The right path
Whether taking photos or making guitars, Naples’ Tyler MacDonald is living the dream
January 07, 2021
BY BOB MASSEY
He started exhibiting his photographs at professional outdoor art festivals when he was only 15 years old. Since then, he has participated in nearly 200 of them across the country, amassing numerous awards along the way.
He is Naples resident Tyler MacDonald. Today, armed with a sage outlook on life and art that is decades ahead of his 25 years, this lauded nature photographer has added the craft of creating guitars to his repertoire. “I’ve been a photographer my whole life, and it’s what I’m known for — my nature and wildlife photography,” he said. “And I love photography and I’ll always be a photographer, but I wanted to expand out and show people that I can do many things. I want to be known as an artist, not as a photographer. Photography is just another creative outlet within my artwork.”
Mr. MacDonald started displaying that creativity early on.
“I’ve always been picking pens up and drawing, creating,” he said. “My parents were always very encouraging, signing me up for art classes, experimenting with different things at a young age.”
Mr. MacDonald grew up on Marco Island, where he was born to an outdoors loving family that enjoyed traveling and camping across the country. As it turned out, that’s what fueled Mr. MacDonald’s desire to take up photography. He wanted to capture the feelings of seeing the natural world and bring them back home.
“I was a very unique kid,” he said. “I was very shy, so I had more of a connection with nature and animals, kind of away from the world. I very much like to be by myself. I’m self-reflecting, and that’s how I get really creative — going out in nature and camping for a couple of days, getting away from all this noise in the world to kind of clear my head.”
A family friend saw the boy’s work, and found it exceptional enough to suggest to Mr. MacDonald that he try exhibiting his photos in art festivals.
“My first few (festivals) were pretty low-tier, as far as that I didn’t know what I was doing,” Mr. MacDonald said. “But I found pretty good success early on, so my parents thought it was great.”
The only thing his age got in the way of was his transportation.
“My mom had to drive me around to these different events because I was so young,” he recalled.
Within a few years, Mr. MacDonald was reinvesting in himself and his business. His desire was to see the world — and photograph it. This led to trips to places as diverse as Africa, Fiji (where the avid scuba diver engaged in nearly half a dozen dives a day to experience the colorful fish), Costa Rica and more. “I’ve traveled the world,” he said. “Before I was 20 years old, I’d seen more than a lot of people get to see (in their lifetimes), so I’m very grateful for that.”
In addition to nature, music is also a major catalyst for Mr. MacDonald’s creativity — and for the latest leg of his creative journey. “Music is something I’ve always loved,” he said. “I just have a certain connection with music that I don’t get from anything else.”
Although Mr. MacDonald describes himself as a “very chill, kind of quiet guy,” don’t assume that the music he finds most inspiring to be the kind of classical or pastoral pieces you’d hear from a chamber orchestra or symphony. Oh, no.
“I get into very extreme metal music — a lot of screaming and loud riffs,” he confessed. “When people first hear that I’m into it, they’re kind of surprised.”
His favorite group is the L.A. rock band Tool, which he had an opportunity to see in concert last year in Colorado. “They’ve given me a lot of inspiration, for sure,” Mr. MacDonald said. “Seeing them for the first time was an experience I can’t really describe. Something happened that was almost like a spiritual thing. I just knew I was on the right path, and everything I was doing was meant to be.”
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that, while traveling cross country to art fairs a couple of summers ago, Mr. MacDonald’s interests turned toward the guitar.
“I just had this idea that I wanted to make guitars,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where the idea came from. When I got back to Florida, I started to work on it.”
Of course, one does not simply begin creating working instruments of any sort. Mr. MacDonald combined his previous experience with woodworking with intensive study in order to forge the unique specimens he manufactures inside his shop.
“I really like a challenge,” he said. “I like to figure things out, take them apart and examine them. I began to study guitars.”
Starting with only sketches before moving to the actual carving of the wood, Mr. MacDonald is involved with every part of the guitar’s construction, including hand-selecting raw lumber sourced from different parts of the world. “I consider components such as tone and visual design when selecting my materials,” he said. “I strive to source the most sustainable and practical woods that will be turned into a lifelong instrument.”
Mr. MacDonald uses uncomplicated and simple power tools for portions of the rough beginnings, and finishes the final pieces by hand — from shaping the neck and body to inlaying the fret board and lacing up the strings.
“My hope is that each and every one of these instruments finds a home, whether it is a young musician starting out, a musician touring with a band, or a guitar collector,” he said. “The idea that my work will be used to create music brings me such happiness, and that to me is what being an artist is all about.”
For Mr. MacDonald, this is living the dream.
“Success is following your path, your intuition, doing what you want to do and not caring what other people think,” he said. “I don’t have to clock in anywhere, (although) I do try to manage my time. It’s not really a financial thing. I think too many people have this goal that they’re going to have this much money and this kind of house and that kind of car, but I try to live more in the moment, be thankful for what I have and what I’ve done, doing what I want to do.