44 Ideas for a Grandfather’s Memorial Tattoo

Updated

Cake values integrity and transparency. We follow a strict editorial process to provide you with the best content possible. We also may earn commission from purchases made through affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more in our affiliate disclosure.

The truth is, there's never enough time to love a grandfather while he's here with you. When he’s gone, a memorial tattoo can help you honor and remember him—and maybe smile a little. Don't think of it as lowbrow art or hipsterism. Tattoos are just another way to honor your loved one.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Getting inked is a huge commitment and takes a lot of research to find the right artist for your piece. Plus, knowing what you want to get will help you find the best artist with a portfolio that matches your vision.

Take a look below for some ideas to get you started on your search.

Post-loss tip: If you or someone you know could use some guidance through the complex process of losing a parent, grandparent, or any loved one, our post-loss checklist can help. 

Small Memorial Tattoos for Grandpa

Smaller tattoos and uncomplicated designs take a lot less time, plus you don't have to be committed to the full sleeve or back tattoo.

The saying is that you can never have just one, and small tattoos mean you'll have more of a canvas with which to work.

» MORE: Need help paying for a funeral? Let Cake help with a free consultation.

1. Hobbies

After retirement, your grandpa probably started up a few exciting hobbies.

Whether he was part of the morning coffee crew at the local greasy spoon, started a garden club, or joined a birding group, there's plenty to unpack if you're looking for creative ways to honor someone.

2. “Blue Collar” hat

The blue-collar sector is full of proud working-class folks. Here's a way to show your granddad you appreciate the years of hard work and sacrifice and also pay homage to an industry that lays the foundations which make our world possible.

3. Life influences

What early influences helped your grandfather make confident life choices? For instance, did his time as a high school lifeguard facilitate a boat building career?

Or, maybe his love of fossils caused a lifelong search for rare flower seeds. You'll find some great ideas in those beginnings. 

4. Antlers, fish, or feathers

If your gramps was like mine, he was an avid outdoor sportsman with about a million different stories.

So, if you remember him baiting your fishhook or teaching you about the ecosystem while out in the wild, here’s an opportunity to reflect those memories in a tattoo.

5. Religious or spiritual reference

Was your grandpa's devotion to his faith a dominant characteristic? If so, then commission an artist to draw up a small representation of his belief.

Once you've been tattooed, you may think about making additions to it as years pass by.

6. Cowboy boots

Work boots say a lot about a man. Whether your Big Paw was a cattleman or owned some worked land, you can do a lot with a pair of cowboy boots.

Add sunflowers or yellow roses to bring in some sunshine. Or, drape a flag over them to indicate his patriotism.

Tip: Another way to honor your grandpa's memory is with a custom urn. Create an urn that's one-of-a-kind to reflect your grandpa's legacy and passions with Foreverence

Medium or Large Memorial Tattoos for Grandpa

If you're looking to make more of a statement, you're gonna spend more time in the tattoo chair. Because it'll be so much more extensive and costly, you'll want to work with an artist who fully understands the final vision the way you do.

7. Homage to military service 

You might feel lost trying to find the right art for your tattoo, from dog tags to flags, eagles, to specific squadrons or branches of the military.

To help solve this, give your grandma a call. Ask her what she recalls was most important to your Grandpa. Her answers might surprise you.

8. Portrait 

If there's one tattoo that requires a lot of research, it's portraiture.

Whether you choose a youthful or seasoned grandfather, you'll want a professional who can match the photo without it looking like someone else. So, take time to scrutinize their portfolio.

9. Yellow rose

If your pawpaw made everyone in the room smile the moment he walked in, then you might like a tattoo of a yellow rose.

These roses are warm, bright, and cheery, which may be why they're associated with warmth and happiness. Add his name along the stem, and you're finished.

10. First car

Your granddaddy's first car may have been cherry, but it was probably well-used and well-loved.

Regardless, he probably took great pride in the one thing that could take him from home to freedom any hour of the day, and seven days a week.

11. Landscape

When I think of my grandfather, I see train tracks and farm fields. However, you might see the mountains and a valley.

No matter the vista that you’ve got in your mind, translate that into a full back tattoo filled with symbols of things you used to do together.

12. Patriotic emblems

Even if your pops wasn't a military member, chances are he was patriotic to the core. The statue of liberty could rest on your right forearm.

The great eagle and US flag could fill your back. You could even display a collage of all things American across your chest.

13. Birds and beams to the sky

Birds and beams will signify a release from this earthly bind and a renewal of life up in the heavens above. While the tattoo itself isn't too detailed, it'd be very dramatic as a full back tattoo.

Pro-tip: If he was a birder, include one of his favorites.

Grandpa Memorial Tattoo Sayings and Quotes

Here’s how to achieve a minimalistic tattoo with a twist on the familiar rest in peace quotes. With words, sometimes less is more. But, it’s your canvas to do with as you please.

