OSWEGO, Kan. (AP) — "I tell stories with pictures," artist Ted Watts said Friday in his downtown Oswego, Kan., studio. "You have to be sure to tell it right. If you find a nice story, you make it good for the people that want to know."

For decades, Watts has been telling stories with his pictures.

His portraits of Heisman Trophy winners are on exhibit loan to the College Football Hall of Fame. His murals hold places of honor in locations across the country. His work has been on game day programs, on posters, and on display.

While Watts tells his story with pictures, his story will require plenty of ink. It's a story that started in Miami, Okla., took a turn in Coffeyville, ended up in Oswego, and made its way into frames, posters, programs, walls, athletic facilities and galleries across the country.

"I just want to go in there," Watts said, pointing to his workspace in the studio, and sit at my drawing table, and draw and paint. I want to do what God told me to do, and that's draw and paint."

Watts wasn't always a painter. In fact, he started off as a sportswriter for the Coffeyville Journal.

"I always happened to be a bit better at drawing things," he remarked with a smile.

At some point, he began drawing cartoons for the Journal, "then it just mushroomed."

Universities began seeing his work, and it wasn't long before he got his first call, setting up a meeting in Manhattan, Kan., with officials from Kansas State University. But K-State wasn't his only client for very long.

"I took that trip and saw K-State, and I signed a contract to do their press guide cover," Watts said. "I thought, 'I have gas in my car.' So I drove straight to Lawrence. Then, I thought this is going pretty well, so I drove to Tulsa. The University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts (University) became clients. I drove to Stillwater, then on to OU."

At the University of Oklahoma, he ran into old friend Steve Owens, who also came from Watts' hometown of Miami, Okla. More on that later. Owens put Watts in touch with the OU officials.

"They all bought in," Watts said. "But I wasn't done. I thought, 'Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas.' So I drove to Fayetteville, where I sat down with (then-Arkansas head coach) Frank Broyles. I said, 'I'm Ted Watts, here's what I can do.' That's how it all started."

Although Watts said it all started with that first road trip, he's not exactly right.

He grew up in Miami, Okla., and played track and football for the Wardogs. But he was a few years older than another kid in the neighborhood.

"Steve (Owens) was just a grubby little kid when I was going there," Watts said. "I would have treated him better if I'd known he was going to win the Heisman."

Watts and Owens remained good friends, and in 1969, Owens did win the Heisman and was named an All-American.

"I told him, 'Steve, for Christ's sakes, you won the Heisman. Now, I'm going to have to do something nice for you,'" Watts recalled. "He said, 'Well, paint me.' And I did."

It wouldn't be the last time. Watts has several paintings and sketches of Owens in his studio. The stories about Owens flow out of Watts like paint from a brush.

"We were at a couple of luncheons, and he told the crowd that he and I grew up in the same house. So afterward, people came up to me and asked if we were brothers," Watts said. "I told them that we never lived together. His parents bought the house from my parents. He grew up in the house after I did."

Even later in life, Watts said he and Owens were sharing a few beers in their hometown and overheard a group of 20-somethings at a nearby table looking their way.

"They said to each other, 'Isn't that Steve Owens, the Heisman winner?' And Steve puffed his chest up a little and was feeling pretty good. And then another said, 'Isn't that Ted Watts, the painter?' And suddenly I'm feeling pretty good. I'm puffing my chest up, too. Then the other kid says, 'I thought they were both dead,'" Watt said, dropping his head.

Owens would later be one of Watts' pride and joy, the Ted Watts Heisman Trophy Winners Art Gallery.

"We've got a very nice presentation that this is probably the most unique sports collection in America," Watts said. "Who knows who all the pro football players of the year are? Is there a gallery somewhere?"

Watts' gallery is located — for now — in South Bend, Indiana, the current home of the College Football Hall of Fame. The College Football Hall of Fame itself is moving to Atlanta, and Watts said he's considering whether his gallery, which is on exhibit loan, will move with the hall.

But it wasn't that conversation with Owens that started the Heisman gallery.

"The Heisman thing began with a friend who asked me what my dream was," Watts said. "I said my dream was to paint all those guys."

A trip to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York, where the trophies are awarded, further spurred Watts to paint.

"I was disappointed in what they did. They had oil retouched photographs. But they were cheesy to me. I wanted to show their face and an action element of every guy. I wanted to present a consistent form as art, not as a retouched photograph."

In October 2012, Watts unveiled the portrait of former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. He's also completed the portrait of Mark Ingram, former Alabama running back. He's a little behind, as portraits of former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and the most recent Heisman winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, have yet to be completed.

"The secret of my success is I live in Oswego, Kan. It's not a go-to place. It's a place that you will not have people swarming in. You don't have people looking over my shoulder," he said. "I did get publicity, but you really have to be going to Oswego to get here."