The octopus is one of the most enigmatic creatures of the sea, able to change its dimensions and colors with resounding ease. Common throughout the world, different species vary greatly in size and lifespan, though they range from very small to remarkably large. Octopuses can become so large and powerful, in fact, that they have been known to eat sharks, both in the wild and in aquariums. All octopuses are venomous, but only one species is known to be harmful to humans. Octopuses are among the most distinctive creatures in the sea, and for good reason. Humanity’s fascination with them may stem from their complexity as an animal, their mystery, and their adaptability. Like chameleons, they are able to change their color and even texture, blending in with their surroundings so fluidly as to be completely invisible. As their bodies lack bones, they are able to compress and stretch themselves into improbable shapes. It’s impossible to get a clear fix on an octopus when it doesn’t want to be seen, and this predilection for secrecy and fluidity may extend to the person who chooses an octopus design.
They are cunning strategists and quite unpredictable. They frequently escape from their tanks in captivity, and may even crawl out of a tank and into an adjacent tank that has fish to hunt. Deepening the mystery of the octopus is the fact that they occasionally exhibit bizarrely self-destructive tendencies, even going so far as to eat their own bodies. You read right: an octopus will occasionally devour itself, starting with the tentacles, killing itself in the process. The octopus may also lose a limb, however, to avoid capture by predators—they’ll simply jettison the tentacle, allowing the animal itself to flee. This act of making sacrifices to endure and being unattached to things we might feel are important holds significance to many individuals.
Of course, the most iconic trait of octopuses is the presence of eight legs. The unique reach and grasp of octopuses has made them a symbol (often negative) of something sprawling and controlling, a metaphor often used to describe organizations – references are made in various texts to being unable to escape “the tentacled grasp” of some foe or another. This apparently negative portrayal also has a history in religion and folklore as well in the form of the common “sea monster”, often depicted as something similar to a giant octopus (such as the Kraken). It is not, however, entirely accurate to argue that sea monsters are inherently malevolent—it is moreso the case in mythology that giant, tentacled sea creatures represent the will of the sea.
Tattoo designs don’t get much more flexible than the octopus, which can fill a compact space or wrap around limbs, trail along the torso, or curl into a variety of shapes. The tendrils lend themselves to long, flowing lines.
The actual head of the octopus may be situated at any angle to create virtually any shape. Similarly, the artist may take some liberties to add design features and flair to that portion of the octopus’s body, then allow the tentacles to extend outward across the body.
Many designs take advantage of the flowing tentacles to wrap around portions of the body, but not all. Octopuses are recognizable enough to work as more one-dimension images on a small portion of the body.
Octopus tattoos are common among sailors, many of whom choose tattoos of nautical life. Additionally, designing the octopus to be grasping something in its tentacles naturally adds another layer of complexity and meaning to the design.
Since octopuses can take any color and texture, the artist has complete freedom to color the octopus in any way he or she chooses, opening up the design options even further. They may range from hyper-realistic, to cutesy, to creepy.
Since the octopus can flatten and elongate its body (as it typically does to move quickly), the design may also feature the octopus in a more spread-out configuration, which covers more of the body. This lends itself well to full back, shoulder, or sleeve designs.
A common design theme is using the octopus’s tentacles to frame a certain part of the body, such as the belly button. Chest tattoos may also exhibit the tentacles curling around the nipples.
Since the shape of an octopus resembles nothing else in nature, and since octopuses are experts at adaptation and variation, octopus tattoo designs may intersect with other forms of tattoo art, drawing on traditional ethnic styles, such as Indian or tribal tattoos.
Mysterious, adaptable, secretive, strategic, and remarkably flexible—a few (but certainly not all) ways of describing both octopuses and the people who get octopus tattoos. Those who feel a connection to these enigmatic sea creatures may have found their perfect match for a tattoo design, especially considering the infinite design options afforded to artists due to the octopus’s natural adaptability and color-changing abilities.