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clay soil

By Irene Ruddock 

‘Self Portrait,’ oil

Terence McManus is a retired social worker with a master’s degree from Adelphi University. A self-taught artist, he has participated in over 100 exhibits and juried competitions winning over 60 awards. He has had portraits exhibited at the Butler Institute of Art and at the Heckscher Museum. McManus is a signature member of both the Pastel Society of America and the Connecticut Pastel Society, and a member of the prestigious Salmagundi Club in NYC, as well as other art organizations across the country.

Recently, I was able to interview McManus at his studio.  

How did you decide to become an artist and, specifically, a portrait painter? 

I can’t remember not considering myself an artist. When I was in the first grade, I remember proudly telling people that I was an artist. And even as a young child, it was a person’s face that fascinated me and I copied faces from magazines. In high school I did posters of friends running for elections, in college I did portraits of my friends and their girlfriends, etc.

Was there someone who influenced you? 

When I was 10, I was thrilled to get my Jon Gnagy set of drawing instructions, but, seriously, I have not had any formal art training. The one art course that I took in college was a disaster because the instructor was an abstract artist and I was a Norman Rockwell fan! Instead, I have learned from books, videos, magazines and demonstrations and practice. 

Can you demystify the art of portraiture?

In painting a portrait, it is important to make sure the features are positioned correctly. I leave out details when starting a painting, except I paint the eyes in quickly. With the person looking back at me, I feel a connection with the subject. After I sketch in the positions, I apply the pastel or paint in the traditional manner, going from darks to lights. I frequently view the portrait backwards in a mirror to see the painting from a different perspective which helps to check on accuracy. Once the positions are correct, doing a portrait is not so different from doing a still life. You can use any color you wish, but you must have the values correct. Just look for the light and dark values, and like a puzzle, it would come together.

If you paint from photographs, what is the single most important thing that must be present in that photograph? 

I prefer to use my own photos since using the photos made by others is their vision, not mine. I look for how the light hits the face, creating drama and the feelings I wish to bring out in the painting.

In this increasingly image-conscious society, how do you compete with photographs and why are painting portraits different? 

A good photographer can capture real emotion, but most are just an image of the person for that second. A portrait artist usually tries to bring out the subject’s life experience. The artist can add or subtract or emphasize different aspects to reflect this. 

What is the hardest part about painting a portrait? 

It depends if I am painting for myself or for a commission. When it is for myself, I am trying to capture a feeling more than accuracy. With a commission, it is the exact likeness that is most important to the client, but I still aim to paint a good painting that can stand by itself.  

Do you like painting animals? 

I love painting animals. How can you not love those eyes looking at you? But like humans, aside from the eyes, their body language can convey much as well. 

In your view, what is the magical element that makes for a great portrait painting?

It is the intensity of the emotion that comes across and how well it is done, regardless of the style that makes for an interesting and unique portrait. 

Are there any portrait artists’ work that you feel personally drawn toward?

I love Rembrandt for his dramatic use of light, John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins for their realistic but painterly portraits, Alice Neel for her unique expressive style and Burton Silverman for his outstanding portraits.

If you could paint a portrait of anyone, whom would that be? 

Alexander the Great! Educated by Aristotle, king at 20, ruler of most of the world by 30. What strength and determination would his face reveal!

How can you be contacted for commissions?  

I may be reached by email at mcmfam99@optonline.net. 

All images courtesy of Terence McManus

The scarlet runner bean plant, which grows well in clay soil, produces red flowers that are ornamental as well as edible.

By Ellen Barcel

Long Island is primarily a large sandbar — something that gardeners have had to deal with by adding topsoil, compost, etc. But, what if you are one of the minority who has some clay soil? There are basically two things you need to do. One is to amend the soil for optimum plant grown. The other is to select plants that do well in heavy clay soil.

Amending clay soil

Many people assume that the best way to improve clay soil is to add sand to it. Wrong! Think about what bricks are made of — yes, clay and sand. The best way to amend clay soil is to add organic matter, like lots of compost, to it. Compost helps aerate clay soil and encourages it to drain. You can also add aged manure or straw.

Along this same line, when you mulch, use organic material since it will break down into compost. A gardening friend of mine also mentioned that clay soil is very heavy and can be very difficult to dig into. Because you need strength, you may need help.

Test the soil pH and see if it is compatible with the plants you wish to grow in that area. If it’s too acidic, then add lime. Remember that once you start changing the pH (either making it more or less acidic), it is something you must do on an annual basis.

Old-fashioned Hydrangea macrophylla will be blue in acidic soil and more purple or pink as the soil becomes more alkaline. People who buy these older pink hydrangeas and don’t add lime to their soil periodically will wind up with blue hydrangeas in a few years as the plants react to the more acidic soil.

Selecting plants

When selecting plants for clay soil, remember that you must also take into account the usual considerations: How much sunlight does the area receive? Does the area flood periodically? Does the area not drain well at all? Does the area receive a lot of salt spray? Are the plants in the area exposed to air pollution as can be found along busy roadways?

Rule of thumb — if, when you are researching plants, the source notes that those particular plants like well-drained soil, they probably will not do well in clay soil. Another observation when selecting plants: If you want plants that don’t do well in clay soil, consider planting them in containers that you fill with a good-quality potting soil.

The following are plants to consider for clay soil:

Shrubs: weigela, forsythia (blooms in early spring), flowering quince (slow growing, blooms in spring), roses (sun loving), hydrangeas (partial shade, water loving so do well if the location is slow to drain).

Veggies: shallow rooted such as lettuce, snap beans, broccoli, cabbage and scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), which are raised primarily for their abundance of red flowers.

Annuals and herbaceous perennials: asters, black-eyed Susans, daylilies, cannas (tender bulls, plant in spring), coreopsis (deer resistant), purple coneflowers (deer resistant), perennial geraniums (deer resistant), bee balm, a.k.a monarda (attractive to butterflies), irises (plant in fall), hostas (shade loving, come in a wide variety of sizes from tiny for rock gardens to enormous and colors from green to yellow and blue leaves), ferns (ideal for shade gardens).

Grasses: Miscanthus — ornamental grasses such as fountain grass, silver grass, pampas grass, etc. Ornamental grasses do best in a sunny location.

Trees: eastern pin oak (oaks do very well on Long Island with its acidic soil), ginkgo (“fossil” tree, known to be pollution resistant, plant male trees unless you want the fruit).

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.