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People of the U: Clint McHann

Published on Thursday, February 1, 2018

By: Alana Bowman

When Clint McHann picked up a cheap painting kit on the Christmas clearance aisle at Michael’s in 2008, he never imagined he’d be selling his paintings and taking commissions just a few years later.

“It was a late in life gift from the god of the universe,” said McHann. “I didn't paint in high school. The only thing I ever did was like for a science project, if I had to draw something.”

He started painting from calendar pictures that caught his attention and displayed his paintings around his desk in the School of Nursing where he is an education administrator for Dr. Mary Stewart, director of the Ph.D. in nursing program.

McHann's instructor, Diane Norman, says that teaching art is more aptly described as teaching her students to see.
McHann's instructor, Dianne Norman, said teaching art is more aptly described as teaching her students to see.

“People who came into my office started asking if I was going to sell my paintings,” McHann said.

After recommendations from two different friends, McHann began classes from Dianne Norman in 2010, two years after picking up the paint set. Norman has a studio in Pearl and teaches three nights a week.

McHann says that Norman has a way of getting students where they need to be, artistically.

“Dianne has really saved me a ton of pounding my head on the wall,” he said. Starting out in a new artistic hobby without direction can be time consuming.

“It's learning to see,” said Norman. “I'm not going to teach you how to paint. I'm going to teach you how to see. I'm still working on that myself.”

 Eunice Northington, oil on canvas
Eunice Northington, oil on canvas

Norman said that McHann has been an ideal student because he listens well and does what she tells him to do, even if it sounds a little strange.

“The first time I did some hair in an oil portrait, she told me to put purple in it,” McHann said of Norman. “Then we came back and put orange in the highlights. Where the two colors met and mixed, there was the most beautiful brown hair.”

“I think he has improved tremendously from where he was when he first walked in the door,” Norman said.

Since he first began, McHann estimates he’s painted at least 20 portraits, many of whom are family members or work colleagues.

He painted a very special pair of portraits for Dr. LaDonna Northington, professor of nursing, after she saw, hanging in his office, the portrait of Molly Moore, assistant professor of nursing.

“After my mom died, I thought what a great thing I would have as a memory was one of her photos, if I could get him to paint it,” Northington said. “My dad was still alive when the portrait of my mom was finished, so I showed it to him. Whenever he would come over to my house, he would just stare at it. He would say, ‘You know what? That fella’s got talent!’ He thought it was a great work of art that Clint had done.”

Hiawatha Northington, oil on canvas
Hiawatha Northington, oil on canvas

Northington’s father passed away 14 months after her mother.

“I was so pleased with the portrait he painted of Mama, and I had so many compliments,” she said. “I wanted to have a pair so I got him to do one of my dad. It's probably one of the most endearing things that I've ever had done.”

When Northington had the pair framed, the attendant at the frame shop asked her who had painted them. She replied that a colleague who calls himself an amateur painted them. The attendant replied, “He’s not amateur.” Northington said, “I know, that’s what I keep telling him.”

McHann’s current work is a commission that resulted from the portraits he painted for Northington. He is painting a portrait in oils of the mother of Northington’s friend Linda White. White is the pianist and choir director at Northington’s home church in Natchez where her mother used to sing in the choir.

“It's been a real pleasure to do this painting so far,” he said. “She's lovely. She looks like a lovely person, and I don't even know her.”

McHann said he doesn’t have a favorite medium. He’s used oil paints, watercolors and pastels and said that each has pros and cons.

McHann has finished the rough underpainting and is now adding the color to the portrait of White's mother.
McHann begins to add color to a portrait of White's mother.

“In the oils, you are kind of committed if you take out your brushes and use them because of cleanup time,” he said. “But with watercolors, you can sit for a few minutes and get up and come back many times. You don't have as much cleanup. But if you mess up on a watercolor, it's really hard to fix. With oil you can just paint over the mistake.”

McHann said he enjoys the portability of pastels. “I like to use pastels if I’m going to paint outdoors because you aren't mixing color. You are just pulling the color that you want to use.”

McHann saves oils for when he has time to commit several hours to painting, weekends and nights when the class meets. He paints with watercolors almost every day.

“I tend to wake up and paint a few minutes in the morning with my coffee,” he said. “It's something about being, I guess, in your right brain before you have to go do all your left brain stuff. It relaxes me. I think it keeps me grounded. It came at a perfect time in my life, and I just love it.”

Daffodils, watercolor by Clint McHann
Daffodils, watercolor