To Those Who Came Before

Dad painting in Vevey, while he taught at Art Center Switzerland

My first foray into this blog is a look back. Back at my father, Michael Clane Graves, who had such a profound influence upon me in so many ways it is difficult to even sit down and write this. It has been important for me to look back, because his influence as a good man and father are paramount, but also his role as a creative mentor were critical for an insecure kid raised in a small town in Utah. Dad was an immensely talented creative, whose 50 year career as an artist, graphic designer and educator greatly shaped and inspired hundreds along the way. But even more important than his talents, was that his kind, gentle nature blessed the lives of all he knew.

A sketch from the 70’s

Dad was a gifted artist from early in his youth, winning awards at art shows as as teenager, and earning scholarships along the way. He was an incredible draftsman, who was comfortable drawing and painting in any medium. He had very high expectations for his work, and much of his life was battling his demons of not meeting what he perceived as a successful piece. As a voracious reader, thinker and explorer, his work was always pushing both intellectually and spiritually, always seeking, never settling. His many sketchbooks attest to his thinking, as sketchbooks often are. Those many books show his questions, his pondering, and his constant search for answers along the way. They are the journals of a brilliant mind.

Michael Clane Graves as young creative, setting out to conquer New York City, circa 1963.

I mentioned his high expectations. A couple years after he and mom married, he convinced mom that fame and fortune awaited in New York City. So, with high hopes and a huge portfolio (back then you lugged these things around), they packed up my sister Julie who was only a year or two old, and moved to the West side, around 78th and 11th in 1963.


I remember one day asking him why he moved to NYC, and he said he wanted to be the worlds best designer and illustrator. He wanted to do it all. He then paused for a minute of silence, and then said that reality had a different plan for him. After two years of mostly rejection, and a patient wife who was not that happy in the city, the family grew with a new baby coming into the world. He knew it was time to go back west and finish his degree at BYU and pursue his career elsewhere. We often talked of his love of NYC, and we visited the city together often, sometimes with our students. The new baby, by the way, was me.

Dad drawing in Central Park, with my cute sister Julie.
In France, with my brother Anthony and his wife Lori on a visit while he taught in Vevey.

After his college career at BYU, where he made life-long friends who continue to influence my family for good, he was off to a career that included the following:

  • Graphic Designer
    • Worked in-house corporate, freelance, ran his own agency, and did more logos and communications than I can recall. All high quality work, but if you asked him, he would rather have been painting.
    • Illustrated many books, designed typefaces, posters, etc. I don’t ever remember him being stumped as a designer. After thinking about a problem for awhile, he would sketch for a bit, and then he would layout the design. This was before digital design, so the process was slower, but the work even today is strong stuff, because his ideas were so effective. I’ll spend some time in a later blog discussing his influence on me as a designer.
    • He often moaned about the process of design, but he never complained about the people he worked with – that was his favorite part. Working with and mentoring other designers, photographers, illustrators, printers etc. he developed a large network of talented professionals. I’ve often wondered if he would have stuck with being a full time designer what heights we would have achieved. I have no doubt he would have made “the books”.
  • Artist
    • No mater what design job he was currently working on to pay the bills, he was sketching, and when he had a minute he brought out the paint.
    • Over the years he sold many paintings and drawings, and had quite a few shows of his work, especially the latter end of his life in California.
  • Educator
    • Helped found the Graphic Design program at BYU, and then spent many years at Art Center in Pasadena, where his intensive classes were famous among students. He had high expectations, and demanded it from his students, and they mostly responded. He loved his students – I can’t remember how many times I would call Mom and you could hear Dad in the background helping some student, or group of students, who needed his guidance on his famously intensive projects. Who let’s students come to their home to help them these days? It’s not surprising, because he stretched his students to the max, but he would encourage and lovingly help them along the way.
Michael Clane and Georgia Graves

As a talented creative, he could have scaled some pretty serious professional heights, if he had chosen to. But instead, he focused on being a better husband and father, while providing for his and my mom’s needs. Mom dealt with some demanding health issues that required Dad to be home often and help her out. He loved her deeply, and even though she struggled often, they would retain their humor and positive outlook. This photo summed up their marriage, being together no matter what. As today’s world often teaches that self-fulfillment is the highest goal to achieve, my Dad taught me that love, sacrifice and duty to loved ones is significantly more powerful and rewarding.

Dad passed away in January of 2017 after battling the effects of a series of strokes. I have loved going through his sketchbooks, and some of his work, seeing his mind actively seeking. From hyperrealistic drawings, to abstract compositions that are about ideas, not about the mundane or obvious. I could dedicate an entire blog for years about his work, and perhaps one day I will design a book of his work.

Here is a link to some of his work. I hope you enjoy. The breadth and depth of his work is quite an accomplishment, especially considering the vast amount of graphic design work that is not included in that portfolio.

I miss him every day, but his creative drive, his insatiable need to look at and understand the world around him lives on in me. How grateful I am for Michael Clane Graves, as a father, mentor and friend. He is missed dearly by all who knew him.

In the studio, circa 2007, Pasadena, California

Please do not download his work for personal use without my express permission.

9 thoughts on “To Those Who Came Before

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  1. I love this. Simply love it. Jules and Scott became our friends while they lived in The Netherlands. I met your parents several times and they were so special…they both influenced my life too. I love the work of your dad, the artist, but I truly love the caring, loving father…for whom his family came first.
    Treasure him. I bet everybody does who had the chance to talk to him….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent words from, and about, an excellent man. I remember MANY days spent hanging out at your parents’ house and admiring even the few pieces of your father’s work that were on display there. I see so very much of him and his style in many of your works even today. Thanks Chris!


  3. Christopher,
    Thank you for this memorial of your father. I was one of his students at BYU when there was a Design Department in the Brimhall Building. I was his student for two years and those two years were life-changing. I so appreciate what your father taught me.

    Liked by 1 person

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