Because of their association with sailors, many people gravitate toward nautical imagery when getting a tattoo.
If the more aggressive, bad-ass sailor designs aren’t your thing, you might want to consider a lighthouse tattoo.
Lighthouses have a long and complicated history, making them a simultaneously serene and spooky image to behold.
While not all standing lighthouses are still operational, they’re often kept around for their history and welcoming aesthetic.
What do lighthouses tattoos symbolize, and why do people get lighthouse tattoos?
Let’s illuminate the subject of lighthouse tattoos.
Out on the open water in the dark, it can be really tricky to tell the water from the shore.
Long before the days of digital navigation, we began to troubleshoot this problem using light.
In order to help out people traveling by boat, land folks would make bonfires on hilltops near the coast.
This served not only to warn boat operators that they were getting close to the land, but also to welcome them home, or to ports where they might be able to rest or buy goods and services.
As they began to perfect the model, people would find ways to raise the fires higher and higher off the ground for better visibility.
Eventually, this led to the first lighthouse being built.
The First Lighthouses
The first lighthouse ever built was in Alexandria, Egypt.
It was built sometime between 300 and 280 BC and stood a whopping 450 feet high.
Though it was named one of the seven wonders of our ancient world, it was ravaged by invasions and three different earthquakes over time, until the parts were harvested to build the Citadel of Qaitbay in 1480.
Though the United States is home to the highest number of lighthouses in the world, they were a little later to the lighthouse party.
Their first lighthouse was built on Little Brewster Island in Boston in 1716.
Though it took them longer to get started, they weren’t to be outdone.
From 1882- 1892 a lighthouse with a $715,000 price tag was built in Crescent City, CA.
Lighthouses in Pop Culture
The lighthouses that are standing today are, for the most part, there for purely aesthetic and nostalgic reasons.
But the image hasn’t been forgotten.
Lighthouses have been immortalized in pop culture in so many ways, and continue to be referenced in modern works.
Some people don’t want just any lighthouse tattoo.
They want the lighthouse, a reference to a book, TV show, or movie that touched them.
Media and pop culture becomes the mythology of a people, so it only makes sense to get a tattoo based on a story that resonates with you.
The Green Light in The Great Gatsby
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the title character is spellbound by a green light.
The green light is visible from the beautiful Daisy’s dock and becomes a symbol of Gatsby’s yearning for her.
But it’s not necessarily Daisy he loves- it’s her elite status.
The green light becomes a symbol of things just beyond reach for Gatsby: The American dream of wealth, prestige, and an impressive woman on your arm.
The Great Gatsby’s green light is a reference to a real lighthouse.
The light from the structure on Long Island’s “Execution Rocks” is white, not green.
But the color is a piece of artistic license.
The color green is featured throughout the book and symbolizes affluence and aspirational lifestyles.
Even without a green light, the Execution Rocks lighthouse has its intrigue.
The grisly name comes from the dangerous nature of the rocks (the reason the lighthouse exists in the first place) and its infamous backstory.
The site was apparently a popular spot for Carl Panzram, a serial killer from the 1920’s, to dump his victims.
If you’re a fan of great literature, symbolic imagery, and true crime, this lighthouse has everything.
Or maybe you’re just someone who, like Gatsby, aspires to be obscenely wealthy.
Let’s hope it all goes better for you than it does for him.
Get your Gatsby lighthouse tattoo before someone else does and you’re left green with envy!
If you’re a fan of innovative films and spooky, unsettling imagery, you may find inspiration for your next tattoo design in The Lighthouse.
This 2019 psychological thriller, directed by Robert Eggers, was inspired by an unfinished short story by Edgar Allen Poe.
The film was critically acclaimed for its suspenseful mood, and a creepy plot left partially to the imagination of the viewer.
Like Gatsby’s green light, The Lighthouse focuses on the lonely, isolated feelings a lighthouse can give a person.
The story revolves around two lighthouse keepers stationed on an island, eventually isolated there by a storm and driven mad.
One character (Wake) goes up to the top of the lighthouse each night, causing the other (Howard) to wonder what pleasure he finds there.
The resulting story is a creeping, suspenseful horror-show that film nerds aren’t soon to forget.
The tale also has heavy mythological symbolism, with Howard representing Prometheus.
For lovers of mythology and great film, a tattoo based on The Lighthouse may be a beacon to like-minded individuals.
E.A.R.L From The Simpsons
For something more lighthearted and hopeful, you may join hundreds of Gen Xers and older Millennials in getting a Simpsons tattoo.
In The Simpsons, a classic episode features Homer searching for answers.
When an especially hot chili pepper causes him to hallucinate, he goes on a spiritual quest and begins to question if Marge is his soulmate.
Seeking a companion, Homer decides to visit Springfield’s lighthouse keeper, reasoning that they’re both lonely figures.
