Photo-realistic painter brings glassware to life at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

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ANN ARBOR, MI – Ken Orton paints bottles.

Orton actually paints bottles so well that at first glance you might think that his pictures are pictures.

Orton said he has been drawing ellipses – the basis of his cylinders, gas tankers, and vehicles – for as long as he can remember, and eventually learned to turn those ellipses into photo-realistic still life portraits.

“Some of the earliest things I drew were bottles like this one,” he said.

Orton, 70, can spend more than 100 hours on a single piece. His bottle pieces are incredibly detailed, depicting multiple pieces of glass with an emphasis on the way they interact with light.

“To make these real you have to make sure they break the same color,” Orton said.

Orton has been attending the Ann Arbor Art Fair for 15 years.

To begin a piece, Orton first sets up various bottles in the light. Although he prefers to use sunlight, he said he’ll also be using studio lights for smaller bottles, “because the bottles are smaller, tend to be denser, and require stronger light to penetrate.”

“I honestly don’t draw too much,” he said. “I’ll start painting in very soft colors right away.”

Orton said he and his wife collect bottles “like addicts,” piling up nearly 1,000 different shapes and sizes.

After Orton takes photos of the bottles and manipulates them to adjust the color tones, Orton prints the picture for reference. Sometimes part of his editing process is adjusting the photo’s focus area. This brings his pieces to life.

“Our brains are wired to perceive this as a three-dimensional object, so some of them absolutely seem to be jumping towards you,” he said.

Orton, who is originally from England, said doing shows was a welcome change from teaching.

“Over the years in particular, I’ve thought about every possible way of teaching this and looked at every angle. Now it’s a pleasure to be able to do this on my own, ”he said.

He said painting was “the eternal test”.

“The reason I like to paint this is because there is something new every time,” he said. “You never have the same problems.”

When the coronavirus pandemic originally broke out, Orton was sent away from a show before it was even over. He then spent the next 16 months in prison, to his great joy.

“The opportunity to do nothing but sit and paint was lovely,” he said. “…[I] painted and painted. To the joy of my heart. “

The Ann Arbor Art Fair runs Thursday July 15th through Saturday July 17th. It is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Find more information on the Internet.

Read more from The Ann Arbor News:

Artists who, after being canceled last year, happily return to the Post-Pandemic Ann Arbor Art Fair

What you need to know about the 2021 Ann Arbor Art Fair

Ann Arbor Art Fair Weather: How to Find the Dry Season

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