“Sketch” is a contemporary tattoo style that’s been rising in popularity along with other modern techniques.
As tattoos become more mainstream, the people who visit tattoo shops become more diverse.
To accommodate the expanding number of tattoo clients, and diversity within the artists themselves, ink is becoming more innovative.
A lot of today’s techniques are less traditionally “tattoo-like,” favoring classic art styles.
While in some circles the old faithful styles reign supreme, and there will always be a place for them, it’s nice to see more options available for people with different tastes.
In a sketch style tattoo, a piece looks like it was ripped from the pages of a sketchbook.
This appeals to people who love the raw quality of a work in progress, rather than a polished end result.
Mixing Sketch Tattoo Styles with Other Tattoo Styles
Sketch tattoos can look amazing all on their own.
Artist Inez Janiak works almost exclusively in the style and has had amazing success, with clients and followers from around the world.
Her designs are gorgeous and unforgettable, truly a master in the sketch tattoo niche.
That said, sometimes you want something completely fresh and original that feels uniquely you.
One contemporary approach to tattooing is to combine several styles for something fresh, eye-catching, and impossible to copy.
Graphic Sketch Tattoos
Graphic is something of an umbrella term in the tattoo world.
It’s similar to the pop art movement of the 1960’s, when a few innovators paved the way for new and imaginative works that broke the rules.
Graphic designs are a mix of street, abstract, geometrical, and other art styles that feel fresh and exciting in the tattoo world.
Naturally, the sketch approach fits right into this aesthetic.
Abstract Sketch Tattoos
Abstract art is difficult to define.
The word “abstract” itself is difficult to define.
Put simply, an abstract tattoo is one that represents something in the “real world,” but feels more symbolic and less like a realistic portrayal.
Leaving sketchy lines in an abstract piece adds to its visual interest.
Black-work Sketch Tattoos
Blackwork is a cool new technique where entire sections of tattoo will be saturated with deep black.
This can be a more severe, somber design, or something whimsical and cartoonish.
There is a lot of room for innovation within the black-work genre.
Adding a sketchy vibe will only increase the visual appeal.
Watercolor Sketch Tattoos
The drippy, splashy, multi-layered patches of ink known to the watercolor genre are becoming popular in other styles.
While most sketchy pieces feel somewhat severe, watercolor can liven up the design.
We love when watercolor ink meets the bold black lines you’ll see in a sketch tattoo.
The styles simultaneously play off of and balance each other out.
Sketch Tattoo Designs
Zoomorphic or Animal Sketch Tattoos
An animal tattoo should have a liveliness to it, something that captures the true essence of the creature you’re paying homage to.
We love sketch animal tattoos because they do exactly that, and they’re a breath of fresh air for even the most popular designs.
Here are a few of our favorite examples.
Lion Sketch Tattoos
Most commonly, lions represent regality, power, and courage.
A sketchy lion tattoo will capture the majestic quality of this magnificent beast.
Tiger Sketch Tattoos
Tiger tattoos tend to symbolize confidence, bravery, and inner strength.
The tiger is a popular symbol in tattoo art, and seeing it done in the sketchy style gives it a whole new life.
Eagle Sketch Tattoos
Eagles can soar higher than any bird, and they can look directly into the sun.
As such, eagle tattoos are often associated with the masculine qualities of solar gods in different religions.
They’re a symbol of freedom and patriotism in US.
The sketchy style always has a hint of movement to it, which looks especially striking on a winged creature.
Bear Sketch Tattoos
Bears are a versatile symbol that can represent fierceness and raw power, maternal love, or even just cuddly cuteness.
Get creative with a bear tattoo in the sketch style.
Hummingbird Sketch Tattoos
Hummingbirds are magical little creatures like no other.
Hummingbird tattoos have such rich symbolism, but the basic talking points are: good luck, adaptability, and creativity.
Because a hummingbird moves so quickly, its wings often have a vibrating quality.
This is something a sketchy hummingbird tattoo can portray in a way another style can’t.
Wolf Sketch Tattoos
Wolves move in packs.
For this reason, wolf tattoos can represent strong family bonds.
They’re also fierce predators and are often called upon for strength by human hunters.
A wolf tattoo in the sketch style can give this powerful animal a well deserved majestic quality.
Butterfly Sketch Tattoos
Like the hummingbird, the movement of a butterfly’s wings is well captured in the sketchy style.
Butterfly tattoos represent beauty, transformation, and hope.
Panther Sketch Tattoos
Because a panther is all black, it can be hard to give it the right definition in other tattoo styles.
A sketchy tattoo design can show the details of a panther while representing it accordingly.
Panther tattoos can represent cunning, cleverness, a state of cat-like readiness.
