Encountering Wildlife with Artist Pat McManus
It’s a chilly morning as the sun rises over the frozen marsh. The winter air is crisp and still when a lone fox glances off into the distance, light gleaming off his orange coat above the white snow.
Gazing into a wildlife painting by Pat McManus, it’s effortless to submerge into another world.
For as long as he can remember, award-winning wildlife artist McManus has had a passion for wild animals. Back as early as elementary school, McManus began diligently drawing horses and other animals.
“I just always have been attracted to wildlife,” McManus says. “I always knew I was going to be an artist.”
McManus’ paintings take a deeper look into the natural world on various terrains, featuring numerous animals from eagles and wolves to deer and bison. As an avid hiker and outdoors-man in his home of southeast Michigan, McManus has great respect for the way animals survive in the wild.
“It’s remarkable just how they can live outdoors,” he says. “I see the deer by my house and I can’t believe how they live in the wintertime.”
McManus has traveled to many national parks in search of his subjects. Most recently, he ventured to Alaska to visit the Denali National Park and Preserve. He says it’s a privilege to capture wild scenery in some of the most beautiful places in North America.
From scouting remote locations to snapping thousands of photographs, McManus dedicates hours of work before even putting paint on a canvas. His tireless work has not gone unnoticed; McManus’ art has graced the covers of several magazines and been recognized for two prestigious awards from Paint America, including the grand prize for the 2009 Paint the Parks competition.
Before the Wild
Now an accomplished artist, the road to McManus’ success spans several decades. Attending college in 1977, McManus primarily studied graphic art, but continued taking fine art classes. McManus later worked as a photo-retoucher for an art studio that edited high-end car catalogs.
Although the automotive world is a stark contrast to the animal kingdom, McManus says his time as a photo-retoucher developed his artistic skills. Airbrushing by hand, McManus was responsible for precise color matching, a skill he found useful in his painting.
“When I started doing my artwork, it really helped me to mix my colors because I could match any color that I had to,” he says.
When computers began taking over retouching work, McManus went on to work as a graphic designer for AT&T. For the next 21 years, McManus worked as a commercial artist, but spent his free time immersed in his wildlife paintings.
Influences Behind the Paintings
Before becoming a full-time painter, McManus invested time and energy into perfecting his craft. To learn more about shooting and composing the snapshots behind his wildlife paintings, McManus joined a nature photography club where experts critiqued his photos.
“You would learn how to crop and design your work,” McManus said. “That taught me a lot about design: what was good to put into a picture, what I should crop out, different ideas of how to attack your subject matter — trying to think out of the box.”
To further his artistic talent on the canvas, McManus took art workshops with well-known artists like realist Richard Schmid and wildlife painter Tucker Smith. McManus says these artists played a huge role in guiding his artistic direction. After stumbling upon a magazine cover with artwork by Schmid, McManus was inspired to make a drastic change to the way he created his artwork.
“I had been working in acrylics and wanted to switch to oils,” McManus says. “I was using an airbrush and acrylics, and Richard’s was rich and flowing—everything I wanted my art to turn into.”
After making the switch to oil paints, McManus says he would never go back to working with acrylics.
“Oils are just for me. I love the smell of them, I love everything about them,” McManus says. “I love that they’re forgiving and if you make a mistake you can just paint over it.”
More than 15 years after the workshops, McManus says he is still learning from other artists. He frequently watches videos to learn different styles and approaches, a disciple that keeps his art fresh.
“I never want to stop learning,” McManus says. “I can learn from a younger artist and an older artist. If they have different techniques I’m open to it.”
Home at Park West
In 2014 and 2015, McManus’ paintings earned him back-to-back runner-up positions in the MI Great Artist contest held at Park West Gallery. McManus says it was an accomplishment that brought him back the gallery for another reason. During one of the MI Great Artist shows, McManus spoke with Park West Gallery founder and CEO Albert Scaglione about his artwork.
“He said, ‘Your work looks great, why don’t you bring in your paintings?'” McManus recalls. “Even though I didn’t win the show I won the night.”
McManus has been an artist with Park West since 1998, and just last year had his first art show with Park West in Alaska.
“To do this full time is a dream job,” he says.
While McManus has enjoyed the success he has experienced as an artist, he says his fulfillment comes from his paintings themselves.
“I’ve attacked every canvas with a thankful heart and I’m hoping that they’ll see that in my work,” McManus says. “No matter what I’m painting, as long as I’m painting with my heart, I think it will be a successful piece and not just painting for painting’s sake.”
To see more from McManus, visit his work on Park West Gallery’s website.