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Young artist sculpts his future

By Donald Barnes
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Austen Brantley isn’t your average college student. Sure, there are characteristics about him that makes him relatable to many other 18-year-old college freshmen at Oakland Community College-Orchard Lake. But at closer look, you will notice something special and uncommon about the 18 year old sculptor.

Brantley’s artwork resembles that of a veteran artist. Amazingly, Brantley has only sculpted for two-and-a-half years.

“I sort of just taught myself how to sculpt. I learned techniques outside of my art classes,” Brantley told the Michigan Citizen. “I would go on YouTube and study how-to videos. I was just naturally curious to those forms of art and what I could do with them.”

Brantley has always had a love for art. As a child, he expressed his creative ideas through doodling and was inspired to draw by the comic books his parents purchased for him.

He says although his parents encouraged the development of his craft, his drawing often got him in trouble at school.

“My teachers complained about my drawing a lot. Whenever I had a math test, I’d end up doodling on it; so it would turn into an art assignment,” Brantley said.

Brantley says his parents remain supportive. “First they were scared because they didn’t think I could get a job out of it, but they really support me with whatever I do.”

Brantley had his first solo exhibit this past December at a bookstore in Southfield. He showcased over 18 pieces and received high praise for his artwork.

“I had a few people come to the exhibit and I got a chance to sell some stuff,” Brantley said. “It was really a good experience because I got to see and hear what people thought about my artwork and how it affected them. I got a lot of good feedback, so it has pushed me even more.”

Brantley’s current teacher at OCC Orchard Lake, Gaile Pipenburg, says Brantley has shocked and awed her since day one.

Pipenburg has a background in illustration and studied at Eastern Michigan University where she received her BFA in ceramics and her MFA in sculpture.

“I used to work with the Scholastic Art Awards Association, which holds a competition for high school kids nationwide. When Austen told me he had won the gold key in that competition, which is a very prestigious award, I was blown away,” Pipenburg told the Michigan Citizen.

Pipenburg says Brantley stands out from others his age because he doesn’t just dream about what he wants to do, he puts actions behind his thoughts.

“I have great hopes for Austen,” she said. “He’s very considerate and a thinker, but he is more of a doer.

“In most of my teaching life, a lot of it with young people has been trying to motivate them to express their ideas to do the work because a lot of times the more that you do, the more you understand the material and are able to express yourself. Austen was doing that right from the beginning. He was pursing and applying himself.”

Brantley has an upcoming solo exhibit April 4-6 at Jo’s Gallery located on Livernois between Outer Drive and 7 Mile. The exhibit will have an open reception and will feature 13 of his newest works.

Brantley says he wants to support his family at some point with his artwork.

“Right now I’m focusing on what I can make and what I can master, every single day I think about how I can send a message to people like me that (they too) can make phenomenal artwork at a young age,” Brantley said.

“Art has always been something I practice but it’s sort of becoming something that I can use as my voice, an extension of myself. I use art to clear my mind — it helps me relax.”

For more information on Brantley’s work and his upcoming exhibit, visit

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