They have also become a symbol of the Black Power movement.
Cat Sketch Tattoos
Cats have a mysterious quality that can be well represented in this sketchy style of tattoo art.
Cat tattoos can represent our cuddly companions, but they also represent magic and mystery.
Floral Sketch Tattoos
Floral tattoos are popular, to the point where someone may be searching for an original design that doesn’t feel clichéd.
Floral sketch tattoos can be stunning, artistic, and have a high visual impact.
Here is a quick rundown of the symbolism for some of the more popular flowers in the world of ink.
Rose Sketch Tattoos
A rose sketch tattoo is a beautiful thing.
Rose tattoos are the ultimate symbol of passionate love and feminine beauty, and rose is one of the most popular scents to set the mood for a lusty evening.
Rose tattoo symbolism: Beauty, romantic love, passion, enchantment.
Sunflower Sketch Tattoos
Sunflowers are large, cheery-looking blooms that symbolize health and harvest for a lot of people.
Because sunflowers and their oil can be used for so many things, they’re a prosperous sign for people who live off the land.
A sketch sunflower tattoo is a unique design for a unique flower.
Sunflower tattoos symbolism: Abundance, outgoing sun energy, hope, joy.
Orchid Sketch Tattoos
Orchids are well-loved in the flower enthusiast community for so many reasons.
They’re unique and exciting to look at, and they’re popular in spas because of their calming properties.
There are abundant species of orchids, so for your orchid sketch tattoo, you’ll be able to find one that speaks to you and your individuality.
Orchid tattoos symbolism: Elegance, sensuality, soft strength.
Hibiscus Sketch Tattoos
The Hibiscus is a beautiful, sensual flower with a distinct shape and scent.
They’ve been taken from tropical climates and planted worldwide by admirers of their vibrancy.
It’s no wonder hibiscus tattoos are so popular, but a hibiscus sketch tattoo will set you apart from the crowd.
Hibiscus tattoos symbolism: Natural beauty, vibrant life, passionate love.
This could also be an homage to Hawaii or Malaysia, two locations that treasure this bloom.
Plumeria Sketch Tattoos
Another tropical stunner, plumeria flowers have healing properties and, as a result, often symbolize immortality.
Why not get an immortal dedication to them as a plumeria sketch tattoo?
Plumeria tattoos symbolism: Purity, new beginnings, good health.
Peony Sketch Tattoos
Peonies are a classic in tattooing, especially in traditional Japanese styles.
But we love seeing a popular image in a new light, and a peony sketch tattoo is a fresh way to celebrate this beautiful, many-petaled flower.
Peony tattoos symbolism: Happy marriages and partnerships, personal growth, compassion.
Daffodil Sketch Tattoos
Daffodils are also known as Narcissus flowers, because they grow near the water, drooping toward their reflections.
But wouldn’t you be a bit vain if you were such an interesting flower?
These sunny yellow blossoms, with their fascinating trumpet shapes, are often seen as symbols of hope.
A daffodil sketch tattoo is a wonderful way to give yourself a little burst of optimism whenever you need it.
Daffodil tattoos symbolism: Friendship, eternal life, rebirth.
Greek Sketch Tattoos
Some of the best tattoos come from Mount Olympus.
Greek gods and goddesses are popular designs, but look fresh and original in the contemporary sketch technique.
Here are some of our favorite figures:
Medusa Sketch Tattoos
Medusa is a complicated mythological figure who represents different things to different people.
Is she an evil monster, or someone who has been victimized for her own abuse?
While most Medusa tattoos are done in a portrait style, a Medusa sketch tattoo is a beautiful way to capture this dangerous beauty.
Medusa tattoos symbolism: Femme fatale, protection from evil, feminist icon.
Phoenix Sketch Tattoos
The phoenix is an inspirational sign for people who have struggled in life.
A phoenix is consumed by flames, only to rise anew from the ashes and start again.
A sketch style phoenix tattoo can capture all the flames and feathers in proper dynamic fashion.
Phoenix tattoos symbolism: Rising from the ashes, being reborn from difficult circumstances, overcoming obstacles.
Poseidon Sketch Tattoos
Poseidon is the mythological king of the sea, and a Poseidon sketch tattoo is an original way to portray this regal figure.
He’s a favored symbol among people who love ocean imagery.
Poseidon tattoos symbolism: A love for the sea, a “watery” (emotional) personality.
Zeus Sketch Tattoos
A Zeus sketch tattoo would be a powerful piece, something that can perfectly capture the stormy nature of this moody diety.
Bring all the lightning and drama to life with this design.
Zeus tattoos symbolism: The ultimate ruler, a protector, sometimes a Lothario. Shape-shifter.
