Tattoo Design Ideas: Building a Sleeve Piece by Piece

Updated on March 7, 2018
Teddy Lostizfelt- my favorite tattoo ;)
Teddy Lostizfelt- my favorite tattoo ;)
Koali, sakura, & my butterfly (Ash)
Koali, sakura, & my butterfly (Ash)
Gunner (the protector)
Gunner (the protector)
Arrrrr, me booty!!!
Arrrrr, me booty!!!
Strawberries topped with a candy skull- YUM!
Strawberries topped with a candy skull- YUM!
I'm on cloud nine!!
I'm on cloud nine!!

Whenever I'm stopped by people curious about my tattoos, they always ask the same three questions...

1) Did it hurt?

Some areas were definitely more sensitive than others, but I actually liked the feeling. My foot tattoo sucked pretty hard though. Of course, it all comes down to your threshold for pain. I didn't like the way my foot felt, but that's not going to stop me from going back to tattoo the other one!

2) Who's your artist?

Bob Witten at Skin Deep Tattoo (Hilo, Hawaii). I love his work so much, I hand out business cards ;)

3) How many hours did it take?

That last question gets me. I'm really not sure how to answer it since my first arm tattoo was inked over ten years ago. It takes a while for me to count up the hours under the needle until I finally just admit that my sleeve was a piece-by-piece project which started years before it ended.

At first glance, the colorful swirls of ink seem to flow in unison. Yet a closer inspection will reveal the different symbols, each unique in meaning and memory. I'm living proof a tattoo sleeve can be created through patchwork. If you're interested in a sleeve like mine, here are some ideas:

Ink Biography

My tattoos reveal things about my personality, beliefs, and childhood that I normally wouldn't bring up in a conversation. Some are personal reminders that keep me on a positive track when I'm need a little boost in morale, while others are simply there for the sake of art itself.

Every person has a clear definition of what they deem visually appealing. Symbols that are beautiful to some may repel others. Yet a tattoo should not be based on other people's perception of you. Don't go running off to the tattoo parlor just because someone said a rabid version of Hello Kitty would look "totally epic" on you. Remember that a tattoo is a piece of living art that should speak your soul. Therefore, make sure choose symbols that you can connect to specific moments and memories in your own life...(no offense to those who can actually connect to rabid Hello Kitty, lol!)

This One's For You

Family had a great influence on the symbols found in my sleeve. My mother, born in the year of the dragon, was always my protector. Her guidance, grace, and wisdom fueled the idea behind my Gunner tattoo. My father (el mejor cocinero de las hamburguesas con chili verde) inspired the bright-eyed candy skull. My grandfather, a navy officer, is represented in the bluebird while the cherry blossoms floating all around remind me of my grandmother. If you're thinking of doing a tribute to your loved ones, I suggest symbols with subtle yet meaningful connections. The stories of love behind each of these symbols will convey much more than just words in ink.

A Tribute to Nature

Nature's elegance and allure is unsurpassed, yet paying homage to the beauty of nature through art is a common theme. Apart from being universal symbols of season and locale, tattoos designs inspired by flora and fauna often carry other symbolic meanings for the collector. The band of morning glory was my first arm tattoo not because I like the flower, but because I AM the flower. My middle name, Koali, means "morning glory" in Hawaiian. My mother showed me the delicate, violet blossoms scattered in vines along sands of Haupuna beach. I remember picking a flower once and watching it die in my hands, turning to a limp film that clung to my skin. As I looked around at the other blossoms smiling in the sunshine, I felt guilty. Many years later, ink brought my blossom back to life.

Connect the Dots

The strawberry plants scattered around my forearm, while having symbolic meaning, also serve to frame the tattoos that were inked separately. Cherry blossoms also help connect the pieces together. I even have them framing the Pokémon on my foot. As for the spaces that couldn't house pictures, Bob used bright hues of blue and yellow to add a cloud-type pattern to the mix. Finding allegorical designs, patterns, and colors that are simple and easily duplicated can help create continuity in your sleeve.

