A Bookworm’s Guide To Literary Tattoos

Posted by Rose Moore

If you love the look of ink on paper, you may be one of the many readers who is transferring their passion to their own skin. Of course, finding a favorite tattoo artist is similar to finding a favorite author, and for every J. K. Rowling (or Nikko Hurtado) there are dozens of hacks and scratchers (the term for untrained and barely capable “tattoo artists” who can usually be found working out of their garage for cheap).

Likewise, deciding exactly what to get can feel overwhelming; that’s where a great artist really comes into their own. How many of us have had a great idea for a book, only to be unable to get the words on paper? Designing a tattoo is something like that, except that you can’t go back and edit (at least, not without a great deal of thought, time and pain!).

If you are just starting to consider the kind of literary tattoo you might want, here’s some advice to help you out.

To Quote or Not To Quote, That Is The Question

One of the most popular bookish tattoos comes in the form of a favorite line or meaningful quote, sometimes even whole passages covering large areas. There are a lot of solid reasons that this is a tattoo bookworms choose time and time again. For one thing, it’s simple, elegant, and doesn’t need a lot of consultation or re-working to get right. Generally all you have to do is choose the quote that speaks to you, and then decide on a size, font, and location. Most reputable tattoo artists are more than capable of script and lettering, and unless you choose to cover your entire back in writing, these tattoos are on the less expensive end of the scale.

A quote tattoo is a lovely way to keep your favorite reads close to your heart (literally, if you decided on a line by your ribs!), but remember to choose carefully. A quote about overcoming suffering may have a powerful meaning when you are celebrating making it through a tough time, but in a few decades it may remain simply a painful reminder of when you were unhappy. Timeless and positive quotes have the most staying power. This is also not a tattoo to go for if you want something unique – a number of people could have made the same choice.

Make it yours: Include text with an image to make it more unique, or choose to vary the size and placement of the words rather than arranging them in a simple straight line.


Books vs. A Book: How Specific Do You Want To Get?

Artist: Karly Cleary

While quotes are almost always going to refer to a specific novel (unless you prefer a quip about being a reader), there’s no need to limit yourself to designing a tattoo around a specific book. If you simply want to express your love of reading, there are limitless design options; from a single tome to a teetering stack, from beautifully drawn spines and shelves to dreamy images of beautiful items rising from the pages of an open novel. Many people choose a literal bookworm tattoo, can be more adorable than a slimy little critter has any right to be. The best part of these tattoos is that they don’t force you to choose which book has had the greatest impact on your life, and they age well. The chances of not liking reading further down the line are less than the chances of outgrowing a favorite novel.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t get a little more specific if you want! Many gorgeous tattoos have come from a love of a particular author, series, or single book. Tattoos can be based on a scene, a character, an item, even a reproduction of the cover art. If one title has changed your life, if it is the one that you return to again and again, or if it has been a favorite for many years already, it can have a much deeper meaning than a more general design. This is also a great choice for covering larger areas – going for a sleeve, rib, or backpiece means that you will want lots of different elements to come together. Basing a larger piece on a series or individual volume gives plenty of scope for extensive work.

Make it yours: Combine a stack of books with an element representing your pets, family, or another aspect of yourself – even a self-portrait! You also don’t have to restrict yourself to just one series – if you are looking to create a large design, why not combine images of books with elements from a few particular favorites?


Classic, Portait, New-School and Contemporary: The Style Issue


Just as there are many different genres of book, there are various styles of tattoo that can be appropriate for your literary design. Finding a style that you love and that suits you is going to be one of the biggest factors in searching for the right artist to bring it to life, as most artists specialize, or at least have their favorites.

Old School/Americana: One of the most recognizable styles, this is the classic tattoo. Bold lines, banners, straightforward color palates and simple shading are the hallmarks of these classic pieces. These last well over time, and are usually less expensive than a piece of the same size in another style. Think of this like classic literature for your skin. (Artist: Jaclyn Rehe)

Portrait/Realistic: Perfect if you are itching to have your best-loved author or character on your skin, a portrait tattoo is exactly what it sounds like. These are detailed images with complex shading and minimal lines, designed to look as realistic as possible. Realistic tattoos are absolutely stunning, but take a vast amount of skill to create, so finding a talented portrait artist can be difficult. Like a perfectly written biography, these capture an individual in pristine detail. (Artist: Acos Tattoo)


New School: Vivid colors, cartoonish shapes and sweeping lines feature in new school tattoos. There are a huge range of different styles within new school, and with so much possibility, it’s no wonder that this is probably the most popular style today. Just like an eye popping display of the latest bestsellers, these are bright and brilliant. (Artist: Timmy B)



Contemporary: There are still more tattoos that don’t fit any of the above categories, such as geometric designs or art that looks like watercolor on skin. While these are stunning, and quite unusual, they are often specific to a few artists, so finding someone to bring your dream to life can be tricky. However, if you can, you are rewarded with something truly special, and worth the search – just like a rare edition of a book. (Artist: Gene Coffey)


Bookish, Yet Not A Book

Artist: Frank William

If you know you want a tattoo to celebrate your love of reading, but nothing is sparking your imagination, there are always other creative options. Why not think about a library-inspired tattoo? A beautiful, and very simple, tattoo idea is to use the Dewey decimal system for a design that only you (and your librarian) will understand. If you are a writer as well as a reader, why not think about a quill, fountain pen or typewriter?


The Final Word


There are as many options for tattoos as there are for reading choices, and even more decisions to make (size, placement, colors, etc) before that needle touches skin. However, if some literary ink is in your future, hopefully this will have helped you with that final decision.

Do you have any literary tattoos? Do you plan to get one? Let us know on Twitter at @QuirkBooks