14. “I am because you were.”

Short and sweet quotes make for perfect additions to a heart, ribbon, dove, or the like.

It’s not a  lengthy quote nor an extravagant tattoo, but the meaning is profound. Use it for the granddad-mentor who shared wisdom with you at every turn. 

15. “Back in my day…”

Here's a saying you hate to hear until you realize how useful and accurate it is. Once you do, you'll finally see eye to eye with the man who used to shake his head at your music, clothes, and lingo. 

Pro-tip: Companies make and send temporary tattoos for those who can’t decide on the best placement. Order one and you can test out the location before it's permanent.

16. “Like my grandpa used to say, never trust your grandpa.”

This is the kind of humor a grandpa would use and then time you on how quickly you got the joke. It’s also the kind of joke that you’d hear from Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show.

17. “Those we love that never truly leave us. There are things death cannot touch.”

As you've come to realize, even when someone has passed away, they're still in our thoughts and hearts every day. A smell or a sound reminds you of them.

A familiar laugh or a song pops in your head when a room is silent. If these things happen to you, then the saying is spot on.

18. “For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”

Here’s an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran's poem, On Death. It conveys that both life and death are locked in an eternal embrace; death gives life reason.

It'll work for the Grandfather who taught you to seize every moment rather than sit and wait for the inevitable.

19. “Gone fishing”

These two words would work well beneath a sunset or next to an empty boat, a metaphor by way of an image. Or, add a date to keep the tattoo as simple as possible. 

Pro-tip: Scroll the internet to generate a few ideas before you settle on what you’re going to get inked.

20. “Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor. That we may heal the earth and heal each other.”

This short Ojibway prayer works if your memory of your grandfather’s wisdom began and ended with patience, peace, and gratitude.

Pair the words with small images of animals with their young to represent the two of you. 

Fishing, Hunting, or Outdoor Memorial Tattoo Ideas for Grandpa

If your grandpa was an avid outdoorsman, you could pick just about anything in nature. There are innumerable options that would suit his memory on any number of levels. Take a look at how you might incorporate one or two of those ideas here.

21. Pheasants (or quail) with crossed barrels

For a tattoo that looks like it's straight off the cover of an engraving magazine, choose a style with some arts and crafts influences and stylized game birds. 

Pro-tip: Take a few snapshots of your grandfather’s favorite sporting arm with closeups of the bulino engraving, scrollwork, or other inlay elements.

22. Fly Fishing silhouette with a heartbeat

Choose a silhouette of your grandpa fly fishing and a series of heartbeats just below the image. 

Illustrate the rig from grip to fly. Then, add a fish jumping from the water. The two will forever offer a sense of being in a movement or action.

23. Grandpa and grandson silhouette

If you and your grandfather fished from a dock, a boat, or shoreline, you could illustrate that either with a silhouette or like a photograph. 

Pro-tip: Faces are notoriously difficult for some artists to replicate, which makes that initial mockup of your tattoo critical for any final decision making.

24. Mural

Treat your new tattoo like it’s the beginning of what will eventually be a mural paying homage to all of the adventures you had with your grandfather. Begin with the general backdrop or landscape, then add in various elements as money allows. 

25. Heart-shaped rod and reel

A curved hook opposite a curved rod can make the same shape as a heart. For some extra personalization, you could also add his name, any particular date, or a common phrase that follows the exact shape of the heart. 

26. Colorful fish or woodland animal

Make it simple. Choose your grandfather’s favorite animal, fish, or even insect and create imagery around that critter. 

One example might be a moose moving through the water at dawn with water dripping from its beard. Another could be the glint of bass at sunset, full of color and with its mouth agape.

27. Outdoors yin and yang

Yin and yang is the ancient Chinese philosophy for complementary forces. It’s commonly represented in a black and white circle, but you can make adjustments to suit your tattoo. 

Duplicate the “tradition” with a fish and deer shed or mountain and desert scene, choosing the most suitable elements to indicate your grandfather’s favorite hobbies.

28. Fighting bucks

Think of your tattoo as something suggesting an emotion. For example, consider two bucks locking antlers, a proud-looking elk standing guard of the herd, or a sleepy bear just venturing from its slumber. 

Memorial Tattoos Ideas for a Grandpa Who Was a Veteran

If your grandfather was a veteran, tattoo choices include anything typically seen as patriotic and anything related to his branch of service.

29. Flag waving over the country

For any of the major branches of service, choose to tattoo the entire map of the United States or even his home state. The lone state works, especially if your grandfather was a National Guardsman.

Then add a waving flag over the top as if a gentle breeze were caring for its stars and stripes,

30. Branch of service memorabilia

Use anything iconic with that branch of service, like a specific hat, flag, or quote. For instance, you might choose to use an army flag as the background to this Douglas MacArthur quote:

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

» MORE: Save thousands on funeral costs by knowing your options – schedule a free consultation today.

