Shawn McDonald on summer camp, the tattoo renaissance and "Making the Mountain"
Shawn McDonald believes the art of tattooing is experiencing a renaissance. The industry has changed a lot since his childhood in Massachusetts, where tattooing was illegal until 2000. Now a prolific artist in the industry, McDonald has been tattooing professionally for thirteen years and currently works at American Standard Tattoo in Fort Collins.
Photos courtesy of Shawn McDonald
This week McDonald will be speaking at "Lighthouse Presents: Making the Mountain," a series in which artists speak about their medium. In advance of this appearance,Westword caught up with McDonald, who talked about an inspirational counselor at summer camp, the tattoo renaissance and how he fell in love with tattooing.
Westword: How did you get into tattooing?
Shawn McDonald: I got into tattooing through graffiti. I did murals for some tattoo shops and one of them seemed like they were interested in having an apprentice maybe come in and scrub some tubes and do some work around the shop, not really learning anything but more like a helper. I did that for a little while and then painted some murals for the shop and got an opportunity once another apprentice left. I had gotten my hands tattooed already so I was like, "Yeah, I definitely want to do this."
Were you interested in art as a kid?
Yeah, definitely. My whole life I've loved art. I used to paint and draw my favorite hockey players or superheroes like He-Man and stuff like that.
Do you have a preferred style of tattooing?
No, not necessarily. I like American traditional, I like Japanese a lot. But I just like anything that's going to be classic and age well, not too contemporary or too classical -- you kind of want to be in between there somewhere. You want to be able to bring things forward but still keep them timeless.
So you're participating in "Making the Mountain,"where artists speak about how they came to love their medium. Can you speak a little about how you came to love tattooing?
I think I came to love it from getting tattooed. When I was a little kid, I went to a YMCA day camp, which was pretty much like a summer camp where your mom drops you off while she's at work. When I was there I met a guy who had tons of tattoos. He had his neck tattooed, his knees, his feet and hands, so I thought, "Wow, this is pretty crazy." He was into a lot of the same music that I was but he was a counselor and thought it was pretty cool that he got to hang out with us kids all day and he looks like a scumbag but he's not. He's just a normal dude. I thought that was pretty cool. He's not just like a typical punk-rock dude with a bunch of tattoos. He was kind of a dynamic person. Then I found out he was a graffiti artist, so he kind of got me into doing graffiti. By meeting that guy I thought tattooing would be pretty fun to do.
Before I just always thought it was a biker thing. If you grew up in Massachusetts at that time, it was illegal to tattoo. You still had to go to New Hampshire or Rhode Island to get tattooed. So it was kind of like this outlaw thing and I thought it was scary and underground and kind of interesting and cool. So got into it for that part, and after I got into tattoo I got into just about every other art medium, so I think tattooing bridged the gap for me.
Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Shawn McDonald.