"In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, tattoos were as much about self-expression as they were about having a unique way to identify a sailor's body should he be lost at sea or impressed by the British navy. The best source for early American tattoos is the protection papers issued following a 1796 congressional act to safeguard American seamen from impressment. These proto-passports catalogued tattoos alongside birthmarks, scars, race, and height. Using simple techniques and tools, tattoo artists in the early republic typically worked on board ships using anything available as pigments, even gunpowder and urine. Men marked their arms and hands with initials of themselves and loved ones, significant dates, symbols of the seafaring life, liberty poles, crucifixes, and other symbols."
If you want an animal-based tattoo, the most obvious choices include lion tattoos, tiger tattoos, and wolf tattoos. The bigger the design, the better. Eagle tattoos are also excellent choices, especially when done on the upper back with the wings extending all the way to the shoulders. If you want badass animal-based tattoos inspired by different mythologies and religions, Hinduism is an excellent place to look into. There’s Ganesha (elephant), Narasimha (lion), and Garuda (eagle).
As most tattoos in the U.S. were done by Polynesian and Japanese amateurs, tattoo artists were in great demand in port cities all over the world, especially by European and American sailors. The first recorded professional tattoo artist in the United States was a German immigrant, Martin Hildebrandt. He opened a shop in New York City in 1846 and quickly became popular during the American Civil War among soldiers and sailors of both Union and Confederate militaries.
It's very important to protect yourself against infection if you decide to get a tattoo. Make sure the tattoo studio is clean and safe, and that all equipment used is disposable (in the case of needles, ink, gloves) and sterilized (everything else). Call your state, county, or local health department to find out about your state's laws on tattooing, ask for recommendations on licensed tattoo shops, or check for any complaints about a particular studio.
In terms of tattoos on actual bodies, the earliest known examples were for a long time Egyptian and were present on several female mummies dated to c. 2000 B.C. But following the more recent discovery of the Iceman from the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old.
Mainstream art galleries hold exhibitions of both conventional and custom tattoo designs, such as Beyond Skin, at the Museum of Croydon. Copyrighted tattoo designs that are mass-produced and sent to tattoo artists are known as "flash", a notable instance of industrial design. Flash sheets are prominently displayed in many tattoo parlors for the purpose of providing both inspiration and ready-made tattoo images to customers.