31. Dog tags and a rose

Rather than choose a yellow rose, opt for a red, white, and blue one with stars and stripes covering its petals. Then, drape a set of dog tags below as if they’re attached to the rose’s stem.

32. Eagle(s)

Eagles represent everything American, from their expansive wings to their proud but determined gaze… 

  • Consider representing these eagles as a pair, resting high above the ground on a coastal pine tree branch. 
  • Picture them mid-flight across a backdrop of ranch and farm fields or a mountain range. 
  • Or opt for an up-close image where those striking yellow eyes pierce anyone who dares to look into them.

33. Badges and crests

Within each branch of service comes a unit with a unique badge or crest and, often, a motto. For instance, the Army calls their badges the Distinctive Unit Insignia or DUI. 

Replicate that badge on its own or add it to a much larger tattoo or mural.

34. Anchor

Anchors are relatively universal to all things Navy. So, to make this a memorial tattoo, you would need a few elements that suggest one has died, like a name, date, and a pair of dog tags. Keep the tattoo as simple as you like.

35. Boots, gun, and helmet

Not to be confused with a combat-related death, but you can find a way to honor your grandpa’s wartime service with the same elements of a pair of boots, a gun, and a helmet. 

To do so, you might choose to rest them next to an old barn and tractor, as if to say that the soldier (your granddad) came home from battle to work the land, and it’s there he died. 

36. Courage, love, strength, and wisdom

Incorporate all the words that define a soldier, like courage and strength, making them the most significant part of the tattoo. Then add anything that would suggest your grandpa has passed away, such as a date of death, a folded flag, or the wings of a dove. 

Shoulder or Arm Memorial Tattoo Ideas for Grandpa

Tattoos are universal. They can be adapted to anyone’s preference or liking, but what do you tattoo on your shoulder or arm if you’re looking for a pop of color? 

37. Globe and sunset

In the style of an ornate, rotating globe, picture a sunset silhouette of a grandfather walking hand-in-hand with his pig-tailed granddaughter. 

Position that globe atop anything he taught you to love, too, like books and reading, elements of nature, or leave the globe by itself for simplicity.

38. Scrollwork and a heart

Exquisitely designed scrollwork can be added to any shape, including a heart. Make the scrollwork or the heart colorful, but not both. Keep one black, if possible.

Then add flowers, include a poem, or anything else that will create a beautiful but colorful option for a tattoo on your shoulder or arm.

39. Watercolor and nicknames

Splatter bright colors across the inside of your lower arm with the addition of just two simple names — one is the nickname given by your grandfather to you, while the other is your nickname for him. It’s a simple idea with lots of bright, eye-catching opportunities.

40. Doves

Yes, doves are white, making them one of the most challenging tattoos on this list. White ink is notorious for fading too quickly, giving the impression of scarring or just being unforgivable while healing.

Pro-tip: Ask your tattoo artist how to incorporate shading to give an illusion of white ink and prevent the drastic fading that can accompany this color.

41. Floatplane and water

Many associate their grandpas with fishing, but others see granddad in the cockpit of a de Havilland Beaver or at the helm of a single-masted sloop. 

Additionally, water makes a great medium for adding all kinds of blues and turquoises to the tattoo. 

42. Hummingbird

Birds make extremely colorful tattoos for the lower arm, especially hummingbirds. The rufous, Anna’s, Allen’s, and the Calliope are just a few birds known for their pops of brilliant, shimmery reds, coppers, oranges, etc.

Add your grandpa’s name if you feel it’s necessary. 

43. Flowers

Take a look at your grandfather’s garden. He planted some of his famous beauties there, caring for them annually like a doting friend. 

Build a bouquet from this hobby and tattoo the flowers wide across your shoulder and shoulder blade. 

44. One flower and long stem

Choose a flower that reminds you of your grandfather above all the others — tattoo just one on your shoulder or lower arm. Add a stem that reaches to your elbow or wrist.

On that stem, include his name, a quote, a date, or anything else that had meaning for you.

Getting Inked for Grandpa

Your Grandpa took his job seriously. He was there to gift you with love, time, and the occasional drops of wisdom that stuck like glue. More people are choosing alternative memorials for their loved ones, like unique urns, tattoos, and memorial jewelry. Whether you create a custom tattoo or a memorial diamond with Eterneva, he's sure to look upon this remembrance with joy. 

That's why getting a tattoo in his memory makes sense. With any luck, we've got you on the right track for the perfect tattoo to remember your grandpa.

Another way to honor a loved one is by creating an online memorial page. This creates a place where family and friends can write tributes and make a donation for funeral expenses. It's free and easy to create an online memorial page with Cake.

If you're looking for more tattoo ideas, read our guides on Army memorial tattoos and cancer memorial tattoos.

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.