If you are not already familiar with the works of Donna Van Hooser, get ready for art and an artist that will not disappoint. Donna’s work is diverse, whimsical, incredibly detailed, and a pleasure to behold.
I first met Donna at the Artists Reception for the Mosaic Arts International show during the SAMA conference in Lexington, Kentucky. Donna had the piece she mentions as “the robin dressed as Queen Elizabeth” which is titled “What, This Old Thing?” I was in awe of the mastery in Donna’s cutting and andamento, color choices and blending. Getting to meet her was as much of a pleasure as viewing her artwork. I found Donna to be humble, approachable, and genuinely delighted to be “in the moment”.
Between our first meeting and present day, I have had the opportunity to speak with Donna both over the phone and via the intranet, loosing track of time, every time, this interview being no different! We had a wonderful conversation about art, making art, and process vs. product. This conversation brought clarity, validation, and self-awareness to my view of my own product and process.
Donna shared her thoughts, expressing her joy of the process, and although this is not the first time I have heard an artist speak of “the process” of making art, it was the first time I heard it explained with as much enthusiasm as the process itself.
Okay…enough…Get to know Donna and her talent a little better through her answers to my questions below, and if you have the opportunity, even more by taking one of her classes!
LMA: Tell us a little about your artistic background:
Donna: I can't remember when I started drawing; it was that long ago… I studied Illustration at Cal State Long Beach, and was recruited by Hallmark Cards right after graduation. For 27 years I was an artist at Hallmark, mostly creating kids' cards, and painting countless little critters. I retired from Hallmark last year to do mosaics full time, and I still do some freelance illustration and design work.
LMA: How long have you been creating mosaics?
Donna: I started around 1991, so now it's been about 25 years… or thereabouts.
LMA: What are some of your favorite materials and what do like about them?
Donna: I love glass… My favorite is Wasser Glass, which has unfortunately been discontinued. It's an incredibly thin glass that has lovely patterns that I've never seen in any other material. It's also wonderful to cut. I also like to use stained glass, especially for portraits, because of the variety of colors available. I've recently started using beads, millefiore, and vintage rhinestones, which I love because they add texture and variety to a piece.
LMA: Where do you find inspiration for subject matter?
Donna: I do a lot of animals! From pets that I've had (or friend's pets) to animals I see in the neighborhood, animals are probably my favorite subject matter. I see a lot of critters on my walks, and a couple are finding their way into my mosaics. I'm just blinging them up a bit…
LMA: What is your favorite thing you have created and why?
Donna: I have a couple of favorites… I did a robin dressed as Queen Elizabeth some time ago that was fun to make but also came the closest to the idea that I originally had in my head. I think it was that satisfaction of following through on an idea that made it a favorite. Also, I did a portrait of Abraham Lincoln using Wasser Glass that was a personal challenge for me. Wasser Glass, while beautiful, is also very limited in colors available. I wanted to challenge myself by a) doing a human portrait, and b) using the limited colors available and making it work. I was happy with how it came out.
LMA: What would you like to learn more about in mosaics?
Donna: I recently took a workshop by Mireille Swinnen, and used smalti for the first time. I also used a completely different style of andamento, which was really challenging for me. I would love to learn how to use new materials like smalti and stone, even more found objects. I would also like to learn how to fabricate 3D forms to mosaic.
LMA: What would you like readers to know about and your artwork?
Donna: I try to be a storyteller. I don't want to tell the whole story, just a part, that way people can bring a part of themselves to each piece. I tend to not take my work too seriously, and I rarely use symbolism or anything that requires explanation for someone to fully enjoy the piece. Also, people always say that I must be a very patient person. I don't think it's about being patient, but instead being present with what you're making; getting lost in what you're doing. I'm certainly not a patient person, but I get lost a lot.
LMA: Do you have any favorite charitable causes?
Donna: I have done quite a few pieces for Art Unleashed, an annual auction that benefits The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City.
I also have to mention LL Dog Rescue, where I got my precious little Winifred. http://www.lldogrescue.org/
LMA: What are your goals and aspirations with your artwork?
Donna: I want to continually challenge myself with new materials and subjects. I would also like to try to enter more juried and non-juried shows…
LMA: Please share a favorite mosaic experience with us.
Donna: I attended my second SAMA conference in Lexington, KY, and was lucky enough to get to spend some time working on the mosaic marathon. I had never before worked on something with so many wonderful mosaic artists. It was a wonderful experience that I will cherish always.
I have a special affinity for both simplicity and complexity. It was told to me once that “balance is the bringing together of opposites in equal measure.” Balance, to me, is something that can be very elusive, yet extremely necessary in art. I think this is something Donna exhibits very well in her body of work. As much as I have loved her more complex subjects and images, it is the three pieces below that absolutely tickled me! I smile every time I see them, all the while appreciating the balance and juxtaposition of opposites.
This past year I received the Robin Brett scholarship from the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA). My first class was Drawing Andamenti and Tessellation for Mosaics with Michael Kruzich. It was my intention to learn more of the basics in mosaic art, which I was ‘winging’ since I started making mosaics. When I saw that Donna was teaching at Luna Mosaics, it was a ‘no brainer’ what I would do with the balance of my scholarship. I am thrilled to be taking Donna’s Mosaic Pet Portraiture class in October. I am not sure if I am more excited to learn from Donna or to just bask in the aura of her joy of the process… I think both in equal measure.