Tattoo artist A.J. McGuire on perfect lines, life lessons and Bruce Wayne
For A.J. McGuire, it all comes down to lines. Originally from Buffalo, New York, McGuire studied drawing and printmaking in college and developed an affinity for line drawing. He eventually applied his talent to tattooing, and he's been working as a tattoo artist for five years -- for the past year at Marion Street Tattoo. Westword recently sat down with McGuire to talk about creating perfect lines, the importance of life lessons and his cat, Bruce Wayne.
A.J. McGuire is a perfectionist when it comes to tattooing.
Westword: You've been at Marion Street for about a year, correct? What were you doing before that?
A.J. McGuire: I was working at another shop in Aurora. I was there for about four years. I helped open it and I stuck it out all the way through, and then I decided it was time for a change, so I could learn from some new artists.
How did you get into tattooing?
I've always been into drawing, ever since I was born, basically. I've always loved line drawing, specifically. So after I graduated from college, I was screen-printing, and I had a sculpture job where I was sculpting ceramic pieces for buildings, and I loved it. But one of my friends was like, "Man, you should tattoo because you love line-drawing so much." And I was like, "I've always wanted to do it, I think I'm gonna try it." I kind of taught myself, and then, after a year or so of that, I decided to get an apprenticeship, and it's been going great ever since.
When you were going to school, did you think you might end up tattooing?
It was definitely a thought. I was thinking I'd either try that or I was actually thinking about being a teacher. But I felt like the mundane, day-to-day life, everything being the same all the time, would be lame after a while. And I also hate getting up early, so I thought, "Tattooing sounds way cooler." I get to talk all day, which I love, meet new people, which is so much fun, draw pictures and hang out with my buddies.
Did you find any aspects that were really different from what you expected?
I just think the whole process of it is so much more challenging than it looks when you're watching someone else do it. Keeping the skin tight is one of those things that people don't fully understand, and that can make all the difference between your tattoo looking super-clean and really crappy. And just in general, the time it takes to do it. I mean, I understand all of this now, but when I began, it was kind of overwhelming how you have to put 110 percent in all the time and you have to really work to do the best you can with every single tattoo. It's going to be out there in the world and other people are going to ask, "Where did you get that?" And you want them to be asking because they want to come get a tattoo from you.
Being relatively new to the industry, how do you keep up with the more experienced artists?
I try to just make sure every tattoo I do is solid as fuck. I like to make all my colors really bold and popping, and I call myself a "line-work Nazi" because I really try to make every line I do as perfect as possible. I'm not slow but I also don't rush. I put 110 percent into it and try to make it as good as possible.
Do you think your degree helps you to be a better artist?
I think to some extent it helps because I had to learn about color theory and I had to study a lot of the masters. I know a lot about fine art, and I think that helps a lot when you feel humbled by them because they're so amazing, and you're just like, "All right, I'll take what I can from this and apply it to my style of art."
Continue reading for the rest of our Q&A with A.J. McGuire.