Some artists just know their calling with every fiber of their being. Hard-wired to be a creator from a young age, Shawn McCann has spent the majority of his life as an artist. He began his career as a studio artist, but later on delved into the world of 3D street art after a request from a guest that changed his path forever.
Growing up, McCann had always known he’d want to be an artist in some capacity. He’d been a chronic doodler all throughout his schooling, but it wasn’t until his adult life that he discovered the world of street painting, something that he says he fell into by accident. Back in the early 2000s, a passerby had seen a painting of his and asked if he could recreate it on the sidewalk. He did and from then on began creating small miscellaneous chalk drawings out in Minnesota. In 2006, he visited his first street painting festival and met famed street painter Tracy Lee Stum along with several other artists who introduced him to the world of 3D street art. From then on he knew it was something that he needed to pursue and continued to refine his craft. He attributes that first festival with being what allowed him to dive straight into creating his own 3D street art. He learned more about the community and of festivals being held all around the world, and just seven years ago decided to leave his job at an art museum and go all in as a full time artist, creating immersive street art and murals ever since.
McCann says about half his time is spent doing work for corporate clients, while the other half is spent running and organizing a number of street painting festivals around the country. His first branded piece was a series of street art pieces made for Target’s corporate headquarters as well as a social media campaign for them back in 2008. When it comes to the duration of creating a piece, that depends on the size and complexity. On average, he says, for a typical two-day 3D event, you have a 10 x 25 ft creation and you’d begin with coming up with the theme that the client will be interested in. Generally you create three to four initial concepts and then work through each of them, revisiting and refining until you have your final design that gets approved. From there it’s a matter of bringing the creation to life, whether that’s live or made beforehand then brought to an event for people to enjoy.
An experienced artist, Shawn says he’s used pretty much every type of material there is! He’s worked directly on concrete, asphalt, canvas, tiles, and wooden platforms, depending on where each event is held. Software-wise, he tends to use programs such as Adobe Photoshop for any digital needs, as well as the app Procreate on his iPad Pro for any sketching on the fly. He even likes to do timelapses of his paintings and edits them once they’re all done. His most-used materials are usually tempera paint and pastels, or if people are going to be posing on his art, he’ll use paint, canvas, substrate, and other materials. His most complex piece to date was a massive 5,000 square foot superhero mural titled Gotham and Beyond, made for the arched ceiling of an enormous candy store in Minnesota. Incorporating the corners of the ceiling was an especially difficult process. Almost the same size as the Sistine Chapel, this heroic undertaking took a month and a half just to design, and more time to organize the dozen artists who had to paint it in such a way that it looked cohesive, as if just one artist completed the whole thing. As if this weren’t impressive enough, McCann says he has another project coming up that’s going to be even bigger!
When it comes to the most challenging aspects of his artistry, Shawn believes oftentimes it’s trying to find a creative solution that can both fit the client’s need as well as being on the artistic side of things. You never want a client’s piece to be too boring. Sometimes it can be difficult to portray something in a way that makes it interesting. Another big challenge? Mother nature. A lot of the times artists have to account for wind and rain. During one project he worked on with Tracy Lee Stum in Macau, they had a massive storm pass over! Usually they come prepared with tarps, and sometimes they’ll work under tents, but those are usually no match for strong gusts of wind. To get around the weather, he just tries his best to keep an eye on it and hopes for favorable conditions out in the field.
McCann is grateful that we live in the age of social media, which is a big source of inspiration for him. He’s been able to stay connected with his artist friends all over the world and gained inspiration from colleagues, peers, and people he looks up to: “Seeing how every single day there’s something new that is existing and thought-provoking…it keeps all of us on our game to try and better ourselves as well”. As someone who actually began as a studio artist, McCann hadn’t really gone out into the public too much up until he started getting involved with 3D street art. He fell in love with the interaction with his audiences, seeing kids and even adults get excited by watching him creating his works: “You don’t get to see creators make their wares very often…so it was really great to be able to make that connection with the audience and showcase what the artform really was”. When asked how it feels for him to see others interact with his completed works, he described is as being absolutely wonderful: “It’s one of those things that you can’t describe the fun and joy of seeing people pose and have fun with it, and share it, and just enjoy the act of the ephemeral art form”. More often than not, street paintings are temporary and are only enjoyed while they’re still around, usually only for a few days at most. McCann fully appreciates that and has tons of fun seeing others enjoy his work for the duration of its existence.
Art is of the highest significance in McCann’s life: “It’s my soul, it’s who I am…and so to be able to see the world, make new friends, and to create art, that for the most part several years ago hadn’t really existed, to areas that haven’t seen it is just fantastic”. Whether he gets paid for it or not, he says, art is something that he’ll always keep creating because it’s just wired into his being that he needs to constantly be creating. His advice for newcomers to the art world? Go for it. “Don’t worry about failure, because everybody who’s successful fails and you have to be willing to take that step and take that risk in order to get where you need to go”. Because he said yes all those years ago when someone had asked him to create something that he hadn’t done before, he knew that 3D street painting was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. His whole career was built on a whim because of this, he says. He believes young artists are often nervous about trying new things, but advises that they don’t worry about being perfect all the time: “Allow yourself not to be the best sometimes. That sometimes will make you even better at what you’re gonna be doing in the future”.
It all just goes to show that you never know where life can take you. New experiences can come from anywhere and potentially change the course of your entire life’s path, whether that’s in the world of art, or anything that you choose to pursue. Whichever path you decide to carve out for yourself, keep at it, remain open-minded, be stronger than the fear of the unknown, and don’t worry about being perfect. Every master has to start somewhere.
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