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Medford artist nails stamp design win

Self-taught Medford artist Karin Wares perused the list of Oregon’s “sensitive species” in search of a subject for this year’s entry in the state’s Conservation Stamp art contest, and her eye couldn’t leave an ugly yet bold-colored rockfish she had never heard of.

The canary rockfish, an ocean species off limits to sport and commercial fishing for 15 years and now on the slow road back to health, leapt off the page in a dazzling palette of oranges and yellows.

“They’re crazy-looking fish,” Wares said. “They have a lot of color, and as a painter I like to work with color.”

Conservationists, biologists and fellow artists also like what Wares does with color, enough for her canary rockfish oil painting to win this year’s Conservation Stamp art contest put on by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Her stamps and reprints of Wares’ winning wares, as well as other contest entries, will be sold over the next year to raise money toward ODFW’s effort to help struggling wildlife species such as canary rockfish to rebound.

Ware won $2,000 for her entry, the same amount offered to painters of the upland game-bird stamp and waterfowl stamp for 2020.

Wares is the first artist to win the Conservation Stamp contest in back-to-back years since its inception in 2012, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

She won last year for a painting of a Franklin’s bumblebee, a rare bee endemic to Southern Oregon and portions of Northern California and not seen by researchers here since 2006.

The only other double winner in this category is Minnesota artist Timothy Turenne, who won the contest in 2014 and 2016, Dennehy said.

Unlike the upland game-bird and waterfowl stamps, the Conservation Stamp isn’t needed for any particular endeavor in the field.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012 created Oregon’s Habitat Conservation Stamp to provide the public with an opportunity to give financial support to native fish and wildlife conservation.

Sales of the $20 stamps, art prints and other promotional materials go toward funding high-priority species and habitats as outlined in ODFW’s Oregon Conservation Strategy, a blueprint for helping some of Oregon’s sensitive species and habitats rebound.

The 48-year-old Wares, who has been drawing all of her life, said she took up painting to enter a piece in the 2013 Conservation Stamp contest.

“I was always drawn to animals and wildlife, and I wanted to learn how to work with color,” Wares said.

For 2013, Wares painted a Western pond turtle and a Western toad, which failed to place.

Last year, she decided to paint the Franklin’s bumblebee after researching its plight, perhaps wondering whether her art would outlive the species.

“I had a little affair with the idea that this could have been a commemorative stamp,” she said.

Wares does not fish and never heard of canary rockfish until she saw a photo of one in a list of potential conservation stamp species offered by ODFW to potential contestants last year.

The popping oranges on the slow-growing fish deemed overfished by federal fish managers in 2000 jumped out at Wares.

“I just consider what would be fun to paint and I liked how they looked,” Wares said.

So did the judges, who included Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jill Zarnowitz, retired ODFW biologist Dave Budeau, art gallery owner Sarah Askin, outdoor writer and photographer Troy Rodakowski, and Rich Hatfield from the Xerces Society, which promotes conservation for invertebrates like pollinators.

A massage therapist by trade, Wares said she paints about 20 hours a week in a studio in her Medford home, and cranked out the canary rockfish painting in about a month.

She also entered a painting of a Dungeness crab.

Wares has had a few drawings sold over the years, but her back-to-back Conservation Stamp wins are her first contest wins.

She has yet to decide what to paint for her three-peat attempt next year.

“I’m pretty low-key,” Wares said. “I’m just starting out. I never even called myself an artist until earlier this year.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Canary Rock Fish Stamp