Always remember that a tattoo is a decision you will live with forever. It's vital to be confident in the longevity of a piece's appeal before going under the needle. Tattoo removal is expensive and painful. Refer to the chart below see if you're really ready for ink. In addition, be sure to research the artist, his/her previous work, and the tattoo shop's credentials before the gun starts to BBBbbzzzzzz!!!


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Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        k gardner 

        7 weeks ago

        Who wrote this - Jeff Sessions?

      • profile image

        Melissa 

        18 months ago

        This flowchart full of crap. A lower back tattoo is just like any other placement... a choice. If someone thinks you're easy because of it, eff them. And who cares if someone thinks you're easy? What does that even mean? Slut shaming is for the 1950s. And so what if the tattoo is like someone/anyone/everyone else's. This is not an infinite loop of "don't get the tattoo." Sure, it's important to help guide clients towards a decisions they'll be proud of, but the judgement included in this chart is crap.

      • profile image

        Jack 

        3 years ago

        Have to say, as funny as it was as something to be taken completely on face value, if that flowchart is meant to be a truthful guide to getting tattoos, I would wholeheartedly disagree with such a narrow minded viewpoint. Tattoos don't necessarily have to have any kind of special meaning. If it's a joke I retract all of it but this: do you prefer to catch? really?

      • thelyricwriter profile image

        Richard Ricky Hale 

        4 years ago from West Virginia

        Hey Tattoo Kitty. Nice sleeve. I've been thinking about getting a full sleeve myself. I just don't know what type of theme I want. You make a great point, sometimes it is better going piece by piece. Just looking at your sleeve tattoo makes me want to get one worse then before. LOL

      • profile image

        Greg 

        4 years ago

        That chart is suggesting that tattoos must have meaning.. sigh

      • profile image

        Marco bergemann 

        5 years ago

        I want to start my three quarter sleeve but don't know how to go about it... i have stars on my elbows and writing on my chest but don't know how to join these two with a design? suggestions would be appreciated.

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        ^ LMAO! ^

      • profile image

        :) 

        6 years ago

        Im going to get a tattoo of that flowchart.

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks for reading, MessiahJuni! ;)

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        Hi LisaCFSF!! Congrats on achieving a black belt- WOWZERS!! I'd definitely stick to something more true to the Korean culture rather than try to fit in tribal. The bold, black brush strokes of ancient Korean paintings are quite stunning; perhaps some research would inspire an idea? I know the renditions of different trees and landscapes are worthy of notice. As for your other ethnic backgrounds, maybe a dream catcher with each charm representative of each culture?

        Good luck on your journey to happy inkdom!! ;)

      • profile image

        MessiahJuni 

        6 years ago

        Lol this was good

      • profile image

        LisaCFSF 

        6 years ago

        You have a cool sleeve and I love the use of visual symbolism. I currently have 2 tattoos, one of which has been re-done 3 times. I also happen to have a small, low back tattoo that I got before "tramp stamp" was coined as a common phrase! Lol! It is what it is... However, it is meaningful to me in that I got it (a small, Korean flag) after I earned my First Degree Black Belt in TaeKwondo. I had to drop out for about a year and a half due to personal tragedies in my life and I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to return to complete this goal. I realize that tribal tattoos are not as popular at present, but want to add something to the small design without completely obliterating the original image. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I also plan to get a Celtic cross with my four sons names incorporated in the design. I've already found a design for that tattoo. I am Cherokee, Creek, Irish, and Scottish and would like to acknowledge my heritage as well.

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        Hi Princesswithapen! Thanks for the fantastic comment ;) My sleeve did end up with a bushel of "berry sweet" imagery, which definitely speaks to my personality. Hope your journey to ink-bliss is as wonderful as mine is!!

      • princesswithapen profile image

        princesswithapen 

        6 years ago

        'connecting the dots' has surely worked for you in terms of design and the intricate stories or meaning behind each of the elements in your sleeve. What makes your sleeve different than most I've seen is that there's less carnage going on - stuff like swords, daggers, blood, barb wires, etc. And more of strawberries, butterflies, hearts and birds. Definitely very colorful.

