Designer Crush: Michael Upton


Southern California art and home goods company Upton creates high-quality, accessible art that evokes the laid-back vibes the Golden State is known for. Started by artist Michael Upton, each piece is handprinted on canvas, metal and paper, here in the USA. We asked Upton to share more on why he started the business and why it’s a necessary solution for design enthusiasts.

-Can you share more about your background and what inspired you to start the business? One of my earliest memories is sitting at the kitchen table and drawing for hours as a small child. It’s something that has always made me feel comfortable, alive, whole and excited.

I was fortunate enough to attend a high school that didn’t have a football team, and so was able to spend that money on an amazing ceramic studio, metal/wood shop, recording studio, and full scale screen-printing set up. I quickly fell in love with printmaking and it inspired me to pursue an education and career in clothing and textile design.   

After working as a designer for 12 years, I founded Upton as a way to fill the void I saw in the art world for accessible, quality work. I used my knowledge of screen printing and textile design as a way to create handmade art that was affordable for the public.

-How does the Southern California landscape and design aesthetic shape your work? I think that something Southern Californians do well is mix many seemingly disparate things in a space that still manages to feel harmonious. I believe the way I embrace and mix many styles and genres to create my own unique aesthetic is something I’ve acquired from being born and raised here. This area doesn’t have one pronounced aesthetic but is rather a blend of many different styles, genres, and cultures.  I try to embody that same feeling with Upton. I want to be, do, and make many things and have them all feel harmonious. 

-What other designers or creatives inspired your career the most and why? I’d say that outsider artists have probably inspired me the most. They are the ones that made art feel accessible to me, that made me want to get to work creating. Their passion for the creative process, whatever it looks like, is so present and pressing.

In particular, there’s a local San Diego artist and architect named James Hubble that inspired me from an early age. Every Father’s Day he opens his house that he built by hand to the public for viewing. It is a true work of art – the walls have no right angles and look as though they were formed from clay by a sculptor, the ceiling and walls are covered in stained glass, and the floor is one solid piece of Saltillo tile that was poured in place and then allowed to crack. He inspired me to create a life all my own. He showed me a life that could be completely immersed in creativity. 

-Are there any particular artists you are obsessed with right now? I’ve been really into Ernst Kirchner and David Milne. With Kirchner, I’m especially fond of his printmaking and use of color in his paintings. And I admire Milne’s ability to simplify without abstracting.

-How have you shifted your business during the pandemic that will remain in your process? Before the pandemic I was more stuck to timelines – I put a lot of emphasis on things being completed or released by a certain date. The uncertainty of the pandemic forced me to loosen up and allowed me to explore a new and more fluid way of creating new pieces that is more in line with the natural ebb and flow of the process. 


-Favorite travel destination in California? Inverness. 

-Guilty pleasure during pandemic? Not putting on shoes.

-What musician are listening to the most right now?The Band and Andy Shauf.

-If you weren’t a designer, you would be?An architect or a chef.

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