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On the wild side

Kenai artist 'drawn' to new business idea

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001

Postcards and greeting cards often present messages of cheer to loved ones throughout the world. With an artistic flair, one area resident has created unique, Alaska cards that add a rustic touch to the messages that await inside.

Kenai resident Michael R. Keeney's pen and ink drawings of Alaska wildlife are featured on cards sold in various stores on the Kenai Peninsula.

"People just love them," said Tootie, Michael's wife who has been marketing the product to peninsula stores for the past two months.

The cards are sold in two sizes as singles or in packages of eight with four images. Michael has created 15 drawings in all, and there is a variety of animals in each pack, including sea life, land mammals and birds.

After the cards are printed, the Keeneys hand score the cards before packaging. They recently joined the "Made in Alaska" program and display the stickers proudly on each pack.

Michael's artistic interests started in grade school and carried through his teens. Like most children, he recalls drawing dinosaurs, but his interest in animals evolved later, in his early teens, when he drew animals his father, a wood carver, would transform into wooden replicas of Michael's images.

 

The features of a sea otter are captured in Keeney's orginial drawing. The otter is one of 15 images of wild life featured on Keeney's greeting cards and post cards.

Photo by SARA SMITH

Similar to many with a natural talent, drawing seems to come easy to Michael.

"I have always been good at art, but I never really worked at it," he said.

He said he is a bit shy and does not always have confidence in his own work.

"I always think it is not good enough," he said, adding he often finds his work inadequate.

However, Michael said his wife inspires him to produce art.

"She gets me going and makes me work. She has so much enthusiasm."

 

Various cards of Keeney's are displayed here. The cards come in different colors and are sold separately or in packs of eight with three different themes. A pack of cards is shown at the bottom right.

Photo by SARA SMITH

Tootie was the one who started Michael in drawing wildlife when she was working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage. Bear biologist Sterling Miller asked him to draw pictures of various bear species for a publication. Michael provided sketches for the job and Tootie began adding smaller sketches to various faxes, brochures and postcards for Fish and Game.

Michael also painted murals on a restaurant and on Fish and Game walls in Anchorage.

After the interest was shown in his wildlife artwork, the postcard idea came to the couple.

However, not much came of the idea because the couple relocated from Anchorage to Kenai when Bailey's Furniture opened in Soldotna. Before moving to Kenai, he managed stores in Anchorage.

Between the move, building a new home and setting up the new store, the progress on marketing the cards was interrupted.

Now, between work and enjoying summer days in Kenai, Michael has to make time to draw. When he does find time, he makes the most of it.

He creates his images by looking at photographs of animals. He also has gained inspiration by studying animals that have been preserved by taxidermy and also by traveling to the Alaska SeaLife Center to watch them.

"Seeing them in the pictures does not show how they move," he said about the sea lions at the center. "They are so graceful."

In the beginning, Michael sketched the image and shaded in various areas. Today, he uses pointillism, a method of applying small dots on a surface to create an image. While he likes creating in this manner, he admits it takes a significant amount of time.

A harbor seal drawing that he had been working on has taken him more than 40 hours, and he said he still has about 10 hours to go until it's finished.

However, the time is worth it. A marketing company is looking to sell his cards in larger stores next summer, as well as marketing the artwork on mugs and T-shirts.

Yet wildlife is not the extent of Michael's talent. He also draws people and pets. He will take jobs to draw pets for people, but warns that may take some time because of his work schedule. In the past he also designed and made wooden toys for a toy shop he owned in California.

Michael has not taken any formal art training. He said he started taking a painting class at the University of Alaska Anchorage but had to move to Kenai halfway through it. On his cards, he is noted as a self-taught artist.

With the success of his cards, Michael admits he would like to make a living at drawing. As he puts it, drawing as a hobby is just so hard.

"When I am sitting down doing my artwork, hours just fly by," he said.



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