5 x 5 by Ryan McDonald
1- HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TATTOOING? WHAT WAS THE MAIN REASON BEHIND THE CHOICE TO BECOME A TATTOOER?
I did my first tattoo toward the end of my apprenticeship in 2009 so almost 12 years now. I simply got obsessed with traditional tattooing. I grew up in a very small town in rural Tennessee and didn’t discover traditional tattooing as a style until late in my teens. I remember going to bookstores and trying to absorb all of the photos in the tattoo magazines because I couldn’t afford to buy them all. I found a local artist who specialized in traditional and got my first few tattoos by him in 2007 and a few years later after multiple attempts convinced the owner of that shop, Chuck Kail, to give me a shot at an apprenticeship.
2- WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES/ WHO INSPIRES YOU THE MOST?
I really try to pull influence from everything around me, whether it be classic tattoo flash, music, nature, movies and pop culture, etc. I keep a list of random stupid thoughts that I think would make fun tattoos or flash. Lately I’ve been really bugs, birds and fruit haha. I’m lucky to work in a shop and a community that is packed with amazing artists and seeing them crush tattoos everyday is a huge inspiration. As often as I feel like I spend too much time on Instagram and social media as a whole, it’s amazing we live in a world where we get to see nonstop amazing tattoos as they happen, all around the world 24 hours a day. It’s extremely humbling and a constant inspiration to push harder and be a better tattooer.
3- CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO YOUR CURRENT STYLE?
I started out in a shop without any other artists working in a traditional style so it was definitely a lot of trying to imitate what I would see artists that I loved doing. I remember staring at Dave Kruseman and Myke Chambers tattoos on MySpace and trying to break down how they were putting things together and I really wanted to tattoo like that. A few years in I moved to Nashville and got to work alongside some great artists who really really helped me progress my tattooing in the direction I hoped to go. Stylistically, I feel like it changes all the time. I’m constantly trying to improve my drawing and design composition, and being able to use a tablet for drawing has really helped me to focus more on how I’m going to tattoo something as I’m working on the design. It’s always fun to find a new color that’s cool or learn a fun technique and just use it nonstop until I find something else. I did a lot of red circles in 2019, haha.
4- DO YOU THINK THERE ARE CHALLENGES IN BEING A TATTOO ARTIST?
Tattooing is really hard. That’s the biggest challenge, haha. For a stationary occupation, it’s extremely mentally and physically demanding and I’ve come to terms with having a hunchback when I’m 50. I’m a very self-critical person in general and I feel like most other tattooers and artists are the same in that everything we do can always be better, and that can definitely be exhausting. It’s a very demanding career in every aspect including how much time I’m in the shop and that can definitely put a strain on a having a life outside of tattooing. I’m lucky to have a very supportive wife who understands that tattooing is definitely not a 9-5 job.
5- FAVOURITE THING ABOUT BEING A TATTOO ARTIST?
All of it! The great days, the terrible ones, and everything in between. There’s no better feeling in knowing that my job is just putting my stupid drawings on people, and that someone is willing to wear it on their body forever. For someone as socially awkward and reclusive as myself, tattooing forces me out of my shell and allows me to meet strangers every day and walk away with an experience that has a lifetime impact for both of us. Tattooing is a magical thing and I’m extremely lucky and grateful to be a part of it.
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