Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wildlife painter featured in state annual

Telegram Staff Writer

For her, painting is as easy as looking out the window.
In fact, that's the first step for artist Nancy McGowan of Little River-Academy.
She looks out the window of her art studio for inspiration.
'I like watching for plants, birds and other animals,' Mrs. McGowan said. 'I like to paint anything that's native to Texas.'
Her goal is to show realistic beauty. She matches the color schemes and sizes of her subjects to live models.
'I like to get things precise,' she said.
Her dedication and passion won her some recognition from the Texas Ornithological Society. The organization selected three of her water-color paintings for publication in its statewide December 2008 annual.
'It was a T-shirt contest they did for a fundraiser,' Mrs. McGowan said. 'They asked for drawings and paintings from us members, and the winning one was printed on a T-shirt and the cover of the annual.'
Mrs. McGowan won with a painting of an Altamira Oriole, a bird known for its orange and yellow colorings. That's the one the Society selected for the T-shirt design and cover print.
'Her work is outstanding,' said Jack Eitniear, editor of Texas Ornithological Society publications. 'The paintings she submitted show fine detail. I'd say she's one of the top bird artists of the state of Texas.' Eitniear plans to publish some of her work in a book he's writing about the birds of Mexico.
The T-shirts with Mrs. McGowan's design are available for purchase at Those wanting to make an order should click on the 'In Depth' tab and call one of the organization's listed officers or directors.
The other two McGowan paintings that were featured in the Society annual were of a green King Fischer and the other a black-capped Vireo. They were printed on pages 64 and 65 of the annual alongside a profile of Mrs. McGowan that discussed her career as an artist for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
'This is such a great accomplishment for (Mrs. McGowan),' said artist Andy Phair of Temple, a fellow painter. 'She's got such wonderful skill, and I'm glad she won.'
Mrs. Phair knows Mrs. McGowan through the Bell Fine Arts Association, a club of local artists that meets 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday at 306 E. Fifth St. in Belton.
'We treasure her advice and love to watch her paint,' Mrs. Phair said. 'And she's a great resource for other painters.'
To explain, Mrs. Phair said Mrs. McGowan has kept files of every painting she's ever done. The files contain notes on how she painted them and any research she did on the subject.
'Those make wonderful blueprints for the rest of us,' Mrs. Phair said. 'There was one time when I needed to know how to paint a rock ledge, and I was struggling with it. So I told (Mrs. McGowan) about it, and the next time I saw her, she brought me her file on it.'
The file contained specifics on color, size and shape.
'It helped me get everything right,' Mrs. Phair said. 'She helped me out again when I worked on a painting of a Texas Longhorn. She had a file on that too.'
When Mrs. McGowan paints birds, she studies dead ones to be able to recreate realistic images.
'I make sketches of roadkills, cat calamities and the ones that hit the car windshield,' Mrs. McGowan said. 'That way I know the measurements of the beak and all the feathers, and I can draw everything without being rushed.'
Once completed, these sketches become index cards. They serve as reference materials for information about the birds she paints.
That's a trick she taught to members of the Bell Fine Arts Association.
'One time, she brought in a dead bird to teach us a painting lesson,' Mrs. Phair said. 'The rest of us went 'Yuck' for a while, but what she said really made sense. It helps you capture a lot of details.'
It's not about being morbid.
'I do it to preserve the beauty of nature,' Mrs. McGowan said. 'There's no sense in the dead birds going to waste.'

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