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Master of Arts

Local artist Jeff Jantz combines his love of tinkering and technology to create unique works of art

Within Jeff Jantz’s imagination, science and art go hand in hand. Left brain and right brain are of the same mind. Screwdrivers and a paintbrush intertwine. The Mount Clemens native and founder of Janzter Studios has spent years perfecting the relationship between nuts and bolts and arts and crafts. 

“Art is like a science experiment,” Jeff says. “I love the combination of mechanics and aesthetics and the challenge of making it all work together.” 

Jeff is a jack of all trades: Sculptor, craftsman, author, puppeteer, inventor and filmmaker. He’s as handy with a saw as he is with a sewing machine. Growing up, the self-prescribed tinkerer loved to draw and build; to take apart toys and put them back together; to carve, glue and paint until he had fashioned his own creation – and often, a story to go along with it.

For more than a decade, he has poured his talents into not only creating unique works of art, but educating young minds. As a site coordinator for a STEM after-school program through Wayne State University, he has taught high school enrichment classes on 3D modeling, filmmaking, chess, photography, engineering and design. 

“For me, the most important thing I can teach students is critical thinking and creativity. I strongly believe we should teach students to think of creative solutions in all aspects of their education,” says Jeff. “With all that being said, I find it very gratifying when a student surprises me by coming up with a new approach to a project that was unexpected.”

In 2017, Jeff published his first children’s book, “Gruel Snarl Draws a Wild Zugthing,” about a mischievous little alien whose mother offers him paper and crayons to keep him out of trouble. From his own imagination, Gruel dreams up an earthly child, and an unexpected adventure ensues. The uniqueness of this publication is how it was illustrated. Jeff used a technique he calls illustrative sculpture, which is similar to techniques used in stop-motion animation. Here, he sculpts the character and then photographs the scene. He says when he sketches with clay, the character seems to jump right off the page. 

He also applies this approach at the beginning stages of creating his many puppets. Jeff molded his first hand-puppets, Blip and Zari, before they came to life a few years ago. The two aliens went on to host their own YouTube show, “Art on Earth,” in a quest to learn about humanity through the discovery of art, from walking paths to ballet to sculptures like Rodin’s “Thinker” at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

The former welder and carpenter not only uses sculpture in his puppet making, but also nontraditional materials, turning the ordinary into something remarkable: A discarded CPAP hose is the springy tail of a dog; scrap wood forms a face; a bicycle brake handle wags the giant, furry tail of a shaggy wooly mammoth. Jeff’s studio logo features discarded toys, tools, a compass, and other odds and ends. All of the Gruel Snarl armatures are made from scrap electrical wire. 

Jeff has been commissioned to design several puppets, most recently Toto and the head of the wizard for the Ann Arbor-based Burns Park Players production of, “The Wizard of Oz.” Last fall, he also completed several original pieces for the StarKid theatrical production of “FireBringer.” The impressive saber tooth tiger took three puppeteers to operate, and the wooly mammoth another two. 

“I really love the whole process of building a puppet. It involves so many materials and techniques, so I get an opportunity to utilize all the skills and tools I've been collecting over the years,” says Jeff. “When commissioned to build a puppet – or anything for that matter – I love the idea that I get to make something that didn't exist before. But with a puppet commission specifically, I also get to see something I created take on a life of its own when it gets into the hands of a talented performer.”

Jeff is also in pursuit of a master's degree in theatrical scenic design at Wayne State University. 

“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my life so I could do the things I want, to have this creative outlet.” 

You can follow Jeff on Instagram @jantzerstudios, and visit the Janzter Studios YouTube channel to view behind-the-scenes videos of his work. 


 


 

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