Small Symbolic Tattoos

Benna Crawford
Small treble clef music tattoo

Messages in Miniature

Maybe a full sleeve or cinematic scene covering all the real estate of your back isn't your style. You might prefer to announce yourself more subtly - but no less powerfully. A small symbol tattoo is a picture that hints at a big story, the narrative of the more nuanced, complex you.

Draw attention to a delicate foot with an outsized platform and a stratospheric heel. But, once you've caught their eye, hold it with a tiny black treble clef and a single quarter note tattooed on the top of your foot. Why this fragment of music? And why on your foot? Dancer? Musician? Fangirl? Fashionista? Small symbolic tattoos can be an enigma, but hold special meaning to the wearer.

An anchor tattoo

Holding Fast

You'd sail away in a heartbeat, let that wanderlust take you across the seven seas. But the perfect outline of a miniature anchor just below the inside of your ankle speaks to your stability, strength and the safe harbor after a perilous journey. Something holds you in place, within sight of shore. Is it your heart and the person who's laid claim to it? Is it the Christian view of Christ as an anchor of hope in a sea of turbulence? Who or what is the anchor that keeps you steady?

Powerful kanji water symbol

The Shape of Water

Life's a beach and you're never happier than when you stand on the cusp of sea and shore, fluid and unencumbered. The kanji character for water, centered on the back of your neck, symbolizes a force for change, yin or female energy, and regeneration. Water cleanses and purifies, gives life and destroys. Sweep your hair up to reveal your creative and powerful personality, and your attraction to far horizons. Cover the tat with your hair or clothing, and your true nature is a mystery, as vast and full of possibilities as the sea.

Bar code tattoo

Body Scan

Ironic tattoos are quietly political, like the spare lines of a black bar code tattooed on the inside of a wrist. You're not a commodity; you're not for sale. You don't care about the labels or limitations society places on you. Anyone willing to look deeply will discover your true value - even in this too commercial, slap-a-sticker-on-it, name-your-price world.

Volume tattoo with person holding headphones
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Dreaming in Decibels

Your life is your phone but you're in charge of it. Even if you wouldn't dream of leaving the house without your earbuds, you still insist on controlling the volume. An electronic volume control symbol, small and stark on your inner wrist, tells your story. Three bars show you've got it cranked up full - let the party begin!

A tattoo like this can be fun but also represent different things to different people - it might represent your love of music, exemplify a bold personality, or a strong belief in individuality and personal expression.

Simple heart tattoo on a person's hand

Coming From the Heart

You keep it simple and direct. There's no mistaking what you're about, whether you're shaking hands or making a fist. A hand-drawn outline of a heart on the back of your hand, just below the knuckles, shows you're not afraid to care about what matters to you. You'll think with your heart as well as your head. You just won't make a big deal about it.

Since a small heart is such a versatile tattoo, it's easy to apply your own special symbolism and significance to it no matter what style it's done in.

Semicolon tattoo that represents suicide prevention

Symbolism and Support

Your semicolon signifies a pause - a decision by a suicidal person to wait and recalibrate instead of ending the story. Project Semicolon started the trend to draw attention to the need for suicide prevention. The semicolon tattoo, often displayed on a visible area like the outer wrist, supports and recognizes those struggling with mental illness or the loss of someone dear to them from suicide. It can say "I'm strong enough to go on," or "I'm here to help." The symbol is a punctuation mark designed to start a conversation.

Om is the sacred symbol of the primordial sound.

Tiniest Tat

Touch up your pedicure and flash a glimpse of the universe just above a bare toe. A diminutive Om symbol, the sign of the primordial sound from which all creation emanates, is a pretty weighty thing to tattoo on your foot. But it's very flirty there, too. Could you be advertising your passion for Eastern philosophy, stippling yourself in Sanskrit glory, or calling on the gods to bless whatever barefoot adventure you've embarked on with extraordinary success?

A camera tattoo works for a photographer.

Lens on the World

You see the world through the lens of your own vision - and you're a wicked talented photographer as well. The outline of a classic SLR, or a vintage point-and-shoot camera centered on the back of your hand, reminds you to look for the best angle and the most evocative view as you blast through your days. Cameras capture moments and memories. Yours might be a reminder to pay attention, not to miss a thing on your amazing journey, or freeze something significant so you have time to examine it later.

Take your own pulse with a heart scan tattoo.

Checking Your Pulse

Whether your days are heart-pounding or heart-stopping, you are fully alive. The zigzag of an EKG chart that curves around to form a scribbled heart on your shoulder below the collarbone tells it all. Does your pulse race at the sight of your heartthrob? Is your broken heart pumping erratically as you search for a reason to live? Is that excited electrical impulse a fusion beat - your heart's natural rhythm interrupted by an irresistible outside force? Follow your heart to find out.

Harry Potter and the Kings Cross Tattoo.

Fantasy Portal

Fandom knows no limits but "Clever is as clever does, Harry." You don't want to forget the directions to Hogwarts so you tattoo 9 3/4 on the inside of your wrist. It's a kind of cheat sheet for arithmancy, or geography, or just getting to the right platform before the Hogwarts Express pulls out of Kings Cross Station.

Take some time to design your Platform 9 3/4 tattoo in the font used in the Harry Potter films. Fellow fans will find you at every wave of your arm, and Hagrid and Hedwig will be waiting for you at Hogsmeade Station. Put a shrinking charm on it and the same tat will fit on your finger - understated, but still spellbinding.

Whether your small tat is a symbol for your sense of fun and adventure, represents a personal hobby or passion, or shows your support for a certain philosophy or a meaningful cause, it can be a powerful message and reminder.

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Small Symbolic Tattoos