As I walk through the Whole Foods checkout line with a to-go container from the hot bar, a slice of cornbread and two bottles of Buchi kombucha, a mass-produced coloring bookdubbed “A Soul Bird’s Journey” sits on the stand in front of me. I look over at artist Phil Cheney, who has been yo-yoing the idea of making one of his own and laugh, handing it to him to take a look. As a friend and supporter of his work, I was apparently one of the many straws to break the stenciled black and white camel’s back (you know, the one waiting to be colored by you).
Since the coloring book craze took over the covers of women’s magazines as the latest doctor-approved way to lower anxiety and ease depression early last year, Cheney has received hundreds of requests for one inked specially from his pen. Apparently he was getting requests even before this adult-approved and doctor-recommended hype began. As a 25-year artist who moved to Western North Carolina from Delray Beach, Florida as a small child, he’s been drawing and painting ever since he can remember. It runs in the family: his mother, artist Judith Cheney did it, and continues to, as her mother did before her.
“What inspired me to be an artist?” he repeats my question back to me. “Originally it was just the least expensive way to keep me occupied and from being a pain in my mom’s butt while she was trying to do her artwork,” he laughs. “Instead of putting me into a daycare of having a nanny, I was just given art supplies and made messes with those in the studio on the floor trying to keep busy.”
He carried that with him into Hendersonville High School, where he realized subjects like science and math didn’t appeal to him as much as artistic endeavors. So he worked on the school paper as an art editor, made t-shirts, decorated the hallway bulletin boards and helped create sets for many of the school plays. “I just took every art thing you could take because I realized it was genetic for me and not something easy to escape.”