Athena Sketch Tattoos
An Athena sketch tattoo is a powerful way to pay homage to a wise and courageous goddess.
Her Roman counterpart is Diana, who inspired the modern character Wonder Woman.
The Amazonian women of the WW universe have a lot in common with this goddess of war and wisdom.
Athena tattoo symbolism: Inspiration, amazonian women, warfare & wisdom.
Sketchy Egyptian Tattoos
Another popular theme in the tattoo world, we can’t seem to get enough of ancient Egyptian spirituality.
Here are a few Egyptian sketch tattoo designs to consider:
Anubis Sketch Tattoos
Anubis was said to be a powerful protector of the dead, both their resting places and their souls.
He assisted in the “weighing of the heart,” an afterlife ceremony that determines a person’s fate.
An Anubis sketch tattoo is a cool way to breathe new life into an ancient symbol.
Anubis tattoos symbolism: A guide through the underworld, morality.
This may be a symbol of protection or reaffirming one’s belief in life after death.
Eye of Horus Sketch Tattoos
Horus is a sky god whose eyes represent the sun and moon.
He fell victim to a dirty scheme, but came back to life and sought revenge.
He can be similar to a phoenix symbol in this regard.
An eye of Horus sketch tattoo is a beautiful way to assert your legacy and say that you cannot be screwed around with.
It is also a protective and healing symbol.
Eye of Horus tattoos symbolism: Restoring one’s health, protection against death and disease.
Bastet Sketch Tattoos
Bastet is one of the most famous godesses in the Egyptian mythological pantheon.
With the head of a cat, she is a favorite because of the ancient Egyptian tie to cat worship.
If you are someone who can’t get enough feline company, consider an homage in the form of a Bastet sketch tattoo.
Being a domestic animal, this cat goddess is also a symbol of a healthy home life.
Bastet tattoos symbolism: Fertility, protection of one’s home and loved ones.
Ankh Sketch Tattoos
An ankh sketch tattoo is a new take on a classic symbol.
The ankh has many meanings, each of them mystical in nature.
The loop with a cross is a union of masculine and feminine, which can represent fertility or balance.
It was also said to grant people eternal life, and some say the shape was a way for the ancient Egyptians to conduct electricity.
Ankh tattoos symbolism: Mysticism, balance, masculine & feminine energy, early scientific advancements, eternal life, and resurrection.
Nautical Sketch Tattoos
Because American sailors were some of the first people in America to wear tattoos, nautical imagery and body art go together like mermaids and seashells.
The sketch style can update this classic imagery while still paying homage to America’s tattoo history.
Here’s an introductory guide to some popular images:
Lighthouse Sketch Tattoos
At one point in time, lighthouses provided necessary light for people traveling on the sea.
This could be a symbol of hope for sailors because they knew they’d found land after months on the water.
A lighthouse sketch tattoo can be a hopeful reminder for people who feel a little lost at times.
It can also be a reminder not to shut people out, and to take care of your mental health.
Many lighthouse keepers went mad from the isolation.
Lighthouse tattoos symbolism: Being guided, a sense of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Compass Sketch Tattoos
Sketch compass tattoos are a beautiful design for a meaningful object.
No matter how advanced technology becomes, a compass is an essential companion for every traveler.
The compass rose is aesthetically pleasing and makes a great tattoo for an outdoor enthusiast, or someone with an adventurous attitude.
Compass tattoos symbolism: Finding one’s way through difficult times, “not all who wander are lost.”
Octopus Sketch Tattoos
Octopuses are amazing creatures, some people even say they’re aliens.
They’re incredibly intelligent, have complex personalities, and can change shape, color, and even visual texture.
Octopuses are a common tattoo, because they’re such a pleasing design that can suit any body type.
An octopus sketch tattoo design can set you apart.
Octopus tattoos symbolism: Intelligence, mystery, scientific curiosity, alien lifeforms on earth, Hawaiian spirituality.
Jellyfish Sketch Tattoos
This creature is beautiful to behold, and a jellyfish sketch tattoo captures the majestic qualities of this mysterious creature.
Jellyfish are relaxing to watch as they float along, but they can also pack a dangerous sting.
They go along with the current, so your jellyfish tattoo may be a reminder to take things as they come.
Jellyfish tattoos symbolism: Tranquility, going with the flow. Can also be a sign of caution.
Horror Sketch Tattoos
There’s something about sketchy lines that, with certain subject matter, can look a bit scary.
Why not play it up with one of these haunting designs?
Here are some quick talking points on horror sketch tattoos and their symbolism:
Skull Sketch Tattoos
Skulls are a “memento mori,” a reminder that life is fleeting.
This can be a motivation to enjoy life while you can and to be aware of your mortality.
