CraftSanity Podcast Episode 168: A conversation with sculptor, illustrator and photographer – Jonathan D. Lopez

by jennifer

As a married woman I don’t have any reason to troll through craigslist personals, but I was highly entertained when my single friend and creative partner, Jonathan D. Lopez, decided to create a parody of the animal-like behavior some folks demonstrate when they compose their crude and creepy ads.

While it can be disappointing for singles to discover the vulgar dating propositions some post online, Jon and I have laughed a great deal about his hand-sculpted parody of this seedy behavior. And I’ve had a front row seat to the creation of the “claylist” entry he’s been working on for months in preparation for ArtPrize 2015.

This humorous exhibit is a time-based entry that will include more than two dozon sculptures of animals ranging from a sleazy toad looking for younger women to a kind and retired walrus simply looking to share a bucket of fish. Photos of these sculptures and several more will be presented with the personal ads Jon wrote for them on a video loop on three computer monitors for the public to enjoy. The computers will be anchored to the handicapped-accessible desk Jon built in his garage while contending with some extreme West Michigan heat.

IMG_5966Jon sculpted each figure out of plasticine, documented the process with time-lapse photography and then photographed each sculpture in a fitting scene. He climbed trees, sprawled on the ground and crouched uncomfortably for long periods of time while swatting away bugs to get “the shot.”  Jon has found a creative niche to explore and he’s committed to his art, working on it every day for hours after returning home from his job at a local coffee shop.


On a recent CraftSanity photo shoot Jon was losing his crap over swarming mosquitos, while I remained calm. I, of course, was eaten alive by the bugs while he waved is arms around in self-defense.

Jon joined the CraftSanity team as the multi-media editor in May when we shot a handful of videos for the CraftSanity YouTube channel, but lately I’ve dialed back our craft video production to make sure he stays focused on his claylist project. There are big prizes at stake and Jon has a real shot at being recognized by both the public and the curators and I’m really excited for him. And while it’s kind of odd for me to interview a close friend on my podcast, it would have been more ridiculous to keep this story to myself. Regardless of our connection, the fact is Jon is a talented up-and-coming artist and he has a fun story to tell. So settle in with a project and enjoy!

If you want to follow Jon’s work, search #claylist on Instagram or follow @clay.alchemist and note that he loves to talk shop.

The sculpting has begun. #claylist #artprize #pig #sculpture #instaart

A video posted by 🔩 Jonathan D. Lopez 🐹 (@clay.alchemist) on

And there’s more…
Read on for the Jonathan D. Lopez Q&A… 
Location: Wyoming, Michigan
Favorite art medium(s): Sculpture and Animation
Please share a bit of the story of how you started on an artistic path. Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera or sculpting tool? When did it all click for you? 
Sculpture has always been a part of my life, but I didn’t even have a camera until about 2003. Nature photography was pretty much all I did until about 2006 when I started using iStopMotion to create claymations.  I was really only interested in animation until my first photography class in 2009 – which the only reason why I took that class was to become a better animator with my old 300D SLR camera.  It was during my final for that class that I started creating illustrations with clay characters.  After seeing people react positively to my final series, I knew this was something that others enjoyed as much as I did.

Are there any other artists in your family? Where do you think your drive to create comes from? 
My brother Ben was into oil painting in high school, but it was the left over Super Sculpey for a class project of his that brought me back to dabbling with clay.  I made islands and cities out of that stuff and would basically play SimCity on a tabletop for hours at a time, and probably the only reason why I didn’t play it on the TV was because it made me sick to play video games.  And really the migraines that I had since a child prevented me from doing a lot of things.  I suppose that coupled with the leg pain drove me to being more introverted for the majority of my childhood and lead me to entertain myself with making things out of clay and woodcraft.

You’ve had a YouTube channel since your teenage years, how did producing tutorials help you fine tune your skills and develop your voice as an artist? 
Being in front of a camera allowed me to hear what I sounded like to other people.  I would reshoot tutorials over and over again until I got it right, and I’ve slowly become a better speaker.  I do have to say that making videos hasn’t been the best experience a lot of the time.  There are plenty of critics and annoying trolls, so I don’t frequent it very much any more.  What influences me the most is not being inundated by videos and tutorials, it’s having time to myself to think of ridiculous stories or images in my head that I wind up turning into illustration and short animations.

