Featured Artist – Michael Crook

African wildlife.
Australian hardwood.
Japanese opaque watercolors.

The remarkable works of artist Michael Crook possess both international heritage and extraordinary appeal. The artist’s qualifications are equally impressive – painting and drawing, photography, silversmithing, stained glass, ceramics, printmaking and woodworking are among his artistic skills.

Michael’s current body of work features realistic wildlife carvings that involve drawing, carving and painting. He works in “bas relief”, a sculptural form in which figures carved in a flat surface project only slightly from the background. The wood Michael sculpts is typically less than a half-inch thick, and yet his finished works give the uncanny impression of being fully three-dimensional.

Crook, a 14-year Art-A-Fair exhibitor, works his magic in a two-story studio in the Newport Beach, California home he shares with wife (and Art-A-Fair Treasurer) Pam Crook. Michael does his “clean work” – sketching, drawing and painting – in their recently-constructed home addition located above the carport. He relegates the “dirty work” – sawing, carving and sanding – to the woodshop area of the garage.

Each work of art is hand-carved from select hardwoods, sanded to a smooth finish, and hand-painted using imported Japanese “Guitar” brand opaque watercolors. Michael’s current choice of hardwood is a rare Australian Cypress, only available at this time from a single source. The last available supply of this exceptional material currently resides in Michael’s woodshop. Once this material has been consumed, Michael will be tasked with selecting a new hardwood of choice.

With literally thousands of photographs taken over the course of three African sojourns, Michael has virtually unlimited subjects from which to choose. His process begins with a drawing of his subject on translucent vellum. He then inserts a sheet of carbon paper between the drawing and the wood, and retraces the image to transfer it to the surface of the wood. He uses a jigsaw or saber saw to cut away any significant areas of negative space. Finally, he switches to hand-held tools to whittle, carve and refine his subject’s detail.

Once carving is complete and wood fully sanded, Michael meticulously applies opaque watercolor paint to the wood to bring his subjects to life. According to Michael, watercolor is a far better painting option than acrylic because it permits him to “work and rework an area” to his satisfaction. And the results are nothing short of astonishing. Fluid lines, uncanny detail and stellar presentation gives each work of art a life of its own – making Michael Crook an ongoing Art-A-Fair favorite!

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