Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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


28 March 2021 (Llano Quemado, New Mexico) – By definition I am a “studio” painter – which means I bring my source material back to my easel and stay with the work until it is finished.
There must be a million ways to make a painting.  the key is to just start and once you begin Never Stop!   I am also an “episodic” painter – three or four months of fury, then some rest time to organize my thoughts and gather my source material.  My last painting was Cielo Azul which was completed last month.   The restlessness has set in and now it is time to begin again. Preparation.   All my canvases are “gessoed” with a toned ground.  My source material has been painted in my head many times.   However it is so much easier to “imagine” a painting than it is to do it.  Life intrudes.  Shutting down in order to  set up a new palette and begin again.  A reminder that I am sharing my process, this is not dogma.  Finding your own way is an essential part of the journey.  
Each blank canvas is a wonderful, mysterious adventure!!

Excerpted from a previous post:  Spirit of Place – Andrew Wyeth

I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.
One’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes.
It’s all in how you arrange the thing… the careful balance of the design is the motion.
-Andrew Wyeth-
1967 – The Chicago Art Institute mounted a major exhibit of Andrew
Wyeth’s paintings. 


over to the Art Institute – the line was quite long – eventually it
would stretch all around the museum and almost reached Lake Michigan!
Bought my ticket and was informed that it would be a moving line because
of the crowd.  The guards saw to it that we did not dawdle!  

that this was my last visit to the home of my Art Gods (the following week we were on our way to New Mexico!), I moved through
the line, absorbing the essence of the paintings.  There was no time to
study the brushstrokes, only enough to “feel” the essence of the work.
Perhaps that was the best way to view this man’s work – it is so strong
and deeply emotional.  I felt the familiarity with which he painted his
neighbors and the landscape….sombre colors – browns, black, ochres.
His limited palette amplified his familiarity with his subject matter.
Took the train back to home in a dreamlike state, still feeling the
wholeness of my experience!
To start purchase a good camera with a
wide-angle zoom lens – LOVE YOUR  SUBJECT AND LOVE YOUR CAMERA!  Open
your eyes – FEEL the time and place, point and shoot!
My best paintings are brief moments in time – truly “happy accidents” – being in the right place at the right time. Favorite times of the day to scout for new source material is very early in the morning, stormy days and late afternoon to early evening.  The richest source for my work are the back roads of northern New Mexico. I wander and look. My happy places!!  This part of my process is intuitive – I can actually “see” the composition of the painting through the lens of the camera. Storm clouds, snow squalls – an early spring sunset.  Who knows?  There are always surprises out there just waiting.  On rare occasions  I will take my camera and head out to a specific location, otherwise I just roam and LOOK!  Rarely do I come home with less than 100 photos.  Put them through Photos.  Usually I will find four or five that could be paintings.  I pull them up and tweak them in Photoshop….and run a copy through my printer.  The entire process is my creation.   From this point forward, I am free to “tweak” the image in order to make my painting!
Many years ago when I first arrived in Santa Fe (1967) and became acquainted with a few of the local artists, none of them would admit to using photographs as source material.   A friend gifted me with a new Canon with a zoom lens.  There was so much negativity around artists using a camera! Shame, shame, shame! Guilt! Then it was revealed that one of the best-selling painters of market scenes went to Mexico and Central America with his camera – and a lens that would take photos over his shoulder while he was pointing the camera away from his subject.  He was using his camera as a tool in his creative process.
Another moment of Grace when I met Van Deren Coke in the law office where I worked on Cathedral Place in Santa Fe (Sommer & Lawler).  Mr. Coke was the founding Director of the New Mexico Art Museum in Albuquerque. During a short conversation he mentioned his new book (pictured above).  Revelation! Free at last!!!  I could roam the back roads of New Mexico without any self-imposed guilt – recognizing that my camera was merely a tool – I was the artist! The finished painting was my creation from start to finish! 
Get vaccinated – stay safe, stay healthy! DC