"Blank canvas, blank mind...then I ask God for inspiration. Somehow, canvas and paint collide. When I'm really listening, He creates. It's all a mystery."
Donna Louise Ham
Donna Ham, Artist
Art has been a part of Donna Ham’s life for as long as she can remember. The creative process is a spiritual experience allowing her to express herself in new and exciting endeavors every day.
Throughout the years Donna has enjoyed designing with a distinct style of using rich, warm colors and diverse textures. Her art is a unique blend of nature’s influences enhanced through a history of camping as a child and continuing with camping experiences with her own growing family. Over the years, she has camped in at least 37 states. Not too shabby for a Dallas, Texas big city girl.
She inherited her love of art from her father. During World War II, he drew pin ups while on the train from Texas to San Diego. He then sold them to other soldiers on the train so he would have some extra spending money. Although, he pursued a career as a machinist and draftsman and inventor, he always encouraged his daughter in her artistic endeavors whether a finger painting, a modern batik in high school or painting a still life of family heirlooms near the end of his life. After her Dad died in early 2012, Donna was delighted to find a few of his drawings. They are now some of her most prized possessions.
The colors that Donna uses predominately in her paintings are derived from nature. Most family vacations were spent in the outdoors on camping and hiking trips. One year’s camping experience when she was about 11-years old made an indelible mark on her life. While sitting around a campfire late one night, Donna’s father noticed a cicada that had emerged from the ground and was crawling up a nearby tree. Donna and her father stayed up all night, checking the progress of the cicada’s transformation. Eventually the cicada’s hard shell began to split down the back and the beautiful winged cicada emerged. As it inched slowly from its exoskeleton, the cicada’s body exhibited the colors of brilliant turquoise deep purple and luscious green on the glistening fragile body of the adult cicada. This experience with her Dad will always be an influence in Donna’s paintings. As the sun rose that morning, the delicate wings and body of the cicada took on their final shape and the cicada flew away leaving behind the abandoned exoskeleton. That experience is expressed in her color choices today, many years after that night.
Donna also spent many summers in the countryside of the family’s Texas land west of Fort Worth. The family lived in Dallas, but spent weekends camping in a tent at their country land west of Fort Worth, Texas. Eventually, they bought a mobile home and installed it on their property which was located on the highest vantage point in the area. The landscape in the fall was beautiful and as a teenager, Donna found a specific hillside that she claimed as her own. She spent hours sitting under the trees, looking out over the valleys, thinking and writing poetry, pouring her heart out to the wind and to God. The influence of fall colors and landscape also find their way into many of Donna’s paintings.
Donna has pursued many artistic interests over the years. She learned how to draw while in high school from a talented art teacher. She learned the freedom of expression of modern art from another art teacher. While studying art at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas and one year at Bellaire High School in Houston, she dabbled in abstract painting, still life drawing in charcoal, designing abstract designs in batik, and even won a first place award for designing two silver rings.
Donna had always dreamed of attending college and studying art, however, that wasn’t meant to be. She fell in love and married Vic Ham in 1972. They soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two children quickly followed and Donna‘s dreams of pursuing an art career were put on hold. In the meantime, her art endeavors centered around decorating her home.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Donna learned the craft of embroidery, crewel and quilt making. She designed many embroidery and cross stitch projects. One large textile design of an eagle received an award at a corporate art show.
In the 1990s and early 2000s Donna’s focus turned toward watercolor and colored pencil drawings. She created many small art cards that she sold online to collectors throughout the United States.
Around 2005, Donna visited Colorado Springs, Colorado. While visiting a gallery, Donna fell in love with a mixed media artwork created with handmade paper designed by Colorado artist Christen Weathers. What appealed to her most were the colors that represented the sandstone in the large rocks in the Garden of the Gods. The other color that Ms. Weathers used was turquoise, the same color as the wings of the cicada she had loved as a child. Donna purchased the artwork. When she returned home and hung it on the wall, Donna’s interest in painting returned with a vengeance. She started creating mixed media paintings thanks to the inspiration she received from Christen Weathers’ painting.