        The flowchart is hilarious!

        Princesswithapen

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        7 years ago from Hawaii

        Hi Olaguma! Thanks for the comment ;)

        It all really depends on what you find visually stimulating and what is appropriate for your lifestyle. Do you like color or monochrome? Does your work environment frown upon body art? Asking yourself these types of questions will help narrow down the playing field of tattoo design and placement choices.

        Also, I suggest starting to research some of the tattoo shops/artists in your area. Once you know what types of symbols you're interested in, the artist can discuss ways to customize the design/s you like to create a piece that is personal and unique.

        Good luck on your journey to inkful bliss ;)

      • Olaguma profile image

        Olaguma 

        7 years ago from Slovenia

        Amazing tattoo. I love the flowchart :) I am considering getting a tattoo for more then 5 years (was really stuck about it, what to get, where to put it, will I still love it after 10 years,...) Do you have any useful links to share (tattoo designs)?

      • J.S.Matthew profile image

        JS Matthew 

        7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Well, take your time; there's a lot of information out there! Keep reading and commenting because that is what makes the HubPages Community what it is! We are real people here, and pretty decent ones at that!

        If you want to check out the HubFeed, all you have to do it click the "HubPages" or "Home" links in the top left corner of any HubPage. Keep the Learning Center near, and never stop learning and sharing! Glad to have met you and enjoyed the conversing.

        JSMatthew~

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        7 years ago from Hawaii

        I agree about a photo not doing it justice, but I'd still love to see it sometime. Haven't been on HubFeed yet...still in the leaning stages of HubStuff ;0) Plus, I log on and end up reading and commenting on hubs or writing them. I haven't even made it through the whole learning center links yet- lol! Ink is addictive, but so is HubPages!

      • J.S.Matthew profile image

        JS Matthew 

        7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Lol! Glad you saw the other comment. I do, I do; it's not finished, and I have the feeling it never will be...Just have to wait and see what happens. Do you go on the HubFeed at all? I suppose I could share a photo there as I don't usually share my tattoos. I am not sure that the photo would do it justice since it is all one color. But if you are interested, I'll post it there as a status. Let me know when...

        JSMatthew~

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        7 years ago from Hawaii

        LOL! Nevermind...I'm reading your reply to my comment & I hear you've got some sweet back-ink!!

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        7 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks JSMatthew! What about you...got any ink?

      • J.S.Matthew profile image

        JS Matthew 

        7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Awesome art and a really cool flow chart! Voting up and sharing!

        JSMatthew~

      • Capric222 profile image

        Capric222 

        7 years ago

        Thanks, I'll be sure to check it out!

      • TattooKitty profile imageAUTHOR

        TattooKitty 

        7 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks for the comments and votes folks!

        kittythedreamer: Sorry to hear about your husband's dislike of ink. Sleeves are quite...er...loud, so hiding it from your hubby would be damn near impossible. I hope you can get the trees and fairies of your dreams one day. My brother began his half-sleeve with a Lehua tree and it looks AMAZING! I'm jealous I didn't think of Lehua blossoms when I was working on my arm!

        Capric222: Good luck on your journey to inkdom. Have you checked out kittythedreamer's hubpages? She's got some awesome designs for you to peruse!!

      • Capric222 profile image

        Capric222 

        7 years ago

        This is a great hub. I think the flow chart is really great. I've never seen one before. I have one little tattoo and I am thinking of my next, but I put so much thought and time into mine that this process may take awhile. Anyway, I absolutely loved this! I voted it up and voted it as awesome and useful.

      • kittythedreamer profile image

        Kitty Fields 

        7 years ago from Summerland

        If my husband didn't dislike tattoos so much, I would SO get a half-sleeve of tattoos. It would probably consist of a large trees and fairies. Great hub. Voted up and awesome!

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