Michael Petersen learned how to ride a motorcycle when he was just 4 years old.
It was one of his favorite activities with his father growing up in Ephrata, a small town in Eastern Washington, and he quickly adopted his dad’s motto: “Lean forward and give it full throttle — all of your trouble will be behind you.”
As he matured, Petersen was surprised to learn that not only did he inherit his father’s mechanical mindset and need for speed, but he also is a talented artist like his mother. In fact, he still remembers the day he learned he could draw. He was 11 years old and signed up for art as an elective because he had a crush on the teacher, Mrs. Anderson. On the first day of class, he realized that he could draw a lot more than just stick figures.
As a teenager and young adult, Petersen followed in his father’s footsteps and learned the ins and outs of repairing cars. In 1994, he opened Petersen’s Automotive, a car repair shop specializing in foreign and domestic models, in Port Angeles, where his family went camping when he was a child.
As he focused on building the business, Petersen fell out of the art scene completely. For almost 14 years, he didn’t so much as to pick up a piece of charcoal. But in 2002, after separating from his wife, Petersen allowed himself to rediscover art.
Specializing in motorcycles, Petersen practically “fell into” the chance to draw portraits of famous riders and get paid for it. He was at a motorcycle race and was standing in line to meet Jeremy McGrath. Hoping to please the talented motorcyclist, Petersen brought a drawing he did of the champion rider to give to him.
Never in his wildest dreams did Petersen expect McGrath to sign 200 copies of the drawing and allow him to sell them in exchange for a custom-made Christmas card or to introduce him to his agent. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
“He was my idol, so it was a lot of fun,” Petersen said about McGrath. “I’m still close friends with the entire family.”
Since that fateful day, Petersen has done work for several of the major motocross magazines, an aviation art gallery in Laguna Beach, Calif., fashion models in the L.A. area, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse James, Kid Rock, Greg Fox and others. He’ll soon begin drawing for NASCAR, starting with a portrait of Jeff Gordon.
In an effort to expand his art business, Petersen is working with an agent to draw portraits of celebrities and their children. His first subject is Catherine Bell, an actress on the Lifetime network television series “Army Wives.” A portion of the sales proceeds are being donated to Narconon and Criminon, drug and criminal rehabilitation, reform and prevention programs.
Petersen admits that when he first started meeting celebrities he was a little star struck. Not anymore, though.
“After meeting them and working with them, I have found that most of them are just good down-to-earth people who put their pants on ‘one leg at a time,’” Petersen said. “I don’t really consider myself very special (either), just an average guy who has been blessed by God, has been in the right place at the right time and has been very lucky.”
As a result of his artistic career, Petersen travels a lot — mostly to California. He has a condo near Glendale and recently bought an airplane hanger in the Port Angeles/Sequim area to make traveling quicker and easier.
Though he enjoys his time in the California sun mingling with celebrities, home always will be on the North Olympic Peninsula, Petersen said.
Between the car repair business in Port Angeles and his children and grandchildren in Sequim, his roots are firmly planted in the area.
Plus, he loves spending Sunday mornings with his friends and family at the King’s Way Foursquare Church, Petersen added, and he wants to get more involved in community politics and the chamber of commerce.
“The people I’ve been able to meet because of my art, and the experiences I’ve had, are amazing,” Petersen said.
“But it hasn’t gone to my head and it won’t ever.”