How Pat McManus Captures Rare Moments in His Wildlife Paintings

 In Art & Gallery News, Articles, Artists & Special Collections, Pat McManus

Wildlife artist Pat McManus captures a moment in time through his incredible landscape paintings. Although both an avid photographer and hiker, McManus’ life-like paintings are not simply recreations of photos from his explorations. To finish just one of his works of art, McManus compiles hundreds of photographs, scouts numerous locations and ultimately puts together a scene from both his imagination and the world around him.

"Twilight Hunters Study" (2016) Pat McManus

“Twilight Hunters Study” (2016), Pat McManus

Scouring the Wild

For McManus, painting wildlife is neither a career or a hobby: it’s a lifestyle. At least four days a week, McManus drives to different outdoor locations surrounding his Michigan home in search of inspiration. With the company of his dog, McManus stops to take photographs of rolling landscapes, snowy scenes or beautiful blossoms.

“Within a half-mile of my house, I can see white-tail deer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, all kinds of waterfowls and birds,” McManus says. “So, when I’m walking, I’m thinking of new ideas.”

McManus’ outdoor excursions are not limited to his hometown. He has traveled to several national parks and gone as far as Alaska in search of natural landscapes and wild animals.

To know where and when to search for certain animals and settings, McManus has acquired an extensive wildlife knowledge. He says his paintings are a cumulation of his love of the outdoors, inspiration from nature and his artistic vision.

“Reflections of Alaska” (2018), Pat McManus

Perfect Placement

To create the ideal scenes portrayed in his paintings of nature, McManus has compiled thousands of photographs from his journeys.

“I constantly build my reference files,” McManus says. “Once you have an idea in mind, then you have to back it up with reference. The more reference you can have the better.”

During his frequent walks, McManus will often find inspiration when he stumbles upon a perfect natural setting. After taking several photos, McManus will begin to paint the scene in his mind.

McManus then uses his wide-ranging photographic archive to place his subjects into their habitat. To capture the demeanor of just one animal, McManus often uses dozens of photographs as a point of reference. Whether it’s the position of the animal or the lighting where the photo was taken, McManus will use as many photographs as it takes to craft his subject.

When it comes to his future projects, McManus never knows where he will find his inspiration next.

“It’s a combination of a lot of different things,” McManus says. “The idea might come one day but the actual painting could come a year later when everything fits together.”

“Sky High” (2019), Pat McManus

Rework and Revisit

As a Realist artist, McManus is the definition of a perfectionist. Once his painting is complete, it is still not officially finished. McManus packs up his things, mounts his paintings and takes two weeks to “live with it” in his home.

“I’ll take a few days off and not look at it, and then I come back to it,” McManus says.

To ensure his satisfaction with his work, McManus photographs the painting, downloads it to his computer and reverses the image to see if any shapes or angles “bother” him.

“Home Alone” (2017), Pat McManus

“I’ll go back into the painting, even though I thought it was finished, and I’ll fix those little details up,” McManus says. “It’s amazing how just that little change at the end can really bring the piece to a conclusion.”

When it comes to the collectors who enjoy McManus’ paintings, he wants them to know just how much thought, research and time goes into each work of art.

“I hope that they take time to stop and realize that we live in a beautiful world,” McManus says.

He believes his paintings can offer peace to busy individuals by bringing the outdoors indoors.

“When you get home from a stressful drive from work, you can come back and look at a painting and look at a mountain peak and see a mountain goat on it and realize that the world’s bigger than a traffic jam,” he says.


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