by Yolanda Wysocki
Mary McCarty was the featured artist in the Winter 2014 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions. Seeing Mary’s drawings, I was delighted by the skill, excellence and the wonderful restraint in use of color. I was curious to learn more about the artist who created them. Although she has taken numerous art classes throughout her life, I was surprised that Mary never went to art school. Meeting in Starbucks one summer afternoon, we chatted about her journey and the well-earned successes she has experienced recently. –Yolanda Wysocki
Yolanda Wysocki: What got you started in art?
Mary McCarty: In fourth grade, I had rheumatic fever, and in those days – I am pushing 80 – you were on complete bed rest. I was allowed one visitor a week. I couldn’t even listen to most of my radio programs because they thought excitement was bad for you. My sister-in-law showed me how to draw simple pictures, so mostly I drew dresses for my dolls but that’s how I started. When I was nine, I couldn’t believe it – my parents were very strict – but my mother let me paint this scene on the bathroom wall with swans and water lilies in oils. Then I was always doing something with my hands. I knit, weave, spin; I’ve done pottery … you name it, I’ve done it. As an adult, I was the artist for two tool companies. I taught classes for them and traveled with them; I demonstrated uses for their tools in booths at national shows.
YW: So art has been part of your life for a very long time.
MM: Yes, but I never really made much money at it. I raised four children by myself, so to earn money I became a psychiatric nurse, and later an administrator of a retirement home. I have always done art but mostly for myself.
YW: When did you start doing these detailed drawings?
MM: I signed up for a watercolor class about four years ago, and was told to bring a photo of something I wanted to paint – I brought a photo of a sunflower – and to draw it the size I would paint it. I had never done details in my watercolor painting before, but surprisingly I knew exactly how to make the proportions, every detail, do the shading … it was like magic! Everyone else had gone on to watercolor but I spent the rest of the six-week class still drawing that sunflower; I was thrilled with the new realization that I could draw! All my paintings before were nice, nothing exceptional, but this was magical, like a gift that was waiting to be used.
By accident, I discovered a way of shading. All my shading is done with tiny circles … it was natural for me to do it that way. Then, after doing a few drawings, it started feeling like they needed a bit of color so I started adding bits. Every time I put some color in it, I get terrified, afraid I will ruin it. I am working hard to improve.
But I just followed my instincts. It became my signature style but none of this was planned or thought out. Now people recognize my pieces and remember me.
YW: How long does a drawing take?
MM: It takes 40-60 hours. I go to the Portland Nursery or Fred Meyer and buy a plant. I always feel sad because I know this plant is going to give its life for art. I take it apart, looking for all the details. I have learned so much about every plant I have ever drawn. I really enjoy that part of it as well.
YW: What is your favorite drawing you have done?
MM: I did a very large narrow one of Chinese lanterns. It’s the only one I have ever done that I have never felt any need to do anything more to it. I really wish I could have kept it.
YW: You sold that one?
MM: Yes. Early on I decided that everything I did I would sell. Anything I really, really want to keep I put a higher price on it (laughter). The only three I wouldn’t sell are the sunflower the very first drawing I ever did, and the ones that were chosen for this book, Strokes of Genius.
They accepted two of my drawings including “Geranium” … I’m so excited. When I found out, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.
YW: Will you be in the Art of the Pearl coming up?
MM: No I was in a small gallery downtown; the owner loved me and she said to me, “Mary you could really be a hit here in the Pearl if you made your work a little edgy.” (laughter) Now how do you make a botanical drawing edgy? What do you do, make a little skull on it?
YW: You’ve been in numerous shows and the city of Tualatin recently bought one of your drawings, Zinnias. You take your art very seriously. Some people do it for the meditative quality and pleasure it brings them, but you take it more seriously than that.
MM: Yes, I do. For some reason I feel I was meant to do something with this drawing gift. It is such a joy and pleasure. It was like someone handed me a present and said, now do something with it. I want my drawings to be as beautiful and detailed as I can make them.
I am very fortunate. I have found something I love. I have 20/20 eyesight, a very steady hand, and at my age I am very lucky. I am very grateful; it’s such a pleasure and a joy that people like my work. You can always do it for yourself, but there is an added pleasure when you can share it and someone enjoys it almost as much as you did when you were creating it. I love it when they really look at it, and start noticing the little details.
My collectors don’t want me to, but I do want to make a change in my drawings; I don’t know what yet but I’d like to experiment again; it’s been a long time.
(YW: On our way out of the coffee shop, we pass a shop window with antique children’s clothes hanging in the window.)
MM: Those would make great drawings, not everything works in black and white but these would. I wonder if the owner would let me come and draw these.
(YW: I could see the wheels turning )
Mary McCarty’s art has been in numerous juried shows including Celebration of Creativity in Beaverton, Oregon; Portland 5; and the Hood River Gallery. She has won many prizes including Art Splash, Best of Show. Her work was chosen for a highly competitive book of drawings, Strokes of Genius, coming out in November 2014. McCarty also juried into the Bush Art show in Salem, honoring the work of David Douglas, the first botanical artist of the Northwest.
Yolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for more than 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.