Interview by Kelly Groce
Where are you from and when did you start painting?
I was born in Victoria, Texas on December 22, 1943, a war baby. The Texas Gulf Coast was my domain. The warm waters of Matagorda Bay became my playground. My mother says, “Les was born in the water with a shotgun in one hand and a rod and reel in the other”. In 1954, when my grandmother died, the family moved from Victoria to Port O’Connor. I was 11 years old.
I started painting when I was in the sixth grade. As most artists starting out, I painted in oils and pencil sketches. One evening after a day of hunting, having finished dinner, I decided to sketch one of the ducks I had seen that day, a Pintail launching itself off the water into flight. I guess I was being too quiet and my mother came in and saw what I was doing. She looked at the scene I was sketching in colored pencil and said, “I didn’t know you could do that”. I said I didn’t either. She went back to the kitchen and I went back to my sketching.
In junior high school, I started entering local art competitions in the mall and the county fair. I immediately started winning awards and placing in competitions. I did take a few painting classes when I was in the 8th grade. The lady lived 19 miles away in Seadrift, so it was a chore getting to her class. There were no art classes in my high school in Port Lavaca, Texas. My senior year I was the editor of our high school yearbook. So, art was in my blood from the start. Then it was off to college where I majored in Commercial Art. I graduated near the top of major. I then went to Houston and got a job right off the bat as a production artist in one of the top advertising agencies. I was in advertising for almost 20 years.
I continued to paint, but mainly in oils. My studio was in a bedroom at our home. Without good ventilation, the oils, turpentine, linseed oil, etc. was driving me nuts. I made the decision to try another medium, watercolor. I immediately fell in love with it. It was so light and fresh, and you could do so many things with it. I never went back to oil paints. I find that you can do more with watercolor than all other mediums combined. You can paint drool, scratch, dab, mop, salt, plus a wide variety of other techniques. I mainly paint in high detail.
Watercolor is now my passion. I concentrate more on the outdoors, wildlife, birds, landscapes, seascapes, and sporting art. I do paint lots of birds, mainly from the coast. I like capturing their color, their action, their moods, and their subtle mannerisms.
I find myself working on several pieces at a time. Sometimes it’s out of necessity of having to let a piece dry, so I go work on something else for a while. I did try teaching classes for a while, but I found it to constraining on my time. I have done a couple of workshops, but that way I’m done in a week.
Many honors and awards have come my way down through the years. I was the Sponsor Print Artist for Texas Ducks Unlimited in 1992-’93, and Artist of the Year in 1993-94. Also, Artist of the Year for Waterfowl U.S.A. in 1990, 1991 and 1996, and the Sponsor Print Artist in 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2002, Les was selected by Quail Unlimited as the stamp print artist for 2002, and The Dove Sportsman’s Society stamp print artist for 2003. I am in several art galleries and have exhibited with many of the nation’s top artists in national wildlife art shows across the country. Some of these shows include: The Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland, The National Wildlife Art Show in Kansas City, Kansas, The Southeastern Wildlife Expo in Charleston, South Carolina, Nature Works in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Florida Wildlife Expo in Orlando, Florida.
My painting “Alaska Crab Traps” has received honors everywhere I have entered it. It was a 5-month obsession where it was the only thing I worked on. I shot the original photo 20 years ago in Cordova Harbor in Alaska. I would run across that photo and say to myself, “One of these days I’m going to paint that thing”, so I did, and it was worth every minute. Getting into the American Watercolor Society International Show is a great honor. Hopefully there will be more to come.
How did you get into painting wildlife and nature?
I guess growing up in Port O’Connor. I was surrounded with wildlife. Ducks, fishing and hunting, it was all my passion.
What is your favorite fish to catch?
Speckled trout is my favorite of all. There was an old man, Mr. Bradshaw, that had an old rowboat tied to a stake in the bay. He would fish almost every day and take his fish to Clark’s Seafood and sell them for $.10 a pound. We started fishing together. He taught me a lot. Many times I would give him my fish to sell. He taught me how to tie knots and rig spoons. A silver spoon with a yellow bucktail and a trailer about 10” long with a treble hook and a white bucktail. We caught at lot of trout.
Where do you mostly fish and with who?
I fish a lot with Hollis Forrester out of Sargent in East Matagorda Bay. Also with Steve Hillman out of Topwater Grill in San Leon in the Galveston Bay system.
Where can our readers purchase and enjoy your artwork?
My work is currently available on my website www.lesmcdonald.com. My artwork is displayed in some galleries such as Port Aransas Art Center, Lattitude’s Gallery in Rockport and the Gallery at Round Top. Also, they may come by my studio in Houston. They just need to call first and set a time. I’m in and out.
How long have you been partnering with Laguna Madre Clothing Co.?
Just in the last month. Taylor is very excited I’m with his program. My pelican piece “Taking Flight” is featured on one of his performance fishing shirts.
Do you work with any organizations or foundations that you would like to tell our readers about?
I am a big supporter of many charities and conservation organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited, Coastal Conservation Association, Quail Unlimited, Waterfowl U.S.A, and many others. I was the Texas Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year in 1993-94, and my print “Pintail Pair” was featured in all the Texas chapter banquets as well as on all the program covers. I was also a Sponsor Print Artist for Texas Ducks Unlimited in 1992-93. I’ve been the Artist of the Year for Waterfowl U.S.A. in 1990, 1991 and 1996, and the Sponsor Print Artist in 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2002, I was selected by Quail Unlimited as the stamp print artist for 2002, and The Dove Sportsman’s Society stamp print artist for 2003.
Any other news or info you would like to share?
I get the opportunity to showcase in national wildlife art shows across the country. Some of these shows include: The Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland, The National Wildlife Art Show in Kansas City, Kansas, The Southeastern Wildlife Expo in Charleston, South Carolina, Nature Works in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Florida Wildlife Expo in Orlando, Florida.
For me, there is nothing more important than being in the great outdoors. It’s the inspiration that generates my desire to paint. When I’m not hunting or fishing, you can find me working in my studio.