Detroit native stencil artist discusses the root of his creativity

img_4331By Jakiyah Haywood

Oxford stencil artist Michael Carter said there’s a deeper meaning and story behind every piece he creates.

“My mom was always the type to tell me if I couldn’t find out from her, or didn’t believe a word anybody else told me, research it yourself or go to the library,” he said. “My mom passed away in ’08, and my dad passed away in ’07.

“If I get into (something), I’m all the way into it,” he said. “If I hear a word, I’m not just going to look it up. I will find the root word, and where it comes from … Anything that I am doing, as far as art, there is a whole meaning and movement behind it.”

Carter, 35, grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where he attended Hutchinson Elementary. In second grade, he knew he would someday become an artist.

“First two pictures I ever drew was in second grade,” he said, “which were the Ninja Turtles, the Gold’s Gym weights logo, and comic books back in the ’80s.”

He later became a graffiti artist and won several art contests. After high school, Carter attended Northwest Community College, where he said he won a regional contest on self portraits. After college, Carter worked at clubs and many four-star restaurants as a chef.

Today, Carter said his son, Jordan Michael Carter, 4, motivates him to dream and create art. He said many believe the craft of stenciling is easy, but it involves a lot of work.

“I take the negative and positive out of the picture, and I do a one-layer stencil, which I cut out with an X-Acto knife on watercolor paper after I redraw it,” he said. “From there, I take the background and add the subject to it.”

Friend Justin Tanner describes Carter as “outstanding.” “He is a good person and doesn’t mind helping people if he can,” he said. “He loves all forms of art, and works hard at his own.”

Colby Smith, Carter’s co-worker, finds Carter “impressive” and said he always has a positive attitude. “His artwork is a reflection of early hip-hop culture music with vibrant colors and stenciling that is his signature style.”

Carter has been working at Bottletree Bakery at 923 Van Buren Ave in Oxford for nearly eight years. The owner allows him to showcase his artwork in the restaurant. He even painted a picture of a bottle tree for her.

“The whole bottle tree thing comes from African traditions,” Carter said. “The bottles are supposed to alleviate spirits and trap them out at night. In the morning time, when the sun hits the light, it evaporates.”

Carter said the hardest thing about being an artist is selling your work at a reasonable price.

“A lot of folks will refuse to buy my art for a certain price, because they feel like it’s too valuable for the price,” he said. “Or for instance, when I started selling my big canvases for $300 or $250 dollars, people felt that was a little too out of reach.”

Carter said his aspiration is to “be the best artist I can be, and get paid more.” He’s been more serious about his artwork the past three years, and he’s trying to consistently create it.

Carter said part of being a good artist is remaining curious.

“Once you start to dig deep into things, and find the whole root, you just blossom,” he said. “…You know, it’s just like a tree. It starts off with the roots, and you just branch on out.

“So anything out there that you know of, there is something deeper than you think behind it. It just didn’t come out of nowhere.”



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