Elephant Tattoo Designs

Alison Fraley
Blue elephant tattoo

Elephants in Tattoo Art

Considered sacred by certain cultures, elephants are admired worldwide for their physical strength and characteristic good nature. This universal adoration for these gentle giants is evident by the many depictions of elephants in art. A very popular design, elephant tattoos range in style from realistic to abstract. While some elephant tattoos have a symbolic significance inspired by Eastern religion or the behavioral traits exhibited by the animals, others exist for purely aesthetic purposes.

This gallery offers a sample of different elephant tattoos and examines the various design styles and their possible meanings.

Cartoon elephants in a row

Cartoon Baby Elephants

Often seen leading the herd's young in single file through the perils of the wild, female elephants embody the nurturing maternal spirit. The tendency to demonstrate joy, love, and compassion towards other members of the herd marks the elephant as a symbol of familial bonds and commitment. Metaphorically revered as a source of strength, the image of a mother elephant safely guiding her children through life's journey has become a popular tattoo design representing family and a mother's protective instincts.

This simple design done in black and gray with minimal detail lends itself to a small tattoo. Cartoon-ish in nature, the purposeful departure from realism gives the design a whimsical feel.

Outlined elephants in a row

Baby Elephants Outline Tattoo

Another variation of the popular baby elephant design, this tattoo shows elephants of descending size being led in single file while holding the tail of the one ahead of it.

Far simpler in design, this tattoo is an example of an outline with no shading or detail. Shown on an inner upper arm, a painful spot for tattooing, this simple design could be executed by an accomplished tattooer in minimal time and therefore, would be very tolerable. Tattoos that depict a linear direction should always be displayed going towards the front of the body as illustrated in this example.

Watercolor abstract elephant

Watercolor Abstract Elephant

This tattoo departs from the previous outline in its use of a watercolor shading, an increasingly popular style of tattooing. Reminiscent of Picasso's light drawings, this elephant tattoo is abstract in style and does not feature any line-work other than a thin outline.

Devoid of the traditional shading techniques that either subtly blend colors into each other or strictly define them as separate, watercolor tattoos are marked by their seemingly sporadic use of shading. Overlapping each other and fading with no real definition, the colors cross outside the tattoo's outline, a feature unique to this style of tattooing. This shading technique results in a very soft and ethereal appearance.

Circus elephant tattoo

Traditional American Circus Elephant Tattoo

Before tattooing became accepted by widespread American culture, it was largely associated with outlaws, sailors, and circus freaks. In fact, some of the first tattooers in America got their start by traveling with the circus and tattooing the "attractions." Here, the juxtaposition of circus animals performing tricks and the Traditional American style of tattooing pays homage to the craft's roots within American circus culture.

Asian elephant sketch

Asian Elephant Sketch

The Asian elephant differs from its African counterpart in both behavioral and physical characteristics. Most easily distinguishable by its smaller ears, the Asian elephant has a more rounded back than the African elephant. Notably, only male Asian elephants have tusks, although both sexes have a small 'finger' at the end of their trunk for grasping objects.

Revered in Asian cultures as sacred, the elephant is considered to be a symbol of wisdom and peace.

African elephant sketch

African Elephant Sketch

The larger of the two types, African elephants are perhaps most recognizable by their large, prominent ears atop a fuller, more rounded head. Unlike Asian elephants, both sexes of African elephants have tusks and contain two 'fingers' on the end of their trunk for clutching objects.

African folklore depicts the elephant as a chief among the animals, with a wise and benevolent spirit suited for settling disputes.

African elephant tattoo

African Elephant Tattoo

This African elephant tattoo is an excellent example of realism, and it contains a lot of details accomplished through gray shading. With no hard outline, the design almost fades into the skin to create a soft, almost translucent appearance. The African elephant is often depicted facing forward to emphasize its large ears and powerful tusks.

Elephant flower tattoo

Elephant Clutching Flower

Perfect for a forearm or calf, this elongated design is done in black and gray with a remarkable use of lines as shading.

In one of the most important events of Buddhist beliefs, it is said that an elephant clutching a lotus flower appeared to Queen Maya and foretold of the Buddha's birth. While reminiscent of Buddhist imagery, the elephant in this tattoo holds a different type of flower, with one bud not yet blossomed. Perhaps a custom drawing, this tattoo serves as a variation on iconic symbolism. One of the most notable elements of the design is the soulful, almost melancholy nature of the elephant's eye.

Ganesh back tattoo

Ganesh Tattoo

Ganesh is a popular tattoo design inspired by Eastern religion. This striking tattoo portrays the Hindu god in vibrant detail. Fraught with symbolism, the various characteristics of Ganesh represent the qualities necessary to undertake a divine path.

Ganesh's elephant head symbolizes the wisdom a person must possess. His trunk represents the well-honed intellect that arises from this wisdom. The ax symbolizes the essential eradication of desire while the sweetened rice balls illustrate the happiness that comes from spiritual pursuits. The lotus flower signifies the desired state of self-realization in which a person arises from the metaphorical murky depths and opens him or herself to the world.

Three headed elephant tattoo

Erawan Tattoo

A prevalent figure in Aryan myth, Erawan is the Lord of the Elephants and a symbol of virtue and prosperity. Said to be pure white and as large as a mountain, Erawan has 33 heads, although artistic renderings usually depict only three. An intricate design, this tattoo portrayal of Erawan features Sanskrit writing above and below the figure.

Many Options

With so many options, you should have no trouble finding an elephant tattoo design that is both beautiful and meaningful to you. Take time looking at designs and ask your artist to add special touches to make your tattoo unique.

Alison Fraley
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Elephant Tattoo Designs