In 1439, Johannes Guttenberg changed the world of literature forever by creating the printing press. Books could be printed more cheaply and were available to broader audiences. The connection some people have with books is incredibly deep and profound. Certain books from childhood become lifelong favorites. They provide comfort and peace, and reassurance in times hardship. Childhood favorites include The Giving Tree, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Where the Wild Things Are. Other popular sources for literary-based tattoos include works of poetry, from authors like E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others who may be less renowned.
Lettering and phrase tattoos are tattoo designs that are typographical. Typography is the art of designing printed fonts. Lettering tattoo designs are very interesting because they are, by nature, designed to be read. Sometimes the words are private or cryptic, and the average person would not understand them. Other times, these tattoos are quotations or selections from popular literary works and are very well known. Type faces, or the styles of the letters, can be very simple or very intricate.
These text tattoos can be done in a style reminiscent of book fonts, like Times New Roman or Baskerville. Text and word tattoos can be derived from classic works, like The Catcher in the Rye, from fan favorites, like Slaughterhouse Five, and from cult classics, like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
In the religious spectrum, lettering tattoo designs can be versus from the Bible and inspired by religious tattoo designs.
Typically, lettering tattoo designs are done in black ink. Many people attempt to recapture the look and feel of the printed word as it appears in standard books. Others are done in flowery, sprawling designs that are as much about the decorative nature of the fonts as about the actual words and meaning. Furthermore, these tattoos can be as big or as small as the designs allow.
Ambigram tattoo designs are also a popular type of lettering tattoo. An ambigram is a word or phrase that is understandable from multiple directions.
Lettering tattoos can also consist of alphabet tattoo designs. Although simple, these types of tattoos have deep meaning and show love for litterature.
Although not words or phrases, text tattoos can involve punctuation marks and symbols like question marks, exclamation points, semi colons, and ellipses. These tattoos usually convey a love on English or grammar, without being as narrowed as a specific word or work of literature.
Furthermore, these text tattoos can also connote a less definitive meaning – like a questioning and curious personality, an excited or impassioned nature, or a deep, contemplative thinker. Sometimes, phrase tattoos are personal mottos and not works of literature. These can be quotations from famous personalities, like actors or political leaders. These can also be motivational, spiritual, inspiring, or encouraging phrases from anonymous sources.
Author Shelley Jackson has written a literary work and is using the body modification community to publish her work. Since 2003, Jackson has accepted applications from fans and volunteers looking to be involved in the project. When she selects a volunteer, she assigns them a single word, which sometimes includes a mark of punctuation, also. There are rules the participant must adhere to, like certain fonts and ink color. The participant then gets the word tattooed in any size or location they wish. Upon completion, the person then receives a copy of Jackson's work and is, from that point forward, considered part of a living work of literature. Jackson believes that the story lives with those people, through those tattoos. As people die, Jackson says her story will evolve until all of the words (i.e. participants) are dead. At that point, the story will also be dead. This project has altered the way word tattoos are viewed. They are no longer just another medium for displaying printed words, but can also be the original publication.
Of course, other tattoos that involve words and fonts, like names, nationalities, organizations or affiliations, and accomplishments are also included in the genre. Technically, any word or phrase that is incorporated into a larger tattoo design might count as word or phrase tattoo, although most word and phrase tattoos do not involve extra decorative elements or involved imagery. The text is usually the focus of the tattoo, rather than a supplement.