5 New Trends in the Tattoo Underground

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by Nadja Sayej

Tattoos have become more than just your typical zodiac signs and mom hearts. A new tattoo underground has started to form, with a number of projects that capture the recent flurry of new movements – from tattoos that raise awareness of illness to Emoji tats. Among them are the following styles and subcultures.

Project Semicolon

Started by Wisconsin-based artist Amy Bleuel, the project began in 2013 to honor her late father, who took his own life in 2003. It became a cathartic way to start talking about a relationship with mental illness. By getting a tattoo of a semicolon, or a “;” symbol, often on the wrist, symbolizes a sentence pause, not an end, and to “stay strong” or “to be continued” with life. When people post their tattoos online, either to mark their own battle with mental illness or for loved ones, it is often accompanied by the #ProjectSemicolon hashtag. The project has sparked a conversation online about fighting mental illness and choosing to continue, as “the author is you and the sentence is your life,” writes Bleuel on the project’s website. “Despite the wounds of a dark past I was able to rise from the ashes, proving that the best is yet to come. Stay Strong; Love Endlessly; Change Lives.”


Animal tattoos: The Israeli Calf

Over 150 billion animals are killed annually in the meat industry. An animal rights tattoo design movement was started by the group 269life, who launched the movement to expose animal exploitation in the meat industry. By taking the life of one Israeli dairy calf, and following his life, as he was taken from the countryside where he lived with his mother, pushed in a cage and was beefed with protein feed, he got the identity number 269, a tag in his left ear, to symbolize his upcoming slaughter. He was saved close to his slaughter day in 2012. On World Farm Animals Day, a group of animal rights activists in Tel Aviv grouped together against animal cruelty and got 269 burned on their skin with a hot steel brand, the same way farm animals are tattooed, to mark the male calf. “No animal should be exploited to satisfy the selfish needs and whimsical desires of humans, and that is why we chose to use the industry’s own method of objectifying living beings as this symbolic means to convey our idea,” they write on their website. Since, animal rights activists have gotten “269” tattooed to commemorate this act (it’s not the Michigan area code).



Alex Grey-inspired psychedelic tattoo design

Spiritual, cosmic and visionary New York-based artist Alex Grey is a bit of a cult hero in the tattoo world, so much that his artwork has been reproduced more than any other contemporary artist. His painting work is recognized with an MC Escher-type detail to imaginative line work while the types of patterns he uses could be matched with op artists Bridget Riley or Victor Vasarely, mixed with a Bosch kind of madness. Often depicting what looks like skinless humans in the strangest of positions (don’t forget the third eye), Grey has an uncanny way of revealing the human nervous system in a rainbow of colors, as if we’re wired with electricity and painted in gold rain. He has hosted a “Sacred Ink” workshop at his rural mansion, the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, and his tats can often be found on the backs of brave men and women, who go all out with sprawling, vibrant body pieces and sleeves devoted to this legendary artist.


Emoji tattoos

We all known by now the “emoji” is the Japanese term for “picture characters,” so it only makes sense they have become a handheld set of internationally-recognized emotional icons on our smartphones, from happy to sad, silly and quirky. It was Toronto rapper Drake who helped start the emoji tattoo craze with his permanent etching of the praying hands emoji on his forearm. Ever since, the emoji tattoo craze has taken off with cats and even cheesecake slices tattooed on the butt cheeks. Miley Cyrus has the crying cat tattooed on her inside of her lower lip, while the NBA’s Mike Scott has a flurry of emoji tattoos on his right bicep, including tap dancers and the heart-eyed smiley, an extension of his social media accounts which are always fill
ed with emojis – consider it an extended way of self-expression, albeit a far more permanent one. Our fav: Video artist Anne Horel’s pizza slice emoji tattoo.


Head mandalas

An unbelievable but true trend to the underground tattoo craze is the head mandala tattooed onto shaved (or partly-shaved) heads. From geometric designs to those that are more flowery, they take the form on the top of the skull moving downwards or alternatively, on a chosen side of the head, tucked behind the ear. The mandala, which means “circle” in Sanskrit, is a circular shape that has historically represented the universe, cosmic order, in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. It is also used for meditation, but is now one of the most revered tattoos for the skull.



Design isn’t just for advertising, web pages, and packaging – it’s everywhere. With The Human Canvas by Karala B. Wallace, take a look at designs that move past tradition, and use the human body as a canvas with a wide variety of bodypainting designs. Explore body art that invokes beauty as well as fear, and discover designs that echo nature, technology, and much more. No matter your personal style, you’re sure to find among this selection designs that inspire you and your own design work.