EC alumnus Jonathan Shirey’s love of art began with watercolor and oil painting in high school art classes. At first, he saw art as a just a hobby he was good at. Then, one of his teachers showed him it could be more.
“My high school teachers gave me freedom,” Jonathan (’99) remembers. “They’d give me art projects that I needed to complete but they didn’t give me a timeline. Their instruction was to finish by the end of the semester. That allowed me the freedom to pursue different techniques.”
This freedom also allowed Jonathan to tap into his creativity, resulting in recognition both in his district-wide art show and at the state level in Washington.
At 17 years old, Jonathan was saved and he sensed a calling on his life that wasn’t obviously art-related. “Trying to figure out what to do with my painting at the time was a challenge,” he recalls. “Some art schools showed interest in me, but I didn’t pursue them because I wanted to pursue the Lord.”
“Some art schools showed interest in me, but I didn’t pursue them because I wanted to pursue the Lord.”
Jonathan knew that he had given his life to the Lord and that the Lord would guide him down the right path. That path led him to Emmanuel College, where several of his family members had attended.
After his freshman year at Emmanuel, Jonathan set aside art to pursue a path of ministry abroad. But his talent for painting was not forgotten.
“My parents didn’t want me to let my art die. When I went home for breaks, there’d be art supplies conspicuously laid out in the house,” he says. “After a while, they stopped. But now I wish I had listened to them.”
At Emmanuel, Jonathan grew spiritually.
“I grew a lot in my first two years, in particular,” he remembers. “Just being in an environment where faith was encouraged was great for me. I loved Chapel because I heard from the Lord and experienced His presence. It was a key time in my life.”
“Just being in an environment where faith was encouraged was great for me. I loved Chapel because I heard from the Lord and experienced His presence.
“My final year at EC was difficult. I experienced a lot of doubts about my faith,” he recollects. Professor Sallie Krickel and Jackson Hall RD Betty Webb provided essential encouragement to Jonathan’s faith journey in that season.
While his faith grew at Emmanuel, his involvement in art was stagnant. And there it remained for 20 years.
In 2016, while on a brief trip to the U.S. from abroad for the first time in many years, Jonathan felt inspired to paint. He painted that night while his family slept.
“The next morning, I remember my wife saying she couldn’t believe I had this ability that I hadn’t used during our entire marriage,” Jonathan says. “She was kind of annoyed with me that I wasn’t using a gift the Lord had given me.”
While traveling in the U.S. over the next couple of months, Jonathan took time to paint most nights, seeing what he could recall from high school.
Within a year, his passion for painting renewed. In late 2017, Jonathan began praying about art.
He says, “I sensed the Lord speaking through worship, devotions, and prayer. He challenged me on all the assumptions I had ever made about art—how it fit into my life and how it merged with my calling. The Lord reminded me that the only thing holding me back was myself and the decisions I had made years before to set art aside.”
After this realization, Jonathan made the decision to give his art to the Lord. Instead of a fun diversion, it became a discipline.
Jonathan made the decision to give his art to the Lord. Instead of a fun diversion, it became a discipline.
Now, he works to improve his art and maintain an up-to-date portfolio of paintings. He enters national and international competitions to improve and develop his reputation as an artist and to nurture his growth in art.
How have Jonathan’s travels inspired his art?
“During those years I stepped away from painting, I picked up photography,” he says. “Like painting, good photography is about observation and composition. I now have an amazing gallery of 50,000-60,000 images that are my intellectual property. I have a huge library I can pull from for inspiration.”
While other artists, especially wildlife artists, may never go out into the field to shoot their own reference images, Jonathan feels privileged to be equipped with his own compositional work from which to paint.
“I have a library of images from all the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen,” he said. “What a bonus that I get to relive the memories as I paint them.”
As his reputation as an artist grows, Jonathan is eager to take on new challenges, including submitting his work to more prestigious national and international exhibitions and competitions.
Jonathan maintains membership in the National Watercolor Society, the Southwestern Watercolor Society, the Arizona Watercolor Association, and the Sonoran Arts League.
His recent honors include selection by jury into the Southwestern Watercolor Society Member’s Exhibition (2019), selection by jury into the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition (2019), and inclusion in Splash 20: Creative Compositions, a well-known international competition and publication.
Today, while also dedicating himself to art, Jonathan serves in ministry as the Outreach Director at Grace Community Church in Tempe, Arizona, where he oversees local and international outreach.