Skeleton hand tattoos have spread across the internet, becoming a staple in every reputable tattoo parlour’s repertoire.
While skeletons, bones and skulls have long been a source of ink inspiration, skeletal hand designs have only recently become a trend.
These sombre and delicate tattoos hint at something darker. They allude to death, with a cheeky hint of irony.
The inner, corporeal space is inked onto visible skin in a bold design inspired by anatomy, all the while harking back to the outstretched hand of death familiar to horror film lovers.
From the divine to the grim reaper-esque, hand skeleton tattoos reflect different meanings for everybody. In this article, we’ll go over the symbolism of these skinnymalinky sketches so you can be sure of what you’re getting yourself into before heading out to the tattoo parlour.
Skeleton Hand Tattoo: Symbolism
Most ink enthusiasts will agree that tattoos have meaning. Whether it’s the initials of a loved one, a portrait of your favorite musical artist, or an etching which immortalises a moment of your life (spontaneous stick-and-poke tattoos done at your friend’s place after a few beers, for example.)
This symbolism is for you, as the proud wearer and owner of your designs, but it’s also for the beholder as it’s an image that you’re putting out. You’re a walking art exhibit, so it’s often worthwhile to think about what you’re trying to represent and portray to the world.
Skeletons come with a long list of connotations, the most prominent one being death.
In The Middle Ages, skeletons were used allegorically in paintings to allude to the concept of death. This movement was called the Danse Macabre, or the Dance of Death. In the Danse Macabre, people from a variety of backgrounds (often kings, children and labourers) dance together towards the grave. The key idea of these works of art was that no matter your earthly rank of material possessions, all men are equal in death.
These images functioned as a memento mori — A reminder of death. This affirmed for people their own fragility and deterred them from becoming vainglorious and proud.
Beyond just recalling death, these skeletons served to remind people of equality: that we’re all the same under the flesh. This certainly makes for some powerful symbolism to carry around on your hand!
The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel.
The Death and The Maiden motif in Renaissance art showed a young woman seized by the skeletal personification of death. This particular image had erotic undertones, and it’s certainly true that there’s something alluring and sexy about skeletons.
So take note, your skeleton engraved hand may well enhance your sex appeal.
The Mexican celebration Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a celebratory holiday where family and friends gather to pray for and remember loved ones who have died.
In parades, such as the one along Reforma Avenue in Mexico City, celebrants dress in colorful, floral skulls, known as the “sugar skull”, and skeleton costumes.
A skeleton tattoo can symbolize the celebration of lives that have been lived, as well as marking death.
As we see in depictions of pirates, a skull and crossbones tattoo, medallion or flag represents both rebellion, threat and victory. When used as an emblem like this, they’re associated with fortitude and power. In short, they can reflect a sense of power and resilience.
Many religions have sacred skull symbolism. In Christianity, a skull can symbolize eternity, referring to the human skeleton left behind as the soul rises to heaven. In the ancient Jewish tradition of Kabbalah, skulls are used to represent rebirth and renewal in light of death.
Since tattoos stay with you your life through, it seems quite fitting to get a tattoo which also symbolizes this eternity!
Skeleton Tattoo Origins
Tattooing has existed in various forms across human history.
The oldest and most well known proof of ancient tattooing in Europe is present on the body of one Ötzi the Iceman, who was discovered in the Ôtz valley in the Alps and is thought to date from the 4th millennia BC.
In Greece, records show that tattooing began as early as the 5th-century BC. In this time the ancient Greeks and Romans would have used tattoos as a way to mark and punish slaves and criminals.
In Britain, pilgrims which travelled to the Holy Lands would pay tribute to their voyages by tattooing the Jerusalem Cross.
While skeleton tattooing is a fairly new concept, it’s symbolism follows on from these traditions as a way to mark your body with an emblem of the life you’ve lived.
50+ Best Skeleton Hand Tattoo Design Ideas
Now we’ve got a bit of background about the history of the skeleton in Art, it’s time to think about the design you want for your skeleton hand tattoo. There are many directions you can take. It’s best to look at a variety of ideas, take inspiration from them, and create your own perfect design along with your chosen tattoo artist.
Hand Skeleton Tattoos
Simple Skeletal Finger Design
A lot of people just have the finger bones inked on, and leave it at that. No overshading, no extending onto the wrist, just the nice minimalist effect of protruding skeletal fingers. This kind of design looks especially cool when you’re wearing long-sleeves, and even cooler when contrasted with brightly colored clothing. Plus, minimalism is very a la mode at the moment with a number of highly skilled tattoo artists favoring the look.
Another advantage of minimalist designs is that they can easily be altered and added to at a later date should inspiration strike!
You can achieve a more all-encompassing look by adding extensive shading to highlight the bones. In these designs, the bones are highlighted through the absence of ink in a sea of blackness. This look is very impactful because of the stark contrast of white and black — but it’s worth bearing in mind how painful all that shading can be!
Including the Wrist and Arm
If you want to really commit to the skeletal look, then why not think about having the design extend onto your wrists and up your forearm? This will give you a more complete skeleton look and transport you a step further from all the others rocking the same trend.
One Hand or both Hands?
Getting just the one hand done makes the design stand out as unique to a single part to your body. It also gives you a half-human/half-skeleton look which is a curious contrast. However, getting both done can really cement the look and give you a pleasing symmetry.
Skeleton Hands Elsewhere on the Body
If you’re still keen to have those boney fingers but aren’t sure if you want them traced over your hands, then you can also think about getting them inked somewhere else on your body. Wherever you decide to put it, that skeletal hand print will carry the same connotations of death, victory and rebellion.
The advantage of moving your skeleton hands elsewhere is that they can be any size you want, instead of having to adopt the size of your handspan. It can also be a little more discreet if you’re worried about the visibility of your tattoos affecting job opportunities.
Other Skeleton Tattoos
If you decide against a hand tattoo but are still set on the skeletal theme, then fret not, there are a thousand other ways you can get skeleton body art!
Here are some ideas of other bone-themed tattoos you can think about getting to fulfil your morbid craving!
Skull (and Crossbones)
Skulls carry the same connotations as whole or parts of skeletons, but they have a particular association with pirates. They also tend to have more character as they can have facial expressions. You can have them grinning, smirking, grimacing, screaming, or even breathing fire!
You can get tiny ones on your wrists or ankles, or a huge one down your back. The choice is yours.
You can also opt for an animal skeleton. Perhaps you like hunting, you’re interested in animal reincarnation, or you want to have a kind of day of the dead celebration for a former pet. From a zoological perspective, animal skeletons are fascinating and the different forms and textures they have can allow for a truly spectacular design. Snake and fish skeletons are particularly popular, but why not go with one of your favorite animals, or one with a skeleton which particularly appeals to you.
As well as animals, you can have a skeleton which is a mythical, fantastical creature. Try adding wings, or a halo to make an angel, or a fish tail to make a mermaid. Why not make your skeleton a cherub, a Norse God or an animal hybrid. The options are endless!
Full Body Skeleton
While skeleton hands are beautiful in their subtlety and allusion to all the bodily bones, why not go with the full skeleton? This allows you to play with position, posture, size and even gender. You can have your skeleton dancing, bending, holding a rose, playing cards, reading, even attach a monologue via a speech bubble. With a full body you can really get creative and make a whole persona out of your skeleton.
Other parts of a Skeleton
If you’re not a fan of either skeleton hands or craniums, then there are a multitude of other bone combinations you can go for.
You could get your toes and metatarsals inked to mimic a skeleton foot. This you can keep hidden away discreetly until you get your flip-flops on.
You can also opt for the ribcage, or the pelvis if this is a part that has particular significance for you (or if you simply find it the most aesthetically pleasing!)
Grim Reaper Tattoo
If you’d like a tattoo which symbolises death, but aren’t sure about a plain skeleton, then a grim reaper design might be perfect for you. As well as portraying death, this tattoo also symbolizes the circle of life with ideas of acceptance, rebirth and renewal. It can also represent courage and reward in the face of death. It’s common to add a quote with drawings of the grim reaper, like “no fear” or “Death comes for us all” among others.
Personalising your Skeleton Hand Tattoo
Once you’ve decided what kind of skeleton or skull you want to get inked, there are a number of ways to make it unique to you. Here’s a quick design guide detailing how to personalise your tattoo concept.
Skeletons are usually depicted in black and white, and that makes sense, they’re pretty monochromatic in real life and the death aspect makes them darker still. But if you’re not looking for ultra realism in your tattoo design, then adding some color might be a great way to individualise your skeleton. After all, when it comes to your art, you’re free to be as adventurous as you want. Why not take inspiration from the sugar skull of Dia de los Muertos and add some multi-colored florals?
Incorporate other Elements
Your skeleton tattoo might be as anatomical correct as anything, but you could make it a bit more eye-catching by adding another element of interest. A popular addition to the skeleton is a rose, as this juxtaposes the darkness and deathly aspect while adding some romance. A set of cards is also a popular choice, alluding to chance and destiny which is invariably tied up with life and death. Or you can opt for a snake which adds to the sense of danger.
Alternatively, you can go with something that has significance to you. Maybe a certain bird, a feather or jewelry. Anything that can be incorporated into the design to create a piece of art tailored to you.
Think about the Position
The obvious place is over your hand, tracing the actual bones beneath the skin. But as we explained above, many people place the skeletal hand on other parts of their body, like the wrist or forearm. This can be a good option if you still want all the mystique and symbolism of a skeleton tattoo without having a highly visible hand tattoo.
Or alternatively, you can get something on your hand which suggests a skeleton, but takes the shape of something else. Like this ingenious skull butterfly pictured below.
Hand and Face Trick
A very popular trend of recent years is getting a skull tattoo on your hand which you can hold over your face to give the illusion that you have the skull imprinted on your face.
This is a fun and playful effect, allowing you to explore different ways of presenting the same tattoo.
Different Skeleton Styles
Celtic tattoos usually incorporate Celtic knots and symbols, inspired by pagan tradition and imagery. They tend to make use of nature elements too, like the sun and the moon, which draws on Celtic ceremony and beliefs.
The Celtic tradition states that a skull is “the seat of the soul” and the skeleton is the corporeal casing for the soul. Skeletons therefore carry a lot of symbolic meaning as a kind of earthly means to access the power of the self.
Celtic skeleton tattoos will draw on familiar Celtic patterns and incorporate certain shapes particular to the style.
Tribal tattoos are very geometrical and symmetrical, often with intricate patterns and embellishments.
Skulls and skeletons drawn in this style will adopt the same geometric approach with spherical shapes, arches and lines.
In the tribal tradition, skulls and skeletons are memorials for those who have died, and can also be a way of symbolizing the immortal spirit of the dead.
Gothic culture was one of the first scenes to accept and welcome tattoos. Consequently a lot of the most popular tattoo designs fall into the gothic style, like skeletons.
This is a black and white style with grey shading. As well as skulls and skeletons, gothic art favours ravens, Krakens and black roses.
Realist tattoo art is a fairly new concept, but as the name suggests, it focuses on portraying objects exactly as they appear to the eye in real life. Skull and skeleton tattoos designed in this style will be anatomical and proportional, looking as close as possible to the real thing.
Surrealist tattoo art is where things really get interesting. Taking inspiration from European artists like Salvador Dali in Paris in the middle of the 20th Century, this art form focuses on bending reality and looking to the subconscious and dreams for enlightenment. Extending this idea and skulls and skeletons, and you can see skeletons dancing around, doing cartwheels and discussing l’amour.
Famous People with Skeleton Hand Tattoos
Skeleton and skull tattoos are extremely popular, and there are a number of celebrities that sport their own variations on the trend.
Known as “Zombie Boy” in the press, Rick Genest had a total of 41 tattoos covering his body, many of which were bones and organs. His head and face, most remarkably, had been inked to resemble a skull. His hands too were marked with finger bones.
Chris Brown has two skulls on each hand, mirroring each other and both sporting halos.
Miley Cyrus has a tattoo of a skeleton on her left bicep, adding to her collection of over 50 pieces of body art.
Miley’s skeleton has a bejewelled crown atop his head and a heart erupting from its ribs. Perhaps she’s saying she’s a regal Queen with a big heart? Who knows.
Skeleton Hand Tattoo: Whatelse to Consider
The hand is a highly visible place and this is either a unique appeal or a big drawback.
Before deciding whether or not to get inked on your mitts, here’s a quick guide to some things you ought to be aware of beforehand (pun intended).
Choosing the Right Artist
Some tattoo artists simply refuse to do hand or foot tattoos. This is because they are extremely difficult to do. The ink is liquid, and it remains liquid even after it penetrates the skin. It takes diligence and great skill to position the ink perfectly between the epidermis and the dermis. Since the feet and hands have a thinner layer of skin than other parts of the body, being able to perfectly position the ink takes a lot of skill and experience. Just a tiny bit too shallow or too deep and you’ll have a blurry smudge plain for all to see.
It’s very important that you pick an artist with a lot of experience doing hand tattoos so you can be sure your finished tattoo will look swell.
Consider how your career might be affected
The scene has changed a bit in recent years, but there are still a number of employers who are wary of hiring people with visible tattoos. The U.S. military, for example, has a complete ban on hand tattoos. You might find some hostility towards them in the hospitality sector and the office workspace too.
If you’re yet to start your career, make sure you have a long hard think about whether or not your hand tattoo might interfere with future job prospects. You don’t want to lose out on our dream job opportunity because of a spontaneous decision you made years before.
Once you’re established on a certain career path, it’s easier to get away with being atypical, so you might just need to exercise some patience and put your hand tattoo on plans until in a more secure position.
While the tattoo is healing it’s going to feel a little painful and sensitive. When it’s your hands that are affected, you might find carrying out regular tasks like cooking and washing the dishes a challenge. It’s better to have someone to help you out with stuff like that, at least until you’ve gotten past the early stages of healing.
Can you maintain your tattoo?
Our hands go through a lot of wear and tear on a daily basis. This can take its toll on your tattoo and you might find it fades in a relatively short period of time. You can get it retouched but bear in mind that annual retouches are going to get expensive and potentially a bit bothersome as you’ll need to incorporate healing time on each occasion.
Skeleton hand tattoos carry a lot of symbolic meaning and can be a beautiful addition to human body art. If you’re looking to get hand ink, make sure you opt for the right tattoo artist and decide on your perfect skeletal design and concept.