Donna began to research acrylic abstract painting techniques on line. She realized that there was a plethora of information at her fingertips. She studied techniques and tried a lot of them, enhancing her natural talent with techniques from many different artists. She loved the freedom of creating textured canvases and mixed media.
“As I delve into a painting, if I am painting an abstract I feel the smooth canvas under my fingertips and then build texture with layers of gesso and paint,” says Donna. “To me, the texture is the most exciting part of an abstract painting. When I begin to apply paint, I love the way the paint seeps into the crevices and creates new and interesting points of interest.” As Donna views her own abstract paintings and those of others, she always finds new meanings and new truths in the depths of the creation. “I design my abstracts to evoke an emotional response in myself and in everyone who views my abstract paintings,” says Donna.
A trip to New York City, Israel and Spain in 2006 increased Donna’s love of abstract art. She visited the Guggenheim Museum allowing her to view famous abstract and modern art paintings. Walking along the sidewalk in New York City, she visited with street artists and enjoyed meeting and visiting with them. Then traveling throughout Israel, Donna viewed mosaics that were thousands of years old. The tropical setting around the Sea of Galilee and traveling through the mountainsides further influenced the spiritual nature of all of her future paintings. Touring such an exotic location as Barcelona, Spain was a feast for her eyes. The designs and colors of Gaudi were everywhere. All of these experiences and influences have all found a way into her abstract paintings.
In early 2009, Donna decided she wanted to learn how to paint still life paintings. Since she had never learned how to paint with oil paints, she researched artists who painted in a realism style. She found an artist, Mark Carder of Hawaii who was willing to share his knowledge. Donna studied the techniques and began her journey learning how to paint still life. When she finished her third still life painting, she sent it for the artist and others to critique. Mr. Carder’s comment was simply “WOW!!! GREAT!!!”
Donna was hungry to learn more, so she researched more artists who were willing to share their knowledge. This is when she found classically trained artist Dan Edmondson from Fort Collins, Colorado. She has painted many still life paintings for Mr. Edmondson’s critiques. He has made many positive comments about her technique. He even mentioned on one occasion that he was going to incorporate one of her techniques in his own paintings. He also said that he had worked with thousands of artists and that Donna was the best at setting up a still life that he had ever seen.
Although Donna loves the freedom of creating abstract designs, she also loves the structure of painting a still life painting. Recently at an art show in Tulsa, she displayed her still life paintings alongside her abstract paintings. Many people commented that they thought they had been painted by two different people.
Donna paints with a passion that is directly tied to her faith. Each painting usually has a spiritual theme but is always open to the viewer’s interpretation. She loves to tell the story of a painting that she titled Creation. One afternoon, she had a six-year old boy exclaim as he viewed the painting, “It looks like DNA!” How much closer to interpreting creation can one get than DNA?
She approaches still life in a slightly, less free-flowing style. A still life has to be set up with static pieces; however, the creative process is much the same. “When I am painting a still life, I reach deep within myself to capture the images and light to create a stunning moment in time, captured in delicious, rich oil paint. There is silent yet exquisite poetry in the light falling on a single leaf, a subtle and yet stunning background, or the translucence of a single grape.”
It is obvious that Donna loves painting. “I have spent a lifetime studying the methods and styles of others and realize that I could spend many lifetimes and still find more to learn.“ Painting is her incredible passion and journey.
Donna was invited in November 2011 to exhibit art in a solo show of 39 of her abstract paintings in the Brady Arts District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Donna also received an Honorable Mention in the December 2011 Artfest juried show in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. She has also exhibited in the Blue Dome Art Festival in 2004 and 2012.
Art is a way of life for Donna. In some form or another, she is always expressing herself through the arts whether painting a highly textured abstract or the depths of a realistic still life oil painting…she defines herself as a self-taