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    15 Facts About Classic Tattoos That Will Change The Way You Look At Them

    Sailors would sometimes get a pair of swallows tattooed, often on the chest, so if they were to drown, the birds would carry their souls to heaven

    1. "Classic" or "Old-School American" tattoos are one of many tattoo styles.

    2. Some classic American designs are related to religious iconography.

    Tony Nillson/ Laurence King Publishing

    "The Pharaoh’s Horses is a classic design originally based on religious iconography dating back to around the 18th century. As Moses closed the red sea, engulfing the Egyptian soldiers pursuing the Israelites, the soldiers’ horses, three of them in particular, are shown to be overcoming the storm and displaying strength, power and a disregard of the consequences as they charge through the water. It became popular in the 1900’s as a tattoo and lends itself beautifully to a chest or back piece, framed with other popular traditional images such as eagles and roses. The earliest tattoo references are credited to Gus Wagner, rising in popularity through the 1920’s and still often referenced today." – EmmaLi Stenhouse

    3. For example, the Rock of Ages is inspired by a religious painting.

    4. Using religious iconography in a tattoo sometimes served a dual purpose.

    5. And religious tattoos have been used since the Crusades as a distinguishing mark for soldiers.

    6. Though old-school American tattoos took off in the 1930s, tattoos have been in American culture since the late 1800s.

    Tony Nillsson/ Laurence King Publishing

    According to 100 Years of Tattoos, "Martin Hildebrandt opened America’s first tattoo studio in NYC in 1870...Evidence dating back to 1882 suggests that Irene Woodward was the first woman to earn a living by showcasing her body art. "

    7. It wasn't until the 1930s that Asian tattoo traditions began to combine with Western ones.

    Gotch/ Laurence King Publishing

    "Sailor Jerry travelled to Asia during his time in the US Navy and was blown away by the tattoo work and artists he saw. At that time, he’d only been exposed to the traditional styles in the USA using bold lines and block colours, so seeing what the Japanese were doing in terms of storytelling, water shading and other colour and line techniques really opened his eyes to the possibilities of what could be achieved. When he left the Navy and went back to tattooing, he took inspiration from what he’d seen and started to incorporate those techniques into the traditional popular designs back home, changing the game. " –  EmmaLi Stenhouse

    8. In traditional tribal and Japanese tattooing, placement is just as important as design.

    Sean Gallagher Coley/ Laurence King Publishing

    "In most forms of traditional tribal and Japanese tattooing, placement is important as it historically represents different meanings. In my opinion, if you’re getting a design just because you like it, then it’s less important than what looks and feels right to you. There are certain placements you might want to avoid, for example a teardrop under the eye which can signify murder or death, but as long as you’re staying away from prison and gang tattoos, you should be fine! Personally, I think placement is just as important as the design itself, so take time to think how it will look on the skin, wrap around the body, and compliment your contours and shape." – EmmaLi Stenhouse

    9. However, it wasn't until the 1960s that Western tattooing caught up with the precise placement of other tattooing cultures.

    10. Pin-up tattoos became popular during WW2.

    Courtesy Sailor Jerry

    "Pin up girls are a symbol of beauty and femininity, whether it’s an image cut out from a magazine and pinned to a wall, or adorning a body part in the form of a tattoo. Pin up tattoos became particularly popular during WWII as a way for sailors and soldiers to take these women, or at least the idea of them, away with them when they were abroad and at sea. So, I guess they represent love and romance as a way to remember your sweetheart waiting for you back home, or lust and wanting for the women you hope to still meet along the way. Sailor Jerry had a unique way to drawing pin-ups, and an appreciation and understanding of the female form." – EmmaLi Stenhouse

    11. Tattoos such as a nautical star or ships can represent nautical achievements.

    Courtesy Sailor Jerry

    "Nautical Stars are popular with the military and navy and represent the compass rose of traditional nautical charts or the North Star itself. They usually have a meaning around guidance and navigation to safety or home. Historically sailors might have gotten a nautical star tattooed to signify an achievement such as travelling a certain number of nautical miles, or surviving a dangerous mission. Two stars worn on the chest might act as a warning to others, as they mimic the port and starboard lights a ship would display to others to tell them to yield and give way." – EmmaLi Stenhouse

    12. A fully-rigged ship symbolises that the sailor has been around the Cape of Good Hope.

    13. Anchors can represent multiple things.

    14. The Peacock symbolizes pride and also loyalty.

    Rich T. and the Ohio Tattoo Museum/ Laurence King Publishing

    According to 100 Years of Tattoos in naval tradition "a peacock tattoo was believed to offer its wearer protection when crossing treacherous oceans."

    "The Peacock can symbolise different things across cultures, but often have a similar theme of pride, royalty, nobility, and vitality. Their ornate tail feathers resemble eyes, and are sometimes considered as the eyes to the soul, or can represent watchfulness, protection and wisdom. Peacocks are known for their decorative and flashy plumage, which looks stunning as a tattoo and represents status, beauty and pride. In the military, peacock feathers were given to servicemen as a way of recognising loyal service, so it’s fitting that many of Sailor Jerry’s designs featured a peacock to extend that honour." – EmmaLi Stenhouse,

    15. Swallow tattoos can have multiple meanings.

    16. If you're interested in learning more about specific tattoo artists, TTT Tattoo explores tattoo culture around the world,, and is available to buy now.

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