When Rutherford County Manager Steve Garrison posted five photographs of his latest big cat pencil drawings on Facebook a few weeks ago, the more than 300 people commenting said they had no idea Garrison could draw. Even close friends and neighbors didn't have a clue. The drawings are amazing, many said.
Incredibly, Steve has never had art lessons, explaining he has always doodled, "Even at an early age."
A former Rutherfordton neighbor and friend, Frankie McWhorter, commented Steve could handle the tasks of being county manager, could manage a pandemic, could sing and "draw", which pleasantly surprised her as well.
Hundreds of others shared her sentiments.
Steve had rather not have any publicity about himself, but finally agreed to answer a few questions about this "hidden talent" that has been revisited over the past two years.
Steve began drawing his first big cat in 1999 and finished it around 2004.
"Family and career took precedence so I didn't pick my pencils back up until 2019," he said. Steve is pretty surprised that many years passed before he starting drawing again.
In all honestly, Steve has found therapy in drawing during COVID-19 and as he continues to battle a personal illness that struck him in May 2019 without any warning.
Steve was struck with Transverse Myelitis in May 2019 and was in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility for a month.
"Getting back into drawing served as an outlet for me during my rehabilitation period and once COVID hit, I have found that my family and I are spending more time at home and have limited our out-of-county travel," he said.
"Dealing with COVID-19 issues on top of the day-to-day county activities, I typically put in 50-plus hours per week including some Saturdays and Sundays," he said.
As time allowed, Steve would draw on Saturday and Sunday mornings when it was quiet and peaceful at his house.
"Drawing has proven to be therapeutic and a good mental health outlet for me," Garrison said.
Steve particularly enjoys drawing animals.
"I like trying to replicate their fur texture and letting their eyes tell their story," he said.
Steve said he was pleased with the way the two cheetahs, his first big cat drawing, turned out which he completed around 2004.
His second drawing was of two lions that he began in 2019 after his diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis and continued as COVID-10 became a part of life.
After the lions, Steve would draw a leopard, snow leopard and a tiger. Toward the end of November of this year, he completed his five big cat drawings that still have neighbors, friends and family holding their breath in amazement. The tiger was the fifth of his cat drawings, for now.
He has changed directions.
Early on a recent cold, winter Saturday morning, Steve said he was at the mat board, this time drawing a wolf. Quiet mornings often bring him to draw.
It's difficult to decide which is a favorite.
Steve's wife Tonya said she loves all the drawings, but her favorite is the leopard.
"The eyes of the leopard draw you into the piece. Sometimes the very thing we need is found deep inside of our own self. While tragedy and illness set us back for the most part, the events that most break us have the ability to propel us to new heights," Tonya said.
Between the couple's four children it is likely four big cats drawings will eventually be given to each of them. Right now the framed pieces are on the walls in the couple's Rutherfordton home.
Steve says he isn't interested in selling the pieces. They become too much a part of himself, he told one Facebook friend.
To bring life to the big cats Steve uses Prismacolor colored pencils and he draws on mat board, explaining mat board can sustain heavy pencil marks without tearing.