Dawn MacDonald, owner of Crowe's Tattoos in Houlton, works on a tattoo in her 13 Court St. business. Crowe's Tattoo celebrated its grand opening Tuesday in downtown Houlton. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — From her humble beginnings as a young woman drawing caricatures on an iPad, Dawn MacDonald of Houlton dreamed of one day making a more lasting impression with her artwork.

MacDonald, who professionally uses the name Dawn Crowe, has spent the past few years trying to figure out how she could best use her artistic abilities to provide a steady income.

Now her dream is a reality.

Crowe’s Tattoos celebrated its grand opening on Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included several members of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce.

Crowe’s Tattoos, located at 13 Court St. in downtown Houlton, celebrated its grand opening Tuesday, March 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

For Crowe, that moment capped a nearly 15-year journey to finding her place in the business world. Customers have come from throughout Aroostook and Washington counties, and MacDonald has even had a few people from the greater Bangor area come to Houlton for her work.

“I really believe that she is going to be one of those artists who goes on to do really amazing things,” said Greg Koester, who serves as the office manager for Crowe’s Tattoos. “She has amazing potential. I can’t wait to see what she is going to do next.”

While living in East Providence, Rhode Island, MacDonald started a digital art website — dragoart.com — to both sell digital prints and also teach people how to draw electronically on devices like iPads through online tutorials.

“It has always been a dream of mine to own and operate my own business,” she said. “I started off doing digital art, which was supposed to be tutorials on how to draw dragons and other fantasy creatures. My whole life, art has always been a big thing for me.”

In 2009, her parents decided to relocate from Rhode Island to northern Maine when she was 18 years old to escape “the rambunctious city life” for her younger siblings. Houlton was the farthest point north they had ever been, but the transition was not instant.

“My parents didn’t feel that [Rhode Island] was a good place to raise kids,” she said. “For me, though, it was tough. I didn’t really mingle with anyone. I just focused on my drawing.”

In Houlton, she became known locally as an artist who did digital caricatures for people, similar to canvas drawings one might find at a carnival, only with more realistic details and also with a modern spin.

This caricature of local radio personality Greg Koester was created digitally by Dawn MacDonald, the owner of the newly-opened Crowe’s Tattoos in downtown Houlton. Credit: Courtesy of Greg Koester

Her creations were soon popping up on people’s timelines on social media, showcasing a strong gift for capturing a person’s likeness, while also putting a creative spin on the image.

And while that work was enjoyable, she knew she needed to find something else to pay the bills. Thus began her pursuit of tattoos.

Becoming a tattoo artist in The County was no easy task. But she spent time as an apprentice with tattoo artist Gabriel Grimm of Houlton learning the finer details and honing her own unique style with the goal of one day opening her own business.

Her dreams came true in September 2021 when she rented a space in downtown Houlton, at 13 Court St., and decided to open Crowe’s Tattoos.

MacDonald said she is at a stage where she is confident in her skills as a tattoo artist, because unlike the digital medium, there is no erase button.

For some people, getting a tattoo is an extremely emotional event. The image could be something in memory of a person who has died or it could be to cover up scars from an accident or surgery.

“Doing tattoos can be very therapeutic for both the customer and myself,” she said. “You actually have to show people you care about how the image comes out.”

A self-taught artist, MacDonald said she is constantly pushing herself to try new things when it comes to her art. Doing tattoos allows her to create images in a variety of different mediums, from realistic to gothic to fantasy to nature.

Her favorite types of tattoos are realism drawings, but she is also equally adept at mythical creatures, cartoon characters, animals and goth images.

“My goal is to transfer the image we create together digitally into a representation on the person’s skin that will last a lifetime,” she said. “Drawing is very therapeutic for me. It helps me get lost in my own world and I love making people happy when they see the final product. I love my job.”