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Shawn McDonald on summer camp, the tattoo renaissance and "Making the Mountain"

Shawn McDonald on summer camp, the tattoo renaissance and "Making the Mountain"
Photos courtesy of Shawn McDonald

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.

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.

See also: Sam Kuhn on graphic design, sleeping in, and Disney movies as tattoo inspiration

What other media do you work in?

Watercolor, oil, acrylic, charcoal, everything. I think all of them are important. I use markers and pencils to draw tattoos. I use charcoal and other media to make acrylic underpaintings. Every single thing, graffiti and all that, has helped the other one. I didn't go to art school, so one medium kind of helped me get into the other one and opened up an avenue for that. Making money tattooing afforded me the opportunity to start acrylic painting, and I went down that road and found I really love to oil paint. I probably love tattooing and oil painting equally now.

What do you think sets tattooing apart from all those other art forms?

Tattooing is different because it's on a person. It's with someone else's wishes in mind. Whenever I tattoo someone, I don't want to try and get across my own agenda. I'm not there to do what Shawn McDonald wants to do that day; I'm there to do what they want me to do. But if I can give them some influence on my style -- like if someone asks me for a rose, then maybe I draw a rose with really dynamic curls and maybe I make the thorns to be a little more pointy than other people do. I have some say in the tattoo, but it's still theirs. They still came up with the idea. I don't try to interfere too much in the process. I just try to enhance the idea.

Anything else you want to mention?

One thing I think is great about tattooing right now, it's a beautiful thing because at no other point in tattooing history has it had a renaissance like it's going through right now. There's so many amazing tattooers who are trying different styles. The fundamentals are still there, but they're still being contemporary in a concept. And I think that's a great thing. I think tattooing is better than it's ever been -- probably more alive than it's ever been. With all the social media, every day is an opportunity to see how this thing grows and evolves. It being such a young art form -- at least in the electric sense, the modern-day tattooing sense -- to see it grow every day and evolve, I think that's probably the most exciting thing about tattooing.

In "Lighthouse Presents: Making the Mountain," artists across various genres discus how they came to love their medium, explain their process and share their work. The free event starts with drinks at 6 p.m. and presentations at 7 p.m. Friday, May 2 at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more information here.

For more information on Shawn McDonald, visit his Facebook or follow him on Instagram @oldemcdonald.