Donna Yeager – How Going Back To Art School Changed Everything

At the beginning of June while at the IAPS Convention, I met Donna Yeager. In conversation, she began to tell me about her experience of going back to art school and how it had affected her work. I asked her if she’d like to saw a few words about that experience on camera for my YouTube interviews. She accepted but we found when she began to speak, she had so much more to say. It occured to me that the video could become the basis for a guest blog.

Donna also wrote up an account of her artistic journey to date and you’ll find that, along with the video interview and images that illustrate her words, below.

Donna Yaeger, "Ryan," pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 17 x 12 in -  An example of Donna's that I was familiar with prior to meeting her

Donna Yeager, “Ryan,” pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 17 x 12 in – An example of Donna’s work that I was familiar with prior to meeting her.

 

Take it away Donna!

My life as an artist has had many changes throughout the years. This is not going to be a diary of my life, all “drawn” out, but a highlight of the journey.

Drawing­–I love it! Always have. I have drawn all my life. It is so natural to me. My first real art class was taught by a former New York illustrator, Harry Fredman. His claim was: “I can teach anyone how to draw.” It was a technique based on measurement but working with live models and later, just photo references. It was very formulated and I caught on fast. I could draw anyone to look just like the photo – boy could I copy.

Donna Yeager, "Katie," graphite pencil, 20 x 16 in

Donna Yeager, “Katie,” graphite pencil, 20 x 16 in

Some students were better than others but all looked like we were cut from the same cloth. Knowing exactly how my drawings and later oil portraits would look like before I even started was reassuring–at first. Later it felt unfulfilling. Where was my creativity and spontaneity? Granted, it is very important to have skills and to keep them sharp but that should not be the end all but the basis for my growth as an artist.

So, I let go of that successful formulated way of working and began studying shapes, value, light, and working in a loose suggestive manner with master painter, Phil Starke. I used big brushes and lots of oil paint. My paintings were not good. I had to think and interpret instead of relying on a formula. It was so hard to let go of my comfortable ways and successful work but I knew I had to in order to grow. I needed to be willing to look bad, to embrace the tenuous, the unknown, the big non-formula. It took a long time and never was success guaranteed. But I did begin to grasp what I was searching for.

Donna Yeager, "Fall Landscape," oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in

Donna Yeager, “Fall Landscape,” oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in

I also began doing figure drawing and in the first session, fell in love with it. My drawings were raw and not very good but it was so exciting – capturing the moment and connecting with the model. The lessons of proportions I had learned in my formulated class came forth. My eye/hand coordination grew. I could see how the figure drawing made me a better painter in all aspects.

Along the way, I began working in pastel. It was a medium to which I connected – it felt like a part of me, an extension of my hand. My first pastel painting was a home run. It was accepted in the Pastel Society of America Exhibition, the Kansas Pastel Society Exhibition, and even The Artist’s Magazine competition.

Donna Yeager, "Coming Home," pastel, 16 x 20 in

Donna Yeager, “Coming Home,” pastel, 16 x 20 in

It is still one of my favorite paintings – simple, direct, and engaging. You’d think after that I would just be knocking them out of the park. That was not the case. I equate it to a beginner bowling a perfect game the first time up. It was trial and error after that.

I stayed with the medium and eventually became skilled in it. I excelled in it rather quickly and developed a style. I have become an award winning artist and instructor.

 

Donna Yeager, "Oporto," plein air pastel on La Carte paper, 9.5 x 7.5 in

Donna Yeager, “Oporto,” plein air pastel on La Carte paper, 9.5 x 7.5 in

 

Donna Yeager, "Sunbathers," pastel on UArt paper, 14 x 21 in

Donna Yeager, “Sunbathers,” pastel on UArt paper, 14 x 21 in

 

Donna Yeager, "Danielle in Green," pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 20 x 16 in

Donna Yeager, “Danielle in Green,” pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 20 x 16 in

 

Donna Yeager, "Frayed-A Self Portrait," pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 25 x 19 in

Donna Yeager, “Frayed-A Self Portrait,” pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 25 x 19 in

 

When I moved to Kansas from Missouri, I started taking figure drawing and painting classes at the Johnson County Community College. I loved being a student. Working alongside young people was energizing and fun. I learned as much from them as the instructors. Never having a real college experience, I gave it my all.

Going to school, doing homework, teaching, painting, entering competitions, exhibiting – all this happening at once – was exhausting and exhilarating. The art department knew I was a serious artist and it showed in my work. My painting professor, John Carroll Davis, and the head of the art department, Larry Thomas, suggested I take a class called “Digital Imaging for Artists.”

I knew I was not a computer expert by any stretch of the imagination but I somewhat knew my way around a PC. So I enrolled in the class. I walked in and all the computers were Apple computers. I had never been on a Mac. I couldn’t even follow the lingo. I was lost. The professor was patient and since there were only eight students in the class, so I knew I had a chance. It was up to me to make something out of it. It was a tough class. I couldn’t “draw” my way of this.

 

Donna Yeager, "Self Portrait," Digital Image Collage - pastel painting done on Canson Mi-Tientes as bottom layer in photoshop, also includes drawings done with 6B pencil, scans of jewellery, dried flowers, ceramic statue, and single finger rosary all done in Photoshop

Donna Yeager, “Self Portrait,” Digital Image Collage – pastel painting done on Canson Mi-Tientes as bottom layer in photoshop, also includes drawings done with 6B pencil, scans of jewellery, dried flowers, ceramic statue, and single finger rosary all done in Photoshop

 

“Nothing is sticking in my head,” I said to my professor. He responded, “I know – I thought you would do much better.”

