The Butterfly Tattoo – Which One is Right For You?

The butterfly tattoo has to be one of the best loved of inks. You may already know that the word for indelible figures inked on your body came from tatau, which is both Tahitian and Samoan. Nearly everyone in Polynesian society was tattooed, as it was an indicator of rank, social function, accomplishments and family. Although you see “tattoo” written in the dictionary, many people prefer to write this design style as “butterfly tattoo”, maybe in tribute to the exotic origins of the word.

The butterfly tattoo is used by men and women alike. This beautiful, light-as-a-feather insect has a full set of symbolism in every part of the world, although it means different things to different people. But whether you are from China, Ireland, Zaire or New Zealand, the lepidopteran is associated with the soul. It’s something we all have in common, and probably a major reason for the picturesque design’s universal appeal.

Butterfly tattoo design is nearly as varied as the insect itself, of which five hundred sixty-one varieties are known! That would be like a whole book if I wrote about them all, so I thought maybe to write about just one of the most popular designs that I’ve seen around.

Maybe you’ve heard of it: the tribal butterfly tattoo. It’s a stylized type of artwork that is not strictly photo-realistic. This is kind of nice, because realistic butterflies can never quite look like the real thing anyway. So why not go with your imagination and have your own unique tribal lepidopteran design?

Black lepidopteran designs are the ones seen most often – when they’re tribal, anyway. There might be lots of reasons for this, but two that come immediately to mind are highlighting the actual design over the color, and the color schemes of your ink clashing with your clothes.

There are so many great ideas to choose from when selecting the butterfly tattoo of your dreams. Some of the most common ink styles I’ve seen around include the semi-realistic line drawing, the gothic, the Asian-themed, and of course the always popular tribal ink.

Japanese family crests regularly feature butterflies. While most people probably don’t want someone else’s family crest tattooed on them, these family crests do have lots of great tribal butterfly tattoo ideas, and some of the design parts could be borrowed. Potential for black Monarch designs can also be found in Celtic designs. There are some beautiful and intricate inkworks combining a tribal design and Celtic knot work, for example.

A butterfly tattoo seems to work best at about actual size or less. That’s just my opinion, naturally, but this also gives you the option of adding to your lepidopteran collection over time, eventually collecting an entire garden of butterflies if you see fit.

In addition to the beautiful winged insect’s image itself, a secondary decorative image is often placed beside or intertwined with the first. A butterfly tattoo design can be in band form, with a Monarch falling in the middle of your band of intricate knot work or some other such design. A more modern look is the tribal butterfly tattoo placed within an art deco-style decorative design. I’ve seen secondary designs as simple as a row of gradated circles or dots. Beautifully simple and elegant.

As an example of more complex secondary designs, there are combinations of designs that could stand on their own such as a Japanese or Chinese character, or even part of a poem, entwined with your Monarch as calligraphy. So much has been written about butterflies that there is no lack of ideas for text to accompany your butterfly tattoo. If you are out of ideas, you could always consult my first article on this design style of ink, which covers a lot of general history and literary references to this charming winged creature.

Butterfly tattoo, anyone? That’s all for now about tribal and black tribal butterfly tattoo designs. In the next article, we’ll look at the possibilities for colored butterfly tattoo design. One last thing: your exquisite lepidopteran will be with you for the rest of your life, so please choose a skilled tattooist to ink the design, and maybe even more importantly, choose the design itself very carefully. You can find tens of thousands of designs on the Internet, and the better websites have an easy search interface, so take time to find what you want. Now enjoy your new ink!