GILBERT, Ariz. — When walking in downtown Gilbert, if you’re not looking around, you might not notice sitting in a chair off to the side of the sidewalk an artist, sketching and painting away.
“It’s really about seeing the beauty in a building which we don’t really typically think of as beautiful,” Michael Feather said.
Feather picks different spots to urban sketch, complete with a small pack of watercolors, brushes, pens, and small notebooks.
One of his sketchbooks is filled with scenes from around the Valley and travels Feather has taken.
“I started to draw again in September,” Feather said.
While he teaches English at Grand Canyon University now, Feather said it was 25 years ago he was pursuing becoming an animator.
But, life took different twists and turns. Feather said it was the pandemic, and working on a novel that brought him back.
“I was struggling and I was also writing a novel that was kind of dark and challenging in a lot of different ways and so in the process I just felt like I was just having a harder time seeing good, seeing positive things,” Feather said.
It was a question from a friend that prompted so much more.
“A friend of mine knew I had done art years and years ago, and said, ‘Have you thought about trying that again?’” Feather said.
It started with acrylics, which Feather said he wasn’t super happy with. In a short online course he found, the instructor encouraged students to get outside and sketch.
So, after about a month or so, he did.
“The joy that I’m able to have as a result of just being out here and doing this has really calmed my brain down, giving me an opportunity to actually look for joy look for things,” Feather said.
Then Feather posted his work for his friends on social media.
“What I kept hearing was 'keep doing this because it’s so encouraging to have something positive in our Facebook feed,'” Feather said.
Feather then decided to share it with a wider Facebook audience and began posting his work in a public group.
“That really opened my eyes that this could be something encouraging for other people and not just for me,” Feather said.
It’s a process Feather goes through to make his works of art come to life. He rough sketches first in pencil, then puts down ink out of a fountain pen, then begins laying down layers upon layers of vibrant watercolor.
In all, it takes him about two to three hours to finish a piece.
But it’s when the color starts to go on the page, Feather notices people stop to talk with him and look at his work.
On Wednesday as he worked on a piece portraying Petersen’s Ice Cream and Café, several people did just that, complimenting his work, and asking about it too.
“Part of this and the joy of this for me is coming out and getting to know people,” Feather said.
While Feather said he remembers the imperfections and challenges of the art he’s created over the past few months, it’s the feelings, the atmosphere and the joy he feels that sticks with him.
“I think my family would tell you that I’m more calm, a better person when I’ve been out drawing,” Feather, who’s married and has two teenage kids, said.
He hopes others might too stop to see the beauty, the joy and positivity around them.
“It seems like we would be able to care for one another and do an awful lot of those things if we just took a look at what was right in front of us,” Feather said.
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