Well, that didn’t give me much encouragement, but I was determined not to quit. I heard God’s voice in my head: “I’m giving you this gift. It is free but you will have to struggle. It won’t be easy. It will be very hard. Will you take my gift? Be strong. I am with you.”

I stayed. I went to every lab, every class. I struggled through homework with deadlines. If it wasn’t for an angel named Danny Ashley who was the lab tech (and also an instructor in computer classes), I could never have made it. He tutored me, he became my friend, and he never gave up on me.

I started combining the digital with drawings and paintings. My new pieces were good. I re-enrolled in the class and kept going.

 

Donna Yeager, "Coptic Christian Mourners," photograph of families, pastel painting Finch Feast used as bottom layer in Photoshop, and coloured pencils

Donna Yeager, “Coptic Christian Mourners,” photograph of families, pastel painting Finch Feast used as bottom layer in Photoshop, and coloured pencils

Donna Yeager, "Finch Feast," pastel on Canson Mi-tientes paper, 9 x 12 in - the original pastel used in the digital collage above

Donna Yeager, “Finch Feast,” pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 9 x 12 in – the original pastel used in the digital collage above

 

Donna Yeager, "Song Of St Francis (part of a series)," photograph with golden gel medium, extra heavy molding paste,, clear gel glue, glass beads, dried grasses and flowers, silver jewellery makings, gold jewellery makings painted with orange acrylic, carefully broken burnt matches, and a tiny bit of glitter glue, on canvas, 12 x 12 in

Donna Yeager, “Song Of St Francis (part of a series),” photograph with golden gel medium, extra heavy molding paste,, clear gel glue, glass beads, dried grasses and flowers, silver jewellery makings, gold jewellery makings painted with orange acrylic, carefully broken burnt matches, and a tiny bit of glitter glue, on canvas, 12 x 12 in. “The orange pieces represent the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs from Libya. The burnt matches represent their hooded assassins and the transformed silver shapes beneath them represent previous martyrs.”

 

In the next three semesters, my work was published in three of the “Mind’s Eye” student catalogs. It was also selected to be included in the school’s calendar. The Nerman Museum purchased my abstract assignment entitled “Guardo-Sol”.

 

Donna Yeager, "Guardo-Sol," Digital Image Collage, 22 x 22 in

Donna Yeager, “Guardo-Sol,” Digital Image Collage, 22 x 22 in

 

Because of this journey I have done work I’d never dreamed of before. I think differently now. I now consider content as well as style. My composition skills have increased. And I am more creative.

I’m not sure where this new language will take me but I know that it is unique and special.

 

~~~~

 

So what do you think of Donna’s artistic adventure? Have you thought of going back to art school? Are you inspired to do so? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment!

 

Until next week,

~ Gail

 

10 thoughts on “Donna Yeager – How Going Back To Art School Changed Everything

  1. Marie Fritz

    I absolutely LOVED Donna’s Guest Post. I am a young senior citizen who has “messed” around with everything from furniture refinishing, tiling, weaving, watercolor, oil painting and so on. Finally settled on pastels and I love it! I was particularly struck that even with such accolades Donna experienced frustration and “failure.” That is in quotes because I believe every painting we do is a lesson for the next painting. I am definitely encouraged by her story, her path. I have shared this post with friends who may not have subscribed because it is so very uplifting even if we don’t sign up for an art program. I have learned an encyclopedia of information and skill from the many talented art instructors in my state. I study their paintings they have done. All this may not be enough but Donna’s inspirations is truly something to consider.

    Reply
    1. Gail Post author

      Marie, I am thrilled you enjoyed the blog and are inspired by Donna’s story! Thank you for sharing your voice in the conversation.

      Reply
  2. Sandi Graham

    I enjoyed Donna’s story. I think artists are always evolving. I know that for me taking workshops, joining art societies ,clubs , paint groups, reading articles , watching videos reading blogs(this one is really great and I have learned a lot especially from your videos) and most importantly to paint often is key.
    Returning to art college classes would be great too. Congrats to Donna for that and her work is just terrific. Hard work pays off doesn’t it?
    I just love to paint in pastels,I paint every day possible. Sandi

    Reply
    1. Gail Post author

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog Sandi. As you say there are so many ways for an artist to evolve and it was wonderful to be able to share Donna’s story about going to art school.

      Reply
  3. Suzanne Hamilton

    I was so inspired by this! Seeing Donna’s early work and her growth and development as an artist was amazing. She’s really pushed herself in different directions. I love her early work but her new work with digital and abstract is fantastic. If she had not pushed through and tried new things we would have lost out on the wonderful work she is doing now. Thank you so much for sharing! I will refer to this often when I need inspiration.

    Reply
  4. Imá Fonseca

    Tenho grande admiração por aqueles que não consideram idade, circunstâncias, conhecimentos e vão à luta em busca de novos horizontes. Eu preciso fazer isto!!
    Amo pastel e gostaria de chegar à excelência desta arte…
    Imá

    Reply
    1. Gail Post author

      Ima thanks so much for commenting. I have gone to google translate for a translation and will insert it here even though I know it may not be perfect:
      “I have great admiration for those who do not consider age, circumstances, knowledge and will to fight in search of new horizons. I need to do this !!
      I love pastel and would like to get to the excellence of this art …”

      Going back to art school certainly requires a certain kind of courage , the courage shown by Donna. I hope it inspires you to explore new directions Ima. I’m happy you are on this pastel journey with us 🙂

      I

      Reply

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