Upon finding that “Earl” is really a computer, he is temporarily driven mad until Marge rushes to his side.
He then realizes Marge is his soulmate, and the episode ends in true Simpson’s fashion with an absurd twist involving a shipwreck and a boatload of hot pants.
The episode plays on the classic “lonely lighthouse keeper” trope, but has a hopeful ending.
The Springfield lighthouse provides the answers Homer is looking for.
If you’ve been looking for an original way to pay homage to your favorite dysfunctional family, this may be the Simpsons tattoo you’ve been searching for.
What Do Lighthouse Tattoos Symbolize?
Lighthouses can mean different things to different people.
Maybe you grew up in a town with a lighthouse, or went on a beautiful trip to the Maritimes you’d love to remember.
But there are universal meanings we’ve attached to lighthouses over the years, and they can be just as good a reason for a lighthouse tattoo as any.
Lighthouses are considered a public good.
This means they are not exclusive, they’re just there for anyone who needs them.
There is no way to compete with a lighthouse or monetize its use, so it’s just a useful thing any sighted person from any background can access.
Streetlights are another example of a public good, something that just exists for all.
In this example, lighthouses can symbolize generosity, or lawful good.
The lighthouse isn’t trying to impress one person and exclude another, and it doesn’t cause a bunch of people to go out and try to build their own lighthouse.
It just exists, and it helps.
Are you someone who wants to live your life in a lighthouse way?
Though some people thrive out on the water, it is an unpredictable and sometimes scary place to be.
Returning to land means a return to stability and a sense of normalcy.
For some, it means coming home to their families.
For people who are shipwrecked, a lighthouse means they can finally get the help they need.
For one reason or another, the calm presence of a lighthouse gives people hope.
Maybe you’re feeling lost, or celebrating having found some dry land of your own.
A lighthouse tattoo can be a great way to commemorate that.
Do you find yourself in dangerous situations often?
Maybe you need a lighthouse tattoo to remind you how to keep healthy boundaries, and prevent future crashes.
A Life of Solitude
Before electric light, there were lighthouse keepers who lived in the lighthouses.
Even after electric light, lighthouse keepers worked to ensure this essential light stayed on.
Lighthouse keepers would often go mad from the solitude, and there are several grisly tales to go with that madness.
Maybe lighthouses can be a good reminder to introverts that, while solitude is important, you need to step out into the daylight once in a while.
In this regard, it can also be a nice way to remind those suffering from mental illness to reach out.
There is a place where lighthouse enthusiasts and geeks for the paranormal intersect.
So many lighthouses are thought to be haunted, as a result of the people who lived there alone, the different ends they may have met, and the time it took people to reach them.
A town with a lighthouse is likely a town with some ghost stories.
Are you into spooky stories but want to show it in a subtle way?
A lighthouse tattoo may be just the ticket.
Common Themes in Lighthouse Tattoos
You may choose to pair your lighthouse tattoo up with your favorite stretch of coastline, or some more classic sailor imagery, such as:
Nautical Star & Lighthouse Tattoos
Nautical stars are instantly recognizable sailor imagery.
This bold and readable design represents a sailor being able to find their way home.
Waves & Lighthouse Tattoos
Though waves may crash upon the lighthouse, it stands tall.
Waves often represent the constant motion of the sea.
Your journey through life is not always going to be smooth, but you must learn to stay upright against the ebb and flow of the tide.
If you resonate with the idea of standing tall amid the chaos, lighthouse tattoos featuring waves will suit you well.
Swallows & Lighthouse Tattoos
For a long way traveled, either spiritually or physically.
Because swallows have a long migration pattern, they are known as a symbol of a long journey.
When a sailor had traveled 5000 nautical miles, he would “earn” a swallow tattoo.
This would show him to be a reliable and experienced seaman.
Because swallows always find their way back after a long flight, this also became a popular tattoo for sailors who wanted to make a promise to their sweethearts.
In combination with a lighthouse, the “finding your way” imagery is strengthened.
Are you someone who regularly travels far from the people you love?
A lighthouse and swallow tattoo may be the perfect fit.
Anchor & Lighthouse Tattoos
For stability in stormy seas.
If you find yourself in rough waters, an anchor and a lighthouse tattoo may be your best allies in the quest to make it through.
Ship & Lighthouse Tattoos
Of course, lighthouses were designed for people on ships, so they make a natural pair.
This is a nice tattoo for someone who enjoys nautical imagery, but it can also represent the spiritual idea of your vessel (body) being guided by a gentle light (spiritual forces).
Compass & Lighthouse Tattoos
Flowers & Lighthouse Tattoos
A lighthouse with flowers may be a purely aesthetic choice, but it also represents the balance between masculine and feminine energy.
