GCU professor draws connection with people
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
There’s a joy in Michael Feather’s artwork, vibrant with squiggly, inky, watercolor-y movement.
But most of all there’s life in his ink-and-watercolor pieces.
Take his sketch of a seafoam green, classic 1961 MG. It’s somehow happy looking – as happy looking as a classic car can be – in all its chrome-y, seafoam greenness.
Or take his colorful, postcard-worthy ink-and-watercolor of a street corner view of Postino’s restaurant in downtown Gilbert, the covered patio shading the lunch crowd as the skinny-legged Gilbert water tower lords over the bouquet of green trees, parked cars, yellow sidewalk umbrellas and diners below.
Or his images of rusty-colored and red barns, roosters, people and even a men’s basketball game, complete with Havocs aplenty packing the stands at Grand Canyon University, where Feather works as an online full-time faculty member teaching first-year English composition.
Feather took to the streets during the pandemic and rediscovered his love of art – a love he developed more than 25 years ago.
“I was really struggling – I don’t know if this was true for you,” Feather said of shutting himself off from the world during COVID-19, as most people did. “It was wonderful to be able to work from home throughout the whole pandemic, and yet it felt very constricting.”
At the time, Feather had delved deep into the novel he was writing, and even when COVID-19 restrictions eased a bit, all he saw was negative things.
“The novel is on demon possession and a variety of things related to that,” said Feather, who has a seminary degree. “I struggled, especially as the pandemic hit, with just keeping my thoughts clear and actually seeing good in the world.”
That’s when a friend of his who knew he was not in the best place asked him, “You know, have you ever thought about going back to drawing?” That stuck with him, so one day he picked up some paints and decided to see what would happen.
“As I started to draw, I recognized that it actually helped me to see beauty again. It calmed my brain down. It calmed my thoughts down to the point that I could actually function well.”
Since then, he has worked on his art just about every day, particularly after discovering a group online called Urban Sketchers. The global community of artists, from 336 cities in 60 countries, is dedicated to the practice of on-location drawing. As their motto goes, they share their love for the places they live and travel, one drawing at a time.
Feather does most of his ink-and-watercolors from Gilbert, Arizona, where he lives.
His associate and bachelor’s degrees are in advertising, design and illustration. As he was rounding the corner to the finish line of his bachelor’s degree, he took an animation course “and fell in love with it.”
One of his animation instructors had a studio in Syracuse, New York, where he was living at the time, so Feather started working with him.
“Animation was the first thing where I thought, ‘Hey, I could actually make a living doing art.’”
So he and his wife decided to move to the Phoenix area, where Fox Animation Studios was then located.
He started working for a small animation studio here while he tried to land a job at Fox – and he thought he just might realize that dream after a friend who worked with him at that small studio was hired by Fox as a computer animator.
“So he calls me up. We get together and he says, ‘OK, I think we can get you in now, so why don’t you apply again?’ He takes me up and gives me a tour of the whole studio, and as I’m going around – this is 25 years ago – this is 8 o’clock at night, because we’d gone out to dinner and gone back to the studio afterward – I noticed a lot of the animators were still at their desks.”
That’s when Feather asked himself, “Do I really want to do this?”
In the end, he didn’t.
At the time, he had started moving away from animation and toward studying Scripture, eventually earning his seminary degree.
“As a result, I kind of dropped all art,” said Feather, who has done a bit of everything, from serving as a prison chaplain to a pastor and, most recently, teaching English.
He was hired at GCU to teach University Success, which helps develop students’ learning strategies, as well as some Christian worldview. But at the same time, he also was earning his master’s degree in English to help him as he wrote his novel. That’s when GCU moved him to the English Department.
Feather believes he came full circle as he reconnected with art, the passion that originally brought him to Phoenix.
Gilbertonians often see him seated in a chair, his ink pens and watercolor brushes in hand, on a sidewalk under the Arizona sun, sketching those restaurants, hustle-and-bustle corner scenes, landmark buildings, assortment of people and the like. The goal of this type of plein air painting, Feather said, is to draw from life.
Since he started drawing again, he has filled three sketchbooks – you can view his work on 13 Colors Art on Facebook and Instagram – and joined in various art challenges, such as drawing 100 sketches of people in a week.
He also has started doing commissions of restaurants, pets and the like and has started selling his work.
His art on Facebook or Instagram has gotten responses of this nature: “Please keep doing this because it’s actually a nice thing to have in my feed with all of the fighting and things that are going on constantly.”
A post of his drawing of Postino’s on the Go Gilbert Facebook page racked up a slew of likes and comments, and he met a neighbor who saw his painting of that 1961 MG – it’s his grandfather’s vehicle – on the Go Gilbert page. That neighbor was driving by, saw him painting another scene of Gilbert, made a U-turn, pulled over and started talking to him about seeing the work on social media.
Being outside, soaking up the sun and creating art also has helped him connect with people in ways he never has before.
“What I found is that people come out to me while I’m out there and talk to me,” he said. “I’m kind of an introvert by nature, so it’s not like I would naturally be going out and talking to a bunch of people. But just by doing this, people are intrigued from all walks of life.
“Guys that would never have spent any time with me (otherwise) come up to me and talk to me about the drawings, so it’s just been a great bridge for me to also engage with people and talk to them.”
After all the darkness of COVID, Feather slowly has stepped into the light.
“It’s just been a wonderful switch.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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