Morgan MacDonald traded in his acetylene torch for a tattooing machine.
He gave up his welder job 10 years ago for a chance to follow his artistic dreams. Now, the 34-year-old North Toronto artist sits snug in one of the studios of Seven Crowns Tattoos on Yonge Street.
It’s chilly outside. Inside, among the staring eyes of skulls, serpents and Japanese Oni on the walls there’s an inviting aspect to such caricatures. MacDonald sits on his stool in front of a stretcher, the focal point of all the eyes.
He is nearing the three-year mark with this tattoo studio, the reason for his landing in Toronto via Edmonton, Alta.
“After 13 years any town tends to get stale, if you’re prone to travelling,” he says.
He got here by way of an Internet search of tattoo shops in Toronto.
“I had no idea who was here and who was doing what,” he recalls now. “I came across the Seven Crowns web page and saw the aesthetic and their attitude towards tattooing, and found it was very similar to my own.”
As it turned out, Seven Crowns, established in 2009 by Matt Ellis and George Brown III, was looking for artists in 2010. And the connection has become the perfect fit for MacDonald, even if he does believe tattoo artists in Toronto should drop the aloof act.
“There seems an attitude in tattooing when you reach a certain point of popularity, where they start to act like they’re doing you a favour by tattooing you,” he shares. “I really think (Seven Crowns) has gone to extra lengths to avoid that and really to be a community business, and we’re really proud to be a part of the neighbourhood we’re in.”
He switches from his thoughts on the industry to his art, which stems from a lifelong love for cartoon strips.
He was a regular contributor to the University of Alberta’s Gateway newspaper during his pursuit of the general Arts degree he completed in 1997, and he cites Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Foxtrot and Dilbert as some of his favourites.
“I’ve been drawing all of my life, but not seriously or in any kind of semi-professional capacity,” he admits. “Just doodles.”
After volunteering every Saturday for eight months at Bear’s Skin Art, lead artist Bear Lamont took him on as an apprentice.
MacDonald’s affinity to drawing on paper has now led him to a more colourful, fleshier canvas.
“I never coloured before,” he reveals. “All of my comics were black and grey.
“I never drew a tiger, portrait or anything like that. Even to this day — I’m almost 10 years deep — I haven’t found a medium other than tattooing or paper and pencil that I’m really comfortable with.”
He says he loves carving ghouls, zombies and aliens into the epidermis of clients, as well as the classics like Mom hearts and anchors.
“Stuff you know other people are going to have, and other artists are going to do, and to be able to challenge yourself to do something that stands apart but still falls in the same category,” he says, the L-E-S-S T-A-L-K etched into the knuckles of his left and right hands showing.
Like any artistic professional, some requests he gets are of the off-the-wall variety.
“There was one who got close to a dozen skeletal systems of famous cartoon characters,” MacDonald remembers. “He had Tweety Bird, Snoopy, Charlie Brown.
“That was very bizarre. A Mexican artist (Michael Paulus) did a series where he did three or four of them, and then this guy started going crazy, asking for ones (Paulus) hadn’t even drawn.”
The most fulfilling job?
Inking his girlfriend, Liz Lauder.
“I did 16 hours worth of black and red roses on her ribs,” he says, a proud grin unfurling on his lips. “It’s a really big and challenging tattoo — photo realism, so there are no lines.
“So you have got to finish what you can each session, because there’s nothing to go back to. It’s something I have to see all the time.”