Spirits in the Night: Artist’s ‘Inktober’ Drawings Set Spooky Tone

Thursday, October 3, 2019, 7:11 am
Sarah Spohn

Paul Vetne’s artwork will be on display throughout October at Red Cedar Spirits, 2000 Merritt Road, in East Lansing. (Photos by Raymond Holt)

Craft cocktail maker Red Cedar Spirits—which recently started expanding its menu of live entertainment and events—will unveil the work of tattoo and ink artist Paul Vetne at 7 p.m. Friday as part of its artist of the month series.

Vetne, a Lansing resident, saw the Facebook call for artists, and responded. He recalls his early love affair with the arts.

“I used to frequently get in trouble for doodling and drawing on my homework, as opposed to what I was required to do,” Vetne said. “My parents saw that, and from early as I can remember, there was always an art table or station I could go to and create something.”

Vetne’s father was an elementary art teacher and potter, and his grandmother was a painter—focusing on colorful birds and flowers. Vetne credits his use of color to her, and said she was his most influential art teacher.

Utilizing mainly ink pens, micron pens, and sharpies, Vetne’s unique style focuses on tiny details, crosshatching and stippling. “This show, targeting a specific theme, works well with my style and subject matter,” Vetne said. “I don’t do a lot of realism, I think of things in my head, and I put them down.”

Monstrous manes and enormous eyeballs

Langston Whitaker, the tasting room manager at Red Cedar Spirits, saw Vetne’s work and knew he had to be the October artist of the month, given the timely spooky subject matter.

“Everything in here is either a monster or a ghoulish type of thing,” Vetne said. “Every year for October, I do a thing called ‘Inktober,’ and take a subject each day and draw Halloween themes.”

Vetne describes his Halloween stuff as goofy, with exaggerated eyeballs, and lots of facial hair that resembles the artist’s long locks.

“My focus has been more on texture, and what’s going on with the paper, more so than the message,” he said. “It’s kind of about the process, with the stipple and crosshatching that I do. I have to step back to see what it actually looks like, and how it comes together.”

It’s a technique that became fine-tuned when Vetne almost lost his vision. Six years ago he was diagnosed with retinopathy, a diseased condition of the retina. He had surgery, and went three months without being able to see in one eye.

“That’s when I started tightening up my style, and trying to figure out what it was I could do if I couldn’t ever tattoo again,” he said. “I started drawing with a magnifying glass, I had to have a patch over my eye for three months. It became a meditative process for me, and was about the time I started meditating formally.”

Each of the 35 to 40 pieces on exhibit will be for sale, and range in sizes from 4-by-6 inches to 18-by-24 inches—displayed in the tasting room and gift shop. Vetne’s favorite part about his medium is the versatility and accessibility.

“I don’t need a studio per se, that’s one of the things I like about drawing is that I just need a sketchbook and a pen,” he said. “I can do that anywhere.”

Some of the pieces up for sale are even originals, something Vetne said is usually hard to part with.

Increased exposure for his artwork

While Vetne still receives the most recognition for his work at the Tattoo Shop on Michigan Avenue in Lansing, he has also received favorable response to his piece, “The Looker,” currently being shown on Lansing Arts Council digital billboards along several area highways and streets.

“That’s been a pretty cool thing, people as far as Williamston and Charlotte have seen it,” he said.

The original piece, inspired by a famous Salvador Dali photograph, will be on display and for sale. This exhibit marks the first time Vetne’s work will be displayed in East Lansing.

Whitaker, also an artist, enjoys painting when he isn’t at the distillery, assisting in sales and distribution, or planning their growing event calendar.

“I’m an artist as well, and seeing other artists, it kind of inspires me to do more art too,” he said.

Whitaker began making art at 5 years old, and transitioned from drawing to painting during his senior year at East Lansing High School.

He brought the artist of the month series idea to the owner, Dianne Holman, who approved. Holman has helped refine and polish the series, with her experience in art and education. She encouraged the idea to feature more than one artist a month, diversifying the range of mediums and backgrounds featured.

“She was an art teacher and French teacher,” Whitaker said of Holman. “She has been all over the world looking at art, and displaying art. It’s more so picking her brain, seeing how it fits well with our dynamic.”

Having shown his art publicly twice, Whitaker enjoys the fact his current employer is able to provide a space for other artists to display their work.

“I didn’t expect it to get this much feedback,” he said. “This just kind of exploded, our inbox kind of overflowed.” The series, which began in August, is already booked with artists through next August.

“It also says something about art galleries, because art galleries usually take a large percentage,” he said. “Red Cedar won’t charge artists anything to display their artwork … my big goal is just to help artists.”

On October 11, Red Cedar Spirits will host a reception for artist Julian Van Dyke. The distillery will then feature both artists’ work for the rest of this month.


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