Day of the Dead Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning
Day of the Dead is a Mexican festivity that celebrates passed loved ones and death without fear or sadness. These tattoos usually include images of La Catrina, a beautiful woman in the makeup of sugar skulls, representing death. They can also include cheerful, decorated skulls or skeletons.
Originating in the pre-Hispanic Aztec culture of Central America, Day of the Dead is still popular in Mexico and other parts of Central America, and increasingly in the US. Ever since the Spanish arrived, the festivity has been celebrated on All Saints’ Day, at the beginning of November.
It still carries the same meaning of celebrating loved ones who have passed, without sadness for their death. In fact, Day of the Dead is celebrated with sugar skulls painted in bright colors and images of laughing skeletons.
A Day of the Dead tattoo is a very personal way to honor your loved ones. It can also be a way to honor your heritage. Given the relation of the festivity to Mexican culture, you’ll be carrying the story of your ancestors on your skin.
Most Day of the Dead tattoos use either the figure of La Catrina, a sugar skull or skeletons. We’ll walk you through all of these options so you’ll know which one’s right for you.
Calavera, or skull, is an important part of the festivities. They’re molded into the shape of a human skull from sugar and merengue and painted with bright colors. Many people choose this design for their tattoo, as it’s a fun way to celebrate life and your loved ones.
The calaveras can have a wide variety of different designs, but they are usually smiling. They tend to have their mouths painted with vertical lines to give the image of being stitched closed. Another option is to add teeth to the calavera.
The nose is usually filled with a dark color. An ace of spades is often painted on the tip as a symbol for good luck. You can decorate the rest of your skull with flowers and butterflies or any other image you prefer.
La Catrina is commonly represented in tattoos as a beautiful woman. She is always depicted with the makeup of the sugar skulls used in the Day of the Dead festivities. This includes the stitched-shut mouth, the embroidered lines around her eyes and the black tip of the nose.
La Catrina binds together the ancient Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl with the later Mexican traditions. This figure comes originally from the drawings of satirist José Guadalupe Posada, and it made fun of the bourgeois. That is why the woman is still always depicted as very beautiful and aristocratic.
La Catrina used to be represented as a female skeleton in late 19th-century clothing and a French-style hat. Many people decide to include a hat in their tattoos even today, even if they don’t use the skeleton.
While most people choose a realistic style of tattooing for La Catrina, you can also experiment with other forms. The traditional American style, for example, works well with this image.
If you want to innovate, you can design your tattoo to be half La Catrina, half actual skull. You could also depict her with more Catholic imagery, such as a veil and a halo of light behind her.
Another traditional way of honoring the Day of the Dead is with a tattoo of a skeleton. You can use either one or more, and draw them in a caricaturesque and satirical way. They are usually dressed in 19th-century bourgeois style, in fine, old clothing.
Remember, the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, and the skeletons are always laughing or having fun.
These items can be used with whichever design you choose. You can surround your skeleton or La Catrina with them. Including them in the decoration of the sugar skulls or in La Catrina’s makeup is another option.
La Catrina is most commonly depicted in tattoos with flowers. You can put some red roses in her hair or surround her with marigolds.
Marigolds, especially, hold a special significance on the Day of the Dead. They are called flor de muerto, the flower of the dead, and they are believed to attract spirits of the deceased.
Monarch butterflies also hold a special significance during the festivities. They represent the spirit of the ancestors since they arrive at the time of year of Day of the Dead. You can add them to the sugar skulls or on La Catrina’s hair.
Spiders and their webs are commonly used on skulls and La Catrina’s makeup, to underline the symbolism of death. The most common area is over the forehead. You can also include spider webs in the decorations surrounding her.
Crosses and Rosaries
Day of the Dead is a mixture of pre-Hispanic traditions with Spanish ones. That’s why it’s only fitting to include some Catholic imagery, a rosary or a cross, in your tattoo.
You could add a cross to La Catrina’s makeup, for example, on her forehead. Another option is to have her holding a rosary in her hands.
Dates and Names
If your Day of the Dead tattoo is a reminder of someone specific, you can add them to your tattoo. Try including the person’s name or the date they passed next to the tattoo or incorporate it into the design.
Clocks can add to the symbolism of a Day of the Dead tattoo. They make you think about how fleeting life is and how you need to enjoy every moment. That makes them the perfect companion for the message of this festivity. You can either have the clock next to La Catrina or have her hold it to remind life’s fleeting happiness.
If you love lots of color on your tattoos, this is a good time to set your imagination free. The Day of the Dead is a colorful celebration, and the sugar skulls are always painted in lots of colors.
Apart from the yellows and oranges of the marigolds and butterflies, you can use the reds and greens of the Mexican flag to highlight your heritage.
Blue tones also look great with the Day of the Dead. If you want a tattoo of more than one skull, try getting one darker and another in brighter tones.
If you’re going for the La Catrina figure, you might be looking to get the whole tattoo in darker tones. Using some color in the details can really make it pop. You can use black and grey on the woman, and contrast it with some colorful flowers or butterflies.
Where to Get Your Ink
Day of the Dead Tattoos are usually from moderate to large in size, especially La Catrina. However, you do have different options for sizes and placements.
La Catrina is a popular design for the arms, for both men and women. You’ll need more space to draw a realistic-looking woman, and the long shape of the arm is perfect for this. It’s also a great place for showing off a major tattoo.
Skeletons and skulls can also be included on the arms, even on the inside. They’re colorful and cartoonish, which usually makes them suitable for smaller sizes.
Legs and Feet
Skeletons and skulls are adaptable for the feet and legs. Try a calavera on the calves or on the top of your foot.
La Catrina can also look good on your calves or thighs. This is one option men often choose for their tattoos.
The back is a prime canvas for a large design, especially for adding a La Catrina figure. You can go as wild as you want with this, either use the entire back or a part of it. A good, slightly smaller option is on the shoulder.
Skulls can also look good on the back, though in a smaller size.