Featured Artist: Donna McGee

Hey everyone, Bailee Golden back again with your artist interview of the month. We’ve asked local painter and Grambling professor Donna McGee a few questions! At the end of the interview, Donna included some great tips. You can find out more about Donna and her work at https://www.donnafmcgee.com/

1.      What is your favorite subject to paint and why?

Daffodil Field, Dodson, Oil Plein Air, 9 X 12 Inches,160306.jpg

I am primarily a landscape and nature painter as far as subject matter is concerned.  The foundation of my work is rooted in my love of the natural world and my view that man is an integral part of nature.  Like many philosophers, poets, writers and artists, I search for meaning in life and understanding of myself by observing and experiencing the forces of the natural world.  My works are inspired by the essence of nature—energy, growth and change. The work is a response to nature more than a description of nature.  My recent works are simplifications of natural processes that are influenced by the force of gravity, ideas of erosion by wind and water, as well as references to landscape.  

2.      Has teaching led you to incorporate anything new or different into your work that you previously didn’t expect?

Early Spring Oglesby Pond UA, Oil Plein Air, 7 X 11Inches 160321.jpg

When I first began teaching painting, I spent a lot of time painting en plein air so that I could develop a better understanding of the interaction between color and light.   I have always been attracted to strong contrasts of color and light, but have become more interested in the emotional responses to various color combinations, color contrasts and value contrasts as a result of teaching.  I think artists who are also teachers have to process the information related to our profession on a different level or develop a different understanding of this information than non-teaching artists.  We have to be able to explain and relate information to our students so that means processing information on an intellectual level as well as an intuitive level. I have become more conscious of what I am doing when creating art.  Sometimes this is good and sometimes I think it interferes with creativity in its purest form.                                                                                                      

3.      What artists have influenced or inspired you the most over the course of your career?

Early in my career I was drawn to the work of Vincent Van Gogh because his work seemed different from others of his time primarily, because it appealed emotionally and psychologically.  His work is uniquely his because of this quality.  As a teacher, I look at the work of many artists and this has to influence your work in some manner.   In recent years, I have been working more with subjective color and continuing painting en plein air.  I like the work of David Hockney and Kurt Jackson, both British artists.  I also look at the work of Rothko and Paul Klee. 

4.      Do you ever get artist block? If so, how do you work around it?

Yes, I think blocks come when an artist is struggling with making a change in their work.  Perhaps, this is from a need to change subject matter or a desire to explore an new concept.  Perhaps it is the desire to  explore a new medium or process and requires some research and practice.  Or maybe it is boredom with what we do. I was advised years ago by Edwin Pinkston to clean up my studio space and organize my materials.  Strangely enough this works for me.  Just handling the materials without the pressure of creating anything leads to play and to ideas for work.  Other things that help me are to browse art sites, research artists, visit a museum or art show.  Have coffee or dinner with other artists.  Social media doesn't help me, but face to face interaction and discussion of work with other artists helps.  Sometimes change takes time to work through.  Most of all I think your work has to explore ideas that are personal to you, that you have passion for.  A block or frequent blocks may mean that an artist is not making work that fulfills their creative needs.   Artists should create for themselves first, and not for ohters.  And finally, it is OK to take breaks from your work, but I think you need to go to shows, visit with artists, study art, and research the work of others during these breaks.  Other creative fields, performing arts or writing can be helpful as well.

5.      What advice would you give to those who want to paint for a living?

Kiroli Hickory, Oil Plein Air, 12X9 Inches, 161125.jpg

Learn how to talk and write about your work.  Enter shows.  Learn  about the business of art.  More than likely, you will have to promote your work yourself at least for a while.  Try to find temporary jobs while you are establishing yourself that either a. use your art skills or b. don't drain your energy.  Form friendships and relationships with creative people who understand your artistic needs as far as energy and time commitment.  Work! Work! Work!  Treat your studio as a jobsite that has regular hours.  If you have another job in addition to art, then you have two jobs.  You have to have regular time for both of them.  

Even though this is not really an answer to any question, I have several important comments.

1. Don't be an art snob.

2. Support and assist others in their artistic endeavors.

3. The hobby painter may be the mother of the next great artist, may be or may lead you to a great collector.

4. All creative contributions to our society are valid and important.

5. You may be successful, but it doesn't mean you did anything right and that others did something wrong.

6. We are all in this together.

7. Be generous with encouragement and time and do some volunteer work without charge.

8. But don't feel bad about charging for your work, your skills, your time.

9. If you teach, charge what you are worth.

10. If you donate to auctions, ask for a percentage and ask for information on who purchased your work.

11. If buyers are anonymous, then you do not know where your work is.

12. Keep good records of your work.  Photos, where it has shown, who bought it, and how much.

13. The image is still your property unless you have sold the rights.