Sketch skull tattoos have an eerie quality to them that adds to the macabre effect.
Skull tattoos symbolism: Accepting one’s mortality, laughing in the face of death.
Plague Doctor Sketch Tattoos
Plague doctors worked during the black plague, storing aromatics in beak-like masks to save them from the stench of death.
They have become popular because of their bizarre appearance, and a sketch plague doctor tattoo will add extra appeal to the creepy design.
Plague Doctor tattoos symbolism: Darkness and terror, sickness, the ultimate in looming horror.
Valak Sketch Tattoos
Valak can be one of two things.
The name has become most associated with the creepy nun character from The Conjuring series, and many horror fans get Valak tattoos as an homage to the terrifying character design.
A Valak sketch tattoo may also represent “the president of hell,” a notorious demon of legend.
Key symbolism: The president of hell. The epitome of evil, a demon, the demon nun from The Conjuring series.
Evil Clown Sketch Tattoos
Clowns weren’t always considered scary, but they’ve become an icon in the horror community.
There are evil clown scares once every few years in pop culture, so the legend seems to be eternal.
If you’re looking to pay homage, an evil clown sketch tattoo will be a truly terrifying design.
Evil clown tattoos symbolism: Subverting the norm. The nasty truth behind a smiling face.
Bird Skull Sketch Tattoos
Birds are often seen as a symbol of communication with the other side, so a bird skull tattoo doubles down on the afterlife symbolism.
A bird skull sketch tattoo is a beautiful idea for a memorial tattoo or a reminder to embrace life while you can.
Bird skull tattoos symbolism: Freedom of the soul, accepting one’s fate. Communicating with the dead.
Decorative Sketch Tattoos
Decorative usually refers to something ornate with pleasing geometry to it.
These are a few of our favorite decorative tattoo themes, each of which would look amazing in the sketch style.
Ouroboros Sketch Tattoos
An ouroboros sketch tattoo depicts a snake eating its tail, which is an alchemical image from several different belief systems.
These tattoos can represent the cycle of life, the concept of eternity, or wholeness.
Ouroboros tattoos symbolism: The birth/death cycle, eternal life, renewal.
Arrow Sketch Tattoos
Beyond its symbolism for the star sign Sagittarius, an arrow can be an encouraging symbol for people who suffer from depression or drawbacks in life.
When an arrow is being pulled backward, it only launches farther forward.
This is a powerful metaphor for people who feel like they’ve regressed in life.
An arrow sketch tattoo can represent that your journey is not yet finished, the details of your life have yet to be refined.
Arrow tattoos symbolism: Sagittarius, hope, overcoming depression.
Hamsa Sketch Tattoos
The Hamsa is a Middle Eastern symbol for the hand of god and is often worn as a sign of protection from divine forces.
Hamsa sketch tattoos are a modern way to wear an ancient and sacred symbol.
Hamsa tattoos symbolism: Protection, the hand of god.
Dog Paw Sketch Tattoos
Dog paws can represent a love of dogs in general or a specific special pup in one’s life.
They are sometimes pet memorial tattoos.
A dog paw sketch tattoo has a cool artistic look to it.
Dog Paw tattoos symbolism: Furbabies, man’s best friend, pet memorials, pet tributes.
Lettering Sketch Tattoos
Lettering tattoos are popular, and there are so many ways to spell out an important message.
Getting your favorite name or quote as a letting sketch tattoo is an interesting way to memorialize something meaningful.
Key symbolism: Memorable quotes, the name of a loved one.
Sketchy Cow Skull Tattoos
Skulls make popular tattoos, and a cow skull sketch tattoo is a rustic way to bring out your inner cowboy.
Horned creatures can also be protective symbols.
Cow skull tattoos symbolism: Protection, Western themes.
Sketchy Elephant Head Tattoos
Elephants are magnificent creatures, and they make for beautiful tattoo art.
An elephant never forgets, and an elephant head sketch tattoo is a memorable design.
In many cultures, elephants are revered for their intelligence, and they’re even considered divine.
Elephant head tattoos symbolism: Wisdom, good luck, memories, divine beings on earth.
Sketchy Sugar Skull Tattoos
In Mexican Dia De Los Muertos celebrations, sugar skulls are used to decorate altar tributes to lost loved ones.
Many people have sugar skull tattoos, but a sugar skull sketch tattoo is an original take on the concept.
Sugar skull tattoos symbolism: Remembering lost loved ones, accepting death, celebrating life.
In love with sketch tattoos?
This is a versatile design that can fit with virtually any motif and puts a new spin on classic designs.
It’s the perfect technique for someone who wants a tattoo with a little extra artistic flair.
What will your sketch tattoo be in homage to?