice for your mother. A swallow tattoo with a mom banner is both masculine and sentimental. Just what moms everywhere appreciate.
Swallow Tattoo FAQs
What does a swallow tattoo symbolize?
Swallow tattoos are inextricably linked with sailors and the sea. A swallow tattoo used to symbolize that a sailor had travelled 5000 nautical miles and was a badge of honor. The little bird came to its place of prestige amongst sailors due to the fact that sighting one meant land was near: you were almost at your destination. Swallows also represent the return of Spring and as such are linked with renewal, hope, growth and the start of a new chapter.
Outside of its nautical connections, swallows are known to be monogamous during mating season. Thus swallow tattoos sometimes are there to symbolize love, devotion and loyalty. Similarly swallows always return to the same location every year to mate and nest. A swallow tattoo symbolizes that you will always return home safely.
What is the difference between swallow and sparrow tattoos?
Visually the difference is immediately apparent. Swallows are streamlined little flying machines with bright coloring. Sparrows are more rounded and stocky with brown plumage. In terms of meaning and symbolism the sparrow is still an auspicious omen but has no connection to nautical history. It is not quite as widely or richly admired as the swallow.
Did you enjoy these swallow tattoos but are looking for more traditional ink inspiration? Click on the links below for more cool galleries: