Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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



It takes patience and courage to “become” an artist – the truth is you never stop “becoming”.  This is the best part! That blank canvas staring at you from the easel is full of mystery and promise. Then again it might turn out to be the ugliest things the world has ever seen!  You will never know unless you pick up the brush, smush it into a juicy glob of paint and give it your best shot!

Working from photographs and sketches (Truchas Peaks above) my greatest adventures have been scouting new source material in the villages and on the backroads of northern New Mexico.  My New Mexico paintings are “heart work”.  In 1967 I saw the major Andrew Wyeth exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Within days my little family was packed in a car on our way to the alien planet called “New Mexico”.  My grandmother was upset because she was convinced I wouldn’t understand the language!

What I took away from Wyeth’s work was his uncompromising “spirit of place” – the closeness, familiarity and love for one’s home.  It took years for me to find my place here – to feel truly at home with the clouds, mountains and sunsets. Many many day trips on the back roads and my special connection to Taos and the Hispanic village of Truchas.  The greater part of my life has been lived in northern New Mexico…..strong and powerful emotions attach to these places.

Pack some snacks, pile in the car and just roam.  Don’t have a plan!  Leave yourself open to surprise! (One important lesson I learned was that as you are pointing your camera forward in one direction – turn around and LOOK BACK.  Some of my best paintings (happy accidents) have happened when I looked backwards!  Don’t avoid dark, cloudy, windswept stormy days – Light, shadows, DRAMA!

Most important – find your own way. Paint what you love!  Have some emotional connection to your subject matter. This idea may be old-school, but I know it works. This process is much like the excerpt from the “Velveteen Rabbit” – it doesn’t happen all at once – you BECOME!

Time for me to make a couple of day trips before winter sets in.  There are two places I want to photograph as major elements for a couple of large canvases in my imagination.  One is the view toward Tres Orejas, a sunset piece. The other are some of the fields in front of Taos Mountain.  I “see” those paintings!  The canvases have already been painted a hundred time in my head.  Then one trip to Ojo Sarco and Las Trampas.  Order my paints and turpentine, set up a new palette and I will be ready to go!

Learning to “SEE” a painting is an emotional experience.  Go for that “AHA” moment – it doesn’t happen often.  There will be many paintings in between.  When it does happen, you will know it!

Get a good camera. Go out into “your” world. Explore. Connect to your subject matter.  Learning to paint is a lifelong ADVENTURE!  Find joy!