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Tattoo designs take flight in 2013

This year, the Vanishing Tattoo website will be celebrating it’s 15th year on the big Web in the Sky.  We’ve grown from a dozen pages to more than five thousand and in that span of time we’ve welcomed more that 100 million curious visitors through our doors from over 180 countries around the world.  We were the first website to create a comprehensive overview of the most popular tattoo designs and symbols, based first on interviews with dozens of tattoo artists all over the world, and then by analyzing search engine results.  The Vanishing Tattoo Tattoo Designs and Symbols section has almost five hundred entries providing the explanation and meanings of the most popular tattoos and tattoo genres.  This information proved so popular that it even spawned a book, The Tattoo Design Directory (by yours truly), which was published in 2009.  And that was followed the next year by Alphabets and Scripts for Tattooing.

When we launched back in the 90’s the top of the tattoo food chain was dominated by Pamela Andersonbarb wire tattoostribal tattoos and kanji.  Remember kanji? More than a third of our searches were related to the ubiquitous Japanese and Chinese characters.  Kanji were popular because they were foreign, exotic, made the wearer seem worldly and slightly mysterious because, when you think about it, who could actually read Japanese and Chinese characters, right?  As it turned out, not even many tattoo artists knew exactly what they were inking on their clients.  Kanji tattoo mistakes were so widespread that they even spawned websites devoted to their exposure and public derision, the best of which was unquestionably Hanzi Smatter: dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in western culture. And here’s the best of the worst compiled in one eye-raising piece from Buzzfeed.

And lest you think we have left the nineties behind us, I can assure that while the lure of barbwire tattoos may have abated, the interest in the ink of the Far East still continues to fascinate body art aficionados in the West.  But more on that in a moment.  The current trend in tattoos has a decidedly Hitchcockian flair, as a huge number of searches this year flocked to check out bird tattoos.  Yes, you read that right.  And that favourite of the hipster crowd, the crow, was at the top of the pecking order.  In addition to crows, we tracked impressive numbers of searches for their cousin the ravenphoenixesowlseaglesswallows and bluebirdsalbatrossseagulls and penguins!

Crow tattooAs for the crow, it seems like an appropriate symbol to choose for the times.  Intelligent, crafty and cunning, the crow not only survives, but thrives by dint of its cunning and ability to adapt to an ever-changing urban environment.  If you check out the ink on your local bartender or barista, there’s a good chance that somewhere on that elaborately decorated sleeve there’s a least one crow in silhouette.  And a flock of crows in flight seems to be a particularly favourite portrayal of this popular bird, with a few large crows in the foreground and the rest dramatically decreasing in size and perspective until they are rendered as mere dots receding into a distant horizon. Interestingly, the crow seems gender neutral, as popular with men as it is with women.

From getting ink that evokes the freedom and allure of flight and the open sky, the next trend in tattoos takes a dive for the watery deep.  This past year we tracked a huge number of searches for octopus tattoos, their meaning and symbolism, as well as other cephalopods, meanings squid tattoos and kraken tattoos.  Nautical and traditional maritime tattoos have been very popular for the past few years, although when you see large numbers of searches for kraken tattoos you have to wonder if this is due to marathon stints of Pirates of the Caribbean, or a fascination with the wonderfully entertaining Kraken Rum advertising.  I received of bottle of this for my birthday last Summer, and I have to confess, the very first time I laid my eyes on the packaging and design I thought to myself, Wow!, that would make a great tattoo!   Especially if you added in a few of the shark tattoos that were also high on the search list.

Release the Kraken!!  Everything you ever wanted to know about Krakens.  Be warned, you may need a stiff shot of rum after watching….

The tattoo community’s interest and passion for body art that evokes the spirit of Southeast Asia remains high.  In the past year we observed large numbers of searches for Buddhist tattoo designs, and for traditional symbols, such as the ChrysanthemumCherry BlossomsSamurai tattoosOni tattoos and Hannya Masks. And people still continue to search for specific Japanese and Chinese characters that hold symbolic importance for themselves.  At least you can rest assured that on the Vanishing Tattoo website, we had our characters and kanji vetted by those in the know!

In terms of tattoo genres, Old School and Traditional Tattoo designs continued to be popular, as well as Celtic Tattoo designs and Tribal Tattoo designs.  Some things it seems, never go out of style.  The following tattoo designs and symbols generated a lot of searches and online inquiries; sharks, jaguars, snakes, eagles, scorpions, scarabs, Celtic and Scottish Tattoos, Hindu Tattoos and Knuckle Tattoos, but in the end, all of them failed to crack the Top Ten Tattoos in 2013. Which are, in reverse order…

# 10. Umbrella Tattoos

Umbrella tattooThe umbrella is an interesting tattoo design. At its most basic level, an umbrella is a symbol, or symbolic, of ‘a temporary shelter’, or ‘a small amount of protection’. Umbrella itself, literally means, ‘a little shade’. If you’re a Buddhist, the protective force, or shelter, is the dharma, the Buddha’s teaching, the faith. Depictions of the Buddha often show him protected from above by an elaborate parasol. The dome symbolizes wisdom, and the hanging skirt, compassion. The Noble Eightfold Path found representation in octagonal parasols.

In modern popular literature, the umbrella often becomes a vehicle to transport an individual, and in this respect a tattoo design of an umbrella is similar to tattoo symbols like wings. Think of Mary Poppins, carried aloft on her ‘magic’ umbrella, and spirited away to a new adventure. In stories, umbrellas are often used as surrogates for parachutes, in which an individual takes a ‘leap of faith’, either from great heights or into the unknown, and the umbrella acts to help gently guide the protagonist to the next step on their journey of discovery.

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