You are one of the most laser focused artists I know. How have some of your health challenges ultimately contributed to your success in developing your artistic skills and discipline to see a project through? 
Health and pain have drastically shaped who I am.  Chances of having a day without a migraine was about 50/50 as a kid and worse as an adult until I was diagnosed and virtually eliminated the migraines.  So growing up in the mindset of utilizing as much time as possible just came naturally.  Now that I don’t have migraines, I feel like I’m playing catch up, which I know you always tell me I don’t need to worry about but always do.  So – it’s awesome because I basically sleep 6 hours a day and work at my job and projects the other 16 – leaving me an hour or so a day to sit down and watch some Fringe or some other show.

You’ve been working on your ArtPrize 2015 entry since the spring. Please briefly describe what ArtPrize and your “claylist” project is. 
Claylist is a parody of personal ads – for animals.  In the past, I have briefly scanned the listing on a few different websites and apps, and couldn’t help but be entertained by the ridiculous postings that people put out there.  I couldn’t help but think “if animals were saying this, it wouldn’t seem strange at all”.  It’s basically my dream project – it’s not focused on writing large amounts of backstories on characters (something I don’t really enjoy doing, but everyone asks me about) and all about making sculptures and photographing them.  And unlike last year, I’m going to have full size sculptures in my display.  There will be a large pig, a frog, and some sort of rodent sitting in front of three iMac displays running a video loop of the “claylist experience”.

What do you hope viewers take away from your ArtPrize entry? 
It just seems like people are meeting others face-to-face less and less these days, and this is my personal way of humorously saying, “Look around you!”  I just feel like there is less of a chance of coming across strange folks in person than online, haha.

IMG_1562What have you learned after all the time you have invested working on your latest collection of sculptures? What happens when you treat making art like a job?
Working daily has revealed to me so many ways to speed up the process.  I’m so much faster and better at making armatures, and being able to make solid armatures opens the door to making virtually anything.  Now that I have treated it like a job since April, I feel even more enthralled about the idea of doing this for a living.  I’ve never been more satisfied or happy in my entire life.  It’s the best feeling doing what you love for the majority of your time.

What do you hope this project will lead to?
I just hope that one of the 400,000+ people coming through DeVos Place during ArtPrize will see my work and like it enough to want to work with me.  I really want to find full-time work utilizing at least one of my artistic skills.  Really, any step toward a job that would challenge me like this project has would be welcomed.  And you never know, maybe I’ll meet a nice girl because of this project – wouldn’t that be hilarious!

How would you describe your artistic style?
Simple.  Visual.  Visceral.  I don’t want people to have to analyze why they like my work, either you like it or you don’t, and that’s ok.  It’s not my job to make people like my work, but I want to make people’s days better.

Who or what inspires your creative work?
The mundane.  When I’m most bored, I feel like I come up with some seriously crazy ideas.  When I’m opening the store at 4 A.M., I find myself jotting down ideas on scraps of paper.

How do you cook up your project ideas?
I feel like some of my favorite ideas are those that when I tell someone about it, it doesn’t click – the idea sounds like it wouldn’t work.  But I work on the concept and strive to make it something that people would relate to, and it culminates to something good in the end.  I feel like if someone gets it before they see it, it’s something they’ve seen before.  I really don’t want it to be anything they’ve seen before.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced as an artist and how have you overcome it? 
Can I say that my eyesight sucks, haha.  The folks in the photo department always laughed that I had some of the worst eyesight of anyone in the class, but I knew how to make an interesting photograph.  Sometimes I have to take off my glasses so I can get close enough to my sculptures to see the details, and that is murder on the eyes.  I get a lot of eye strain, but my eye doctor told me that it wasn’t physically bad for me, and that my eyes would just tire out and force me to stop, which they do sometimes.  I don’t know, I’ll have to get laser surgery when I get older. But since my migraines have pretty much vanished and I have gotten my leg pain mostly under control, I guess having poor vision isn’t the worst thing I could deal with!

