Although grave art is rich with symbolism, tombstone tattoos themselves are meant to represent death. To some this may be a hardcore symbol – often in line with certain fashion styles like goth or metal – while to others they may be a moving tribute those who have passed on. In general, these designs are quite simple, and may even take on a cartoon-like quality; however, others might depict quite a bit of detail, both on the gravestone itself and the scene that surrounds it.
Many tombstone tattoos take on a realistic style, often in the vein of portraits. These pieces are usually done without a backdrop, and generally give the name, date of birth, and date of death of a relative or friend of the wearer. Some of the more popular figures for the realistic style include the common cross, Celtic cross, or rounded top, but they may also be circular, rectangular, heart-shaped, square, or in the shape of a book. Many of these tattoos are given the appearance of granite; however, they may also appear in the style of marble, light limestone, or even bronze. It is not unusual for these designs to also feature popular headstone art, such as angels, wings, crosses and the Star of David. Other symbols may include roses or lilies, animals, bibles, or angels. For something a little different, you might try some of the lesser known symbols, like crowns, which represent dignity and the glory of life beyond death; roosters, which express awakening and resurrection; or ivy, which is a symbol of immortality.
Illustration designs are usually less detailed in tombstone tattoos, but they often depict larger scenes. For example, you might see a hand breaking through the ground in front of a gravestone – usually before a full, red moon. You might see the image of death, bats, crows, or even a black cat sitting astride a tombstone; or you may see a small red demon doing a little dance around it. On the more detailed versions of these images, you will usually see a bit of text which says things like, “R.I.P.,” or may state the name of a particular person. Some of the more common etchings for this style include devil horns, flowers, spider webs, or bat wings.
Though some tombstone tattoos may be representative of a certain lifestyle, most are reminders of both life and death, a touching memorial to those who the wearer loves dearly.