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West Valley City • The brush never touched the canvas.

And yet the eyes of John Lennon twinkled to life inside a West Valley City warehouse, animated by an invisible stream of paint-rich air and the hand of a woman recognized as the world's greatest Beatles artist.

Shannon MacDonald, an internationally acclaimed airbrush painter from New Jersey, chose the Beehive State tobegin her portrait of Lennon, which will be mounted with a collage of the Fab Four this month in Liverpool's Cavern Club, where the Beatles made their debut.

Her work will be unveiled during the International Beatle Week celebration on Tuesday, Aug. 30, in Liverpool.

But the Lennon portrait began to take shape a continent away within an airbrush studio replete with images of open-winged dragons, skull-headed pilots swooping in biplanes and even a fiery rendition of rock 'n' roller Elvis Presley on nontraditional canvases ranging from snowboards to tabletops to car doors.

There, MacDonald headlined a three-day workshop known as the Ultimate Air Affair, put on by the West Valley City-based Automotive Spraying Equipment Technologies, commonly referred to as ASET, which distributes airbrush gear.

The event attracted 50-plus students — at $535 a head — from as far away as Australia.

With the tip of her brush an inch from the canvas, MacDonald rounded Lennon's eye before venturing inside to detail his iris. She had surrounded the canvas with photos: one depicting the Beatle onstage at the Cavern Club, another showing his sweat-matted hair after a performance and still another with Lennon's collar open and his tie tugged slightly askew.

"She takes the art in a different direction," ASET co-owner Ray Odette said. "Most of the airbrush art has been associated with things that are done at carnivals and circuses. [MacDonald elevates it] to a fine art."

MacDonald — widely known simply as "Shannon" — hopes her skills and her success will draw attention to an industry that often is belittled as "boardwalk" art.

"There is a part of me that really owes this industry," she said. "The only reason I am back in the art world is because somebody not only gave me an airbrush, but also said, 'Let me show you how to use this thing.' From that point on, airbrushing was the new pulse in my life to bring back the ember of art that was still in me."

Truth is, MacDonald flunked her high-school art class — not because she didn't have a creative streak, but because she had a teacher who criticized her work and once remarked of a Beatles drawing, "You'll never get anywhere drawing those pigs."

So MacDonald — who had excelled in everything from acrylics to watercolors, and even owned a clunky airbrush that could have been used to tone her biceps — left the art world. She turned to music instead.

It was a sign painter who brought MacDonald back into the trade. She doesn't remember his name, only the thoughts that raced through her mind as he highlighted letters and the satisfaction that came when she painted four of her mother's bedsheets.

And so her career began. MacDonald went from selling T-shirts for $35 at a Connecticut Beatles show — where her work drew international attention — to being declared "The World's Greatest Beatles Artist" by Liverpool's mayor.

She has since been inducted into the Cavern Club Hall of Fame and named the club's official artist.

Bill Williams, co-owner of ASET, considers MacDonald a rare, and welcomed, celebrity in the airbrush world. He hopes her name — and her prestige — will help redefine airbrushing as art.

"There is a fine line between fine art and what these guys do," he said. "When you see what these people do, if that ain't fine art, then there is something wrong with our whole culture."

"I'm here to promote what some describe as a dying art, which is a shame," MacDonald said. "It shouldn't be."

Twitter: @Stettler_Trib