Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life



21 May 2020 – Llano Quemado, New Mexico – One day it dawned on me that the way I painted (dark to light) was a metaphor for all of Life!  My darkest times have usually been followed by a blissful period of “enlightenment”…a time when I breathed a sigh of relief to have run the gauntlet and come out the other side not completely unscathed, but a lot wiser and eventually grateful for the lessons learned.

Over forty years ago a well-known landscape painter, Robert Clark, enrolled in one of my Craft of Painting Workshops.  I should have paid him for all his generosity… sharing his vast experience and knowledge of PAINT!  One precious gift was the 400 year old recipe for an Overnight Glaze Painting Medium used by the Italian Renaissance artists.  (Six ounces of Winsor-Newton English Distilled Turpentine, one ounce of Stand Oil, one once of Damar Varnish and one-quarter teaspoon of Cobalt Drier).

Up until the time I met Robert and his magic recipe, I painted Alla Prima – all in one sitting.  Gradually my methods morphed from the fast and the furious to a much slower and more thoughtful way of achieving light – a way to illuminate my subject matter so that the colors pop off the canvas.

First I use a “toned ground” – Payne’s Grey and titanium white mixed to a medium value.  this brings the color down a bit so it doesn’t look too “cartoony”.  Also it eliminates those annoying white spaces around the subject matter.  I let the canvas “cure” for at least a week or longer – just let it sit to dry.

Next I either sketch the image loosely in Prussian Blue Oil paint, or go full color with MG Underpainting White, Turpentine, and oil color.  This part of my painting is the foundation – like building a house – strong composition – connection to my subject matter and the ability to “see” through the layers to the end result before I put the colors down. Since there is turpentine in the painting medium, I let the underpainting dry – no longer cool to the touch.


My palette of oil colors runs left to right – dark to light.  All colors can be thinned with the medium, but there is a Universe of possibilities in the dark colors.  WHITE DOES NOT MAKE “LIGHT”!!!!! It is the laying in of the darker and middle tones (mixtures of opaque colors and glazes) that create the foundation for the final juicy application of the highlights – the colors applied over the glazes.  Voila!  Life is good one more time!

There you have all my secrets to a happy life.  My way of painting isn’t for everyone – it has just developed over time – no one taught me how to do it – it just evolved.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!!  Use the darkness for good — every experience, every painting is a lesson learned. 

Going to the easel now…. trust that there is much light in all this darkness. One day at a time, one step at a time….