Kore Flatmo: Well let’s start at the beginning. Everybody has a story in their life that leads them up to the point of tattooing… So, what I’m interested in is where you were born, the kind of conditions you were raised in, the things that first interested you in art and then we’ll move on to your schooling, and that will I’m sure lead into tattooing. So just tell me a little bit about all that…
Shawn Barber: Born and raised in central New York. A little town called Cortland, halfway between Syracuse and Ithaca, lived there 25 years… And definitely had the impulse to draw from an early age.
You said that there wasn’t a real pattern of that in your family.
No. Not in my family.
So was it a friend who showed you something?
I don’t know what got me started. I think I just started doing it. I think that most kids draw when they’re young. Your parents give you some scrap paper and crayons to occupy your time and get you out of their hair.
Well, in my case there were people around me that I’d see draw and I thought it was really neat.
I can’t remember my thoughts when I was a kid.
Did you take art classes in high school? Did you go to university for it?
I guess I drew Snoopy and shit like that as a little kid. And then I got interested in comic books, and by high school that’s pretty much what I wanted to do. There was a trade school program affiliated with my high school, and I think in 11th or 12th grade you had the option to go there in place of some other classes to focus on a projected trade. So I went there and took commercial art.
So commercial art as a vocation?
Yes. And that was a semester in high school, I think. This was 1987, so computers were just starting to make their way in the classroom and the workplace. Wow. It sounds so weird to say that.
Fucking weird. I feel like I’m getting old, you know?
Well you’re not. It’s just been a busy 20 years.
Yeah. So computers were starting to show their power, but it was still a really handcrafted endeavor, as far as commercial art was concerned. But now, early on, you talked about drawing… When did you start using brushes? Is this all line-based drawing and stuff like that? When did you think, ‘Well, I’m going to try painting’? Well I think most high school kids who are in art classes do some kind of painting.
I didn’t actually take any art classes in high school, so I don’t really know the regiment.
Okay. Well you dabble in a little bit of everything. You dabble in a little bit of pottery. Some water color, egg tempera, some acrylics. You dabble in pointillism, stippling and photorealism. Some people get a chance to do a little bit of photography. If you’re lucky, you get to use oil paint, but that’s a rarity.
Yeah. Too expensive...
And it’s messy and toxic, and all that. So did you go on to an art school?
Well, I wanted to be an artist. I moved out of the house at 16. My parents split when I was 12. Mom left my dad for our minister.
It was pretty interesting.
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