The phallic imagery of the lighthouse, combined with the vaginal connotations of a flower, can be a G rated way to represent creation or sexual energy.
Crescent Moon & Lighthouse Tattoos
Of course, lighthouses serve their purposes at night, so the evening sky would only make sense.
A crescent moon can represent a time of transition, perhaps a time when you need a little assistance to shine your brightest.
Landscape & Lighthouse Tattoos
Can’t decide what you want your tattoo to convey?
Landscape tattoos are a wonderful way to incorporate multiple elements into one meaningful image.
Or, if you’re lucky enough to live by a gorgeous lighthouse, you could pay homage to your hometown!
House & Lighthouse Tattoos
Houses typically symbolize the idea of home, community, being part of a family.
Because a lighthouse can be a symbol of solitude, the two combined may express a desire to achieve balance.
To have love in your life while maintaining your sense of self.
Lighthouse Tattoo Designs
Lighthouses belong to everyone, so there’s no reason not to get one as a tattoo.
Still not sure?
Take a look at our lighthouse tattoo gallery to illuminate the possibilities!
Black & Grey Lighthouse Tattoos
A black and grey tattoo is achieved with all black ink, diluted to create different intensities and washes of pigment.
Lighter colors and contrast in a black and grey tattoo are made using “skin breaks,” where the person’s skin tone becomes the lighter color against the black ink.
For lighthouse tattoos, a black and grey design will give it a classic, slightly moody effect.
American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoos
An American traditional lighthouse tattoo is the closest you’ll come to those original tattoo wearing sailors.
The designs are simple with large areas of saturated color and thick black outlines. The result?
A retro tattoo that packs a punch, that anyone can read from a mile away.
Geometric Lighthouse Tattoos
Black-work Lighthouse Tattoos
In black-work tattoo designs, large areas of the tattoo are covered in saturated black.
This takes a skilled hand, but is stunning when applied well.
Because a lighthouse is designed to pierce the darkness, black work elements are perfect to communicate that stunning contrast.
Contemporary Lighthouse Tattoos
Contemporary tattoos are a nice compromise for someone who loves old school designs, but wants something a little more playful and original.
Using design elements from American Traditional, but with modern techniques and color combinations, a contemporary lighthouse tattoo gives you the best of both worlds.
Dot-work Lighthouse Tattoos
If you want a tattoo that looks a little less “tattoo-like,” consider a dot-work design.
This has a classic pen and ink look to it, making it seem as if your lighthouse tattoo is ripped right off of a sketch pad.
These tattoos play to the soft, romantic elements of lighthouse imagery.
Graphic Lighthouse Tattoos
Graphic tattoo designs are the ultimate in modern tattooing.
These bold, graphic designs are hard to miss.
Combining today’s techniques with old school imagery (like the lighthouse) makes for a unique and timeless design.
Illustrative tattoos give you a smooth, painterly look.
In these designs, lighthouses play off of surreal imagery to create a trippy overall effect.
Ahoy, space coyotes. This may be the psychedelic design you’re looking for.
Neo-traditional Lighthouse Tattoos
These tattoos pop off the skin, making them well suited to design elements like crashing waves and cracking lightning.
New School Lighthouse Tattoos
Realistic Lighthouse Tattoos
A realistic portrait, when done with a skilled hand, is a thing of beauty.
If you want to represent a specific lighthouse in its truest form, this is the style for you.
We love how these tattoos capture the gorgeous colors of the night sky along with the hopeful image of a lighthouse shining over the water.
Sketchy Lighthouse Tattoos
Sketch tattoos have a vivid, artistic feeling to it.
If you want your lighthouse tattoo to feel like an abstract work of art, consider this sketchbook style.
Watercolor Lighthouse Tattoos
Though the tattoo community was dubious at first, watercolor tattoos are here to stay.
What could be better for a lighthouse than a spirited, watery design?
These tattoos are truly innovative with their bold use of washes, drips, and splashes of color.
Stick & Poke Lighthouse Tattoos
Lighthouse Tattoo Ideas
Small Lighthouse Tattoos
Want a lighthouse tattoo, but looking for something easy to hide from prying eyes?
Small, mini, and micro tattoos can be a beautiful, simplistic way to pay homage to something you love.
And if you plan on collecting tattoos, this is the perfect way to leave some skin real estate for your next adventure.
Simple Lighthouse Tattoos
Lighthouse Tattoo Sleeves
Lighthouse Tattoo Half Sleeves
BioSchock Lighthouse Tattoos
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Tattoos
Lighthouse Tattoos For Women
Lighthouse Tattoo Placement
Lighthouse Tattoos on Forearm
Lighthouse Tattoos on Inner Bicep
Lighthouse Tattoos on Arm
Lighthouse Tattoos on Thigh