What do you do when you’re feeling creatively blocked? How do you move past that? 
I put the project to the side and work on something else.  I can’t just sit there and say, “Nothing can be done”.  I’ll redo it and redo it until I’m satisfied.  I started over twice on a character for claylist, and I finally gave up because I wasn’t a fan of it.  The only creative blocks I get are from working on things that I’m not passionate about – so why work on that? I’ll go do something better with my time.

What art or craft tool tops your list of must-have supplies?
Lighting.  Nothing is worst than not being able to see flaws in your creations because of dim light.  Luckily, I work with a simple medium that my most important tools are my hands.  For anyone though – have paper and a pencil available wherever you are.  Being able to jot down a fleeting idea is a lifesaver.

What is your favorite book, movie?
I don’t really have favorites, but here was this book I read called “When Gadgets Betray Us” that changed the way I look at our dependence on technology and how we are opening ourselves to a world of hurt due to the over computerization of our lives.  Additionally, “IBM and the Holocaust” by Edwin Black and “How to Disappear” by Frank Ahern have cemented my beliefs when it comes to simplifying my life and keeping more and more of it offline.
If you want to see a movie that’s radically different, watch “Adam’s Apples” or “The Hunted” with Mads Mikkelsen.  “Hannibal” the series is also another awesome Mads performance.  I love that guy!

What are you reading now? What movie have seen recently that you would recommend to a friend? 
I haven’t read a book or watched a movie (aside from “Sean the Sheep” with you guys) since starting this project. I really like going back and watching older movies. I feel like the movies these days are exhausting to watch for the most part – too much CGI and not enough story. I have to find the book I was reading a couple years ago about the history of Russia.  It was about 700 pages long, and I only made it 200 pages in. History is fascinating.

If you had to pick a theme song, what would it be?
“None are stronger” by Rich Mullins. There’s only a recording from a concert where he gives a two minute talk before he plays it, and he speaks so much truth. That and his live performance of “What Troubles are Giants” on Here in America.

Are you a night owl or a morning person? When is your favorite time to create and why?
Morning.  I have no interest in fighting the sun. I’m most creatively productive from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. I find most entertainment after 10 P.M., I have no interest in, and I like to wrap up the work day with a “Fringe” episode.

What is your idea of the perfect creative snack?
Something tells me it’s going to involve Triscuits. Eggs and Triscuits for sure. That or some red pepper hummus and Triscuits.  It has to be the cracked pepper variety as well.
If you could have a studio date with anyone living or dead, who would you invite over?
I’d love to meet Nick Park and Peter Lord from Aardman. While I don’t have such a strong focus on animation anymore, “Wallace and Gromit” was super influential on my childhood since I would watch those VHS tapes over and over again.  They just have such happy animation – totally different from the over violent and creepy animations that are so popular.

What advice do you have for those just entering the art world?
Listen to people and learn.  Take criticism gracefully.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  Clean up your workspace between projects at the very least (daily would be better).

What do you wish you would have known when you started making art?
Failure is a not a necessarily a sign that you suck. Most of the time it’s because you are trying new things.  And everyone sucks when they learn new things, so don’t feel embarrassed.  Be patient.  And find out new ways to do things.  Experiment – you might come up with something that is better than what is currently taught and accepted as the best way to do things.

Is there anything else you would like the world to know about you?
All of my sculptures are disassembled when I’m done. For now, my characters for claylist are in one piece, but after ArtPrize, I plan on melting them all down and reusing the plasticine.
If anyone wants to ask a question, they can contact me via Instragram @clay.alchemist or @clayalchemist on Twitter.

I have one more kind of silly question… Are you any relation to the actress and singer Jennifer Lopez? I don’t think I’ve ever asked you that. And for the record, I think I’m more interested in your reaction to the question than your actual answer. Hurry! Take a photo of your face right now! : )
I have an Aunt Jenny, but there is no other relation.  Not funny, Ackerman!
Ha! Thanks, Jon. Your dedication to your art is truly inspiring and I can’t wait until our next collaboration. I wish you all the best life has to offer. Remember me when you’re super famous, ok?


I carved a couple of Jon’s claylist characters into linoleum and we printed shirts during a marathon print session. Before claylist started, I had no idea I could pull off something like this.

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