by Ardeana Hamlin
OF THE WEEKLY STAFF
HAMPDEN — Light from a bank of windows facing south spills into the family room to illuminate the orange and yellow maple leaves that occupy the foreground of a painting that wildlife biologist and artist Mark McCollough has in progress.
“Most Mainers don’t know it, but they own a piece of my artwork,” McCollough said. He is the artist who designed and illustrated the images of the chickadee and the loon that grace the number plates of 800,000 Maine vehicles.
McCollough, who grew up in western Pennsylvania, said he got the art gene from his parents; his father was a draftsman, and his mother painted in oils and pastels.
But his degrees in forestry and wildlife biology he acquired on his own. When he was studying at Penn State, McCollough said, he attempted to add art as a double major, but the course load proved to be more than he cared to manage.
“Most of what I’ve learned about art, I’ve picked up myself,” he said. He works in watercolors, acrylics, pen and ink, pencil, and charcoal.
He recalled that when he was in the second grade, his teacher asked him to draw a daffodil for her. “She was the first person who wanted a piece of my artwork,” he said, laughing at the memory. He also recalled drawing as a young child a portrait of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant smoking a cigar.
But by the time he was in high school, he was doing professional level jobs, including a series of watercolors depicting vintage telephones for a phone company, and he drew an illustration that was used on fishing licenses, both in Pennsylvania.
“Pen-and-ink illustrations drew me to art,” he said. His nature art heros are Pennsylvania artist Ned Smith and Canadian artist Robert Bateman.
McCollough came to Maine in 1979 to do graduate work at the University of Maine, where he combined science and art when he published three pen-and-ink prints to help fund his doctoral research on bald eagles, he said.
McCollough spent 13 years of his career with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game as an endangered species biologist. Here again, science and art coalesced when he designed a poster depicting 48 of Maine’s endangered animals, birds, insect,s and amphibians.
That poster is still available, he said, in limited quantities at the department.
He also is the Northeast expert biologist on the status of the Eastern cougar, an animal that figures in some of his pen-and-ink drawings.
Currently, McCollough works as a wildlife biologist 40 to 50 hours each week for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a job he has held for the last 11 years. His work, he said, feeds his painting.
“I get lots of inspiration from the outdoors. I’m inspired by what I see. I have lots of paintings stored in my head I want do,” he said. “I only have time to paint one or two picture pictures each year, but I do a lot of smaller pieces. I aspire to capture some of the beauty of the natural world I’ve been able to experience and share it with others. Maine is an incredibly beautiful state.”
McCollough participates in only two or three sportsman’s show each year and also accepts private commissions.
When he is at home, he said, he likes to shut the scientific part of his brain off and concentrate on his art. One of his future goals is to do more wood and antler carving.
McCollough’s accomplishments also include co-authoring, along with Malcolm L. Hunter and Aram J. K. Calhoun, “Maine Amphibians and Reptiles,” published in 1999, for which he also provided more than 70 pen-and-ink illustrations. He also illustrated “Maine’s Atlantic Salmon: A National Treasure” and writes and illustrates a monthly wildlife column, “Northwoods Sketchbook” for the Northwoods Sporting Journal.
McCollough has done artwork for Vermont Fish and Game, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, The Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, University of Maine, Maine Medical Center, the Raish Peavy Haskell Children’s Cancer Center at the Lafayette Cancer Center in Brewer, the Penobscot Restoration Project, and publications produced by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
“I see paintings wherever I look,” he said.
For information, email McCollough at ellmcc25@yahoo.