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Ferndale artist turns her childhood love of drawing into a career

Feb 8, 2016

Carey Gustafson spent hours in her bedroom as a kid, sketching images of rock stars and actors and her favorite pop culture characters. She especially loved drawing Pac-Man and The Monkees and E.T. and Rick Springfield.

Carey Gustafson holds up her childhood sketch of Micky Dolenz from The Monkees
Credit Doug Coombe

Gustafson says back then, she did not have a well-developed sense of identity. But she did have a good sense of humor. Plus she loved rock-n-roll and pop culture, and found plenty of inspiration in music and books and art.

Gustafson got her formal training working with large pieces of stained glass. But these days she uses much smaller pieces for her custom-made portraits.
Credit Doug Coombe

Since that time, she’s managed to turn her passion for drawing into a full-time career, in which she makes small, two-dimensional glass portraits of musicians like Prince and David Bowie. She also makes custom portraits of people or their pets, and as one of her specialties, she’ll attach that glass image onto a night-light. You can find her Etsy page by clicking here.

Musician night-lights. Recognize anyone?
Credit Doug Coombe

Gustafson has turned her basement into a home studio. She sells her glass artwork on Etsy and at artists markets.
Credit Doug Coombe

Gustafson traces a template for David Bowie's face onto a piece of cream-colored glass.
Credit Doug Coombe

But it wasn’t exactly an easy path to becoming a full-time artist.

Back in high school, she had accumulated a decent collection of her drawings. One day, she mustered up the courage to show her portfolio to counselors at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. The reception was lukewarm.

“They said, ‘these are pretty good likenesses, but it’s not what we’re looking for.’”

Keep in mind, the drawings were what Gustafson calls her “kid scratches of David Bowie.”

She went home, embarrassed.

“I thought, 'well then forget it! If you don’t want me for me, then I’m not going.' And I never went to college.”

Hey hey, it's The Monkees!
Credit Doug Coombe

Gustafson paints the final touches onto David Bowie

But she did end up working for several stained glass companies, for 15 years, immediately after high school. Gustafson made big installations for the auto show and worked on church windows and glass restorations. Now she takes that skill set and applies it to the much smaller work she makes in her home studio in Ferndale.

She says she didn’t know it back then, but that kid who was doodling and clowning around was actually preparing her for her life’s work.

It takes Gustafson roughly 90 minutes to make one of her small glass portraits. That's *if* she doesn't stop to check her social media sites, where she does a lot of her business.
Credit Doug Coombe

Gustafson wraps each individual piece of glass in a ribbon of foil, and then solders the pieces together using this soldering iron that she heats to 800 degrees.
Credit Doug Coombe

Gustafson believes it’s a wise idea to pay attention to the things you loved when you were a child.

“I think when you’re an adult, a lot of people realize that the kid they were at age nine is who they really are, always.”

She says you don’t need to know how that passion will play out as an adult, you just need to stick with it and it’ll reveal itself later down the road.

Michigan glass necklaces

Support for arts and cultural reporting on Michigan Radio comes in part from a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.