Wing Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning
Mankind has longed for the freedom of flight since before history, and wing tattoos are one of the ways we symbolize that desire. In nature, they come in every shape and size, each with deep and divergent meanings as ink.
Unlike a lot of inking art, wing tattoos work well for both sexes, though certain versions, such as those of a butterfly, have a decidedly more feminine appearance. With the universal appeal of the desire for freedom and the gift of flight, these tats are suitable for almost everyone.
The Symbology of Wing Tattoos
Early humans watched the birds with envy, marveling at their ability to fly. That said, with a few creative tweaks, your tattoos can be used to represent a wide range of other ideas, including a few of the inspirations below.
When birds learn to fly, they tumble often, but they continue to get back up and try again until they soar over the land below. Wing tattoos can symbolize this resilience and willingness to get back up and keep fighting.
In a religious context, angels are often shown as humans with white, feathered wings. A small tattoo of angel wings can be a testament to your resilience in the face of hardship, or as part of a memorial to a fallen loved one and your determination to never forget them.
Fallen angels are often depicted having lost their beautiful wings for a leathery pair. Nobody is perfect, and a tattoo of a bat’s leathery appendages or even a pair of tats symbolizing where your angel’s means of flight were cut off can symbolize your desire to begin anew and find redemption.
Mythology worldwide is full of winged humans, gods, and creatures that can enhance your tattoo’s meaning. Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory, is depicted as a woman with a set of wings and can help you remember to keep at it—persistence brings victory.
Don’t be afraid to personalize the symbolism to fit your ideas. The ancient Greek myth about Icarus, for example, is about a boy who used wings made of beeswax and feathers to escape his prison. He flew too close to the sun, they melted, and he fell to his death.
A tattoo styled after Icarus’ manufactured appendages doesn’t have to symbolize his fall and death. Instead, it can point to your ability to innovate your way to your dreams.
Lovers often combine images of wings with hearts that celebrate and commemorate their love and its persistence over time. A winged Cupid is such a motif common to tattoos celebrating love.
Guidance and Leadership
Birds, with their control of the sky, have often been seen as stewards. The wings of gods adorned the temples of ancient Egypt, wrapping them in their protective embrace. On the other side of the world, many pre-Columbian native legends spoke of great animal spirits like Eagle, Raven, and Thunderbird—natural leaders in the animal kingdom.
The bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States and a frequent subject for patriotic tattoos.
You can also celebrate your ethnicity with examples from a different species. How about a pair of bird wing tats in a traditional Native American style to show affiliation with an animal spirit or clan?
Winged animals such as owls, falcons, vultures, and phoenix have long been associated with intelligence. Of all the birds, owls have one of the longest associations with wisdom, thanks to the Owl of Athena. As Athens rose, the cities reverence for their legendary founder’s favorite animal grew along with its association with wisdom.
A full-body bird most often accompanies owl wing tattoos. On the back or chest, the room allows for a combination with wisdom-related symbols, such as scrolls. On the arms or legs, tats can show the bird holding court, sitting on a branch close or in flight, and ready to strike—an illustration of the agility of the wise mind.
With wing tattoos, there are endless possibilities for creativity. Below are descriptions of a few of the most common types of these tats, along with ideas for interesting tweaks. The ink will stay with you for your entire life, so personalize the design to give it extra meaning.
Perhaps the most common of all wing tattoos, these pairs are typically placed on the upper back behind the shoulder blades. They can be filled with detail and signify deep religious beliefs. The traditional angel is depicted with white wings like those of a dove, but they’re far from the only choice for your ink.
Fallen angels can have wing-variations of their own. Bat-themed pairs or variations with black feathers are the most common variants in tat artwork. A fallen angel tattoo represents a loss of innocence and is often depicted with an angel cradling their head in their hands.
Celtic art features intricate and beautiful geometric designs that are easily adapted to this design. The Celtic people are most often associated with Ireland, so Celtic tattoos can showcase Irish heritage.
Insect and Animal Wings
Butterfly wings have long represented beauty and transition since these insects emerge from their metamorphoses fully transformed. A pair of butterfly wings is also associated with fairies, pixies, and other fae creatures.
Bats are often feared and misunderstood creatures. They come out at night, haunting our dreams and finding a prominent place with legendary dark creatures like vampires. Batwing tattoos are, therefore, excellent for dark-themed and gothic tats.
There are estimated to be over 9,000 species of birds on Earth, but only the most distinctively designed are common designs for body art. The larger birds, such as eagles, hawks, and owls, make great subjects for tattoos building a theme of might. Smaller birds, like doves, usually represent purity and perseverance.
Many of the smaller birds have vibrant, multicolored wings that make for dynamic tattoos. For example, the lilac-breasted roller has a bright blue pair with dark blue edges.
Coloring for Wing Tattoos
Since we automatically associate angels with the ethereal white, negative tattoos are an excellent choice to enhance the look of white wings on skin. This is done by the artist tattooing the area around the wing design, in black, to make the winged area really stand out.
Neutral and calm colors are an excellent choice to stick with the angel-wing theme. As well as white, we also use yellow to symbolize peace and tranquility.
If you’re a bird-fan, you can go completely wild with colors in your wing design. Think a mix of blues and greens, or even throw in some orange, too, a la the kingfisher bird.
Black and Brown
If you’re more aligned to a gothic style of wing, go with a black and brown combination, or single out either. You could also add in some red for a bat’s eye, as well as some on the fangs, if you wanted something vampiric.
Like all tats, there are no rules or requirements for their placement. Your wing tattoos can cover any part of your body. That said, there are a few common and traditional placements. Below are unique locations you might want to consider for your next design.
Angels and other winged humanoids from religion and mythology are almost always shown with wings affixed to their backs. Tattoos mimicking this style can cover the entire back.
A smaller pair centered on the spine can be placed near the shoulders or on the lower back. These work well combined with many other symbols or designs to emphasize an underlying theme.
A majestic bird in flight centered over the heart and with wings stretching to the shoulders can evoke the freedom birds represent. The symmetry of such illustrations works well as a peck tattoo.
Arms and Legs
A small pair wrapped around an image can be used to illustrate the symbol’s importance. An angel’s pair wrapped around a heart, for example, is a common design for immortalizing someone important.
A small pair on each ankle evoke the Greek messenger god Hermes and the famed sandals he wore to fly as swift as any bird.