Bright, whimsical portraits; a girl riding a zebra: Painter Clay Crafton’s work has both an ethereal and pop-art feel to it. The pieces feel like something out of a vivid dream.
And it’s because in a way they are.
“I just have these odd images pop into my head and want to share them on canvas,” Crafton says. “My degree is in creative writing. When people look at my work my hope is that a curiosity rises in them and they wonder what the story is that’s unfolding in the painting. Or, said another way, I’m trying to capture a moment in time from a dreamlike place.”
Crafton has been painting and drawing his whole life, and while teaching high school art classes in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in 2010, he realized he wanted take his passion full-time.
A year later, he and his wife relocated to Houston, where his dream became a reality. He had three personal exhibits and his pieces were picked up by a New Orleans gallery.
Three years ago, the couple relocated to Novi, where his wife had grown up, and after finishing renovations on their property, his full focus returned to painting.
Crafton says a “diversity of influences” played a big part in forming his style, including works by John Singer Sargent, J.W. Waterhouse, pop artist James Rosenquist and fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta.
“Beyond studying and learning from artists who came before me I try to evoke emotion above all else. If a piece is well-executed but fails to make the viewer feel something, to me, it is a failed effort.”
Crafton does underpainting “in thinned acrylics just to speed up the process a bit,” but says that though he enjoys using both acrylics and oil, “everything the viewer will ultimately see is oils in the end.”
An idea can come to Crafton at any time, so when inspiration strikes, he puts a note on his phone to return to when he’s back in his studio. The studio is a reworked woodshed in the front of the barn on his property, complete with “a large wooden easel, lots of table space, drafting table, and about 3 million art books and tons of light.”
In his creative space, he turns the idea into a drawing, which he photographs to put on his computer so he can project it onto a canvas then sketch out a detailed reference for the painting.
“I have found over time that this approach saves me a great deal of time versus doing the original drawing directly on the canvas,” Crafton says. “And I also enjoy having that sketch to look back at later, and comparing what I originally planned against how the final painting ended up as my ideas evolved during the creative process.”
Crafton looks forward to sharing his pieces at Orchard Lake Fine Art Show in West Bloomfield. The fair was canceled last year due to COVID-19, but it’s back this year with 110 artists. The outdoor show, July 24-25, will be spaced for social distancing, and artists will be listed on the producer’s website for vulnerable populations who don’t feel comfortable around a crowd.
“More than ever we have found out the importance of the actual events. Especially the patron/artist relationship that forms at the art shows,” says executive producer Patty Narozny.
Professional awards will be given on Saturday and youth awards on Sunday.
If You Go
Orchard Lake Fine Art Show runs July 24-25. Admission is $5 for age 13+. Free parking behind Beaumont Medical Center, 6900 Orchard Lake Road — enter fair at back of parking lot. More info at artsandeducationinc.org/events/orchard-lake-fine-art-show.
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