Article & Photos By John Christopher Fine
“I love my fish,” Diana Lyn McNamara declared. She was surrounded by them. Everyone in majestic detail, perfectly matted and framed. This Charleston, West Virginia born artist got her start in Miss Morasses’ third grade class. That wonderful teacher let the youngster express herself sketching the chalkboard every day with encouragement that “When you grow up you are going to be an artist.”
When Diana grew up she settled in Palm Beach County, Florida where her parents lived in the 1960s. She took a full time job at the First Federal Savings and Loan in Delray Beach as a teller then loan officer. She met and married Norby McNamara in 1976. They have lived in the same house on Hypoluxo Island for the last 42 years where she continues painting to her heart’s content.
“I always took a sketch pad with me. I always did my art. Never took any art courses in high school,” Diana said, although she spent ten years under the tutelage of West Palm Beach artist and art instructor Roslyn Williams.
“I got started painting my fish then read all the books there were on water colors. That’s the hardest media,” Diana declared. She was at work on a red drum, brushing color onto special paper. It is not uncommon for Diana to spend a month on one painting. She does it until she is satisfied it is perfect.
“This one took me a very long time. I had to get the blues just right.” She pointed to one of her original framed water colors on the downstairs wall of their living room. The dolphin was about two feet long, perfectly rendered. It seemed as if the fish was swimming in the ocean realm in front of your eyes. Edges of the paper were torn by hand to produce a special antiqued effect in a carefully matched frame with matting that complemented the colors.
“Everybody has to do their own thing,” she said, holding fast to a brush, contemplating the finished work on her walls. “I love this hog fish. The colors stand out.” If ever a painted fish looked real this one could have splashed off the wall. Diana McNamara’s attention to minute detail, her fine brush strokes, the care she takes to insure scales are perfect, make her work both intricate and beautiful.
A tarpon was framed in silver. It required a long time for Diana to get the scales just right. She had to use special paint to attain a glistening, reflective tinge to scales. It was accomplished with perfect detail.
Her art has been displayed in many venues. Establishments and offices in Palm Beach County and the Bahamas feature Diana’s work.
“I paint in oils but all my fish are in water color. Every artist has their own technique. You can read books, you can study art yet technique is created with experience. I’ve done portraits of all my children and grandchildren and friends’ children in oil…”
For these portraits Diana led up a staircase to the second floor of their home. The house has two brick and stone fire places each with a mantel piece offering eye catching treasures. Her first sea scape rests unframed atop the downstairs hearth alongside Norby’s nautical decor and bird models. Things collected over time catch the eye in what has to be one of Florida’s most comfortable houses. The lawn slopes gradually down to a quiet canal and dock. A few minutes by boat to the Intracoastal Waterway then through the Boynton Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean. Yet island life remains secluded, private, quiet with well water that is pure and clean.
Diana uses a multiple image technique to capture several moods in her portraits. A painting of her daughter standing near a pond, surrounded by ducks, shows one image of the child holding a hand. “A bird bit her…” Reminiscences from childhood growing up in Florida captured in perfect detail in oil.
Light breaks through tall windows onto an easel. A work table is crowded with brushes, her pallet dotted with color. A music pod is nearby with earphones ready if the mood to have accompaniment strikes her fancy. She studies fish pictures posted on the Internet. Angling magazines are always on tables to provide inspiration.
“I’m not out to make money. I just enjoy painting,” Diana reflected, thoughtful. She exhibited her work at Art in the Park on the island and occasionally sells prints of her work. She rarely sells her originals.
“I don’t want it to be a full time job. I enjoy it too much. I paint almost every day. I always have a project. I try to figure out what I’m going to paint next. I sit down and think about it.” Their home and garden is perfect for contemplation. Diana and Norby buy exotic orchids from a farm. They couple them to trees until the orchid plant becomes part of a natural park- like surrounding in their back yard.
The artist takes her finished work to a framer. “I pick a fame that goes with the painting. I love doing my frames. I choose the matting and frame to match the fish.”
Upstairs Diana painted a credenza that serves as a bar. Detailed sea horses and a nautilus stand out alongside a pink queen conch against flamingo background.
“See this turtle?” She held up a triplex of a baby marine turtle. “I found it dead on the beach. I asked the lifeguard if I could have it. I gave him life again.” The oil is a magnificent rendition of a hatchling on the beach.
“I love this Nassau grouper. When Norby and I went diving in the Bahamas they would come up to be petted. We called them puppy dogs of the sea.” Indeed her Nassau grouper had a friendly look, big eye peering out of the framed original water color on Diana’s gallery wall.
“When my kids were little, Catherine went to King’s Academy. I did all the back drops for school plays. I painted nursery rhymes…” As she put her hand holding a paint brush to her chin Diana contemplated a corner wall. It contained pencil marks with lines that marked their three children’s growing tall. One was marked Mom. Eventually it seemed that the others surpassed her height although none could attain Norby’s six-three solid frame.
“When our daughter Stephanie attended Rosarian Academy Diana did all the art there, all the backdrops. We seemed to live at the school,” Norby put in remembering times spent with their children at school.
Diana McNamara’s work is happy. Her fish bring joy to the beholder. She brings realistic animation to creatures that most people may only see hooked or broiled. As a diver this artist viewed her subjects underwater, now Diana McNamara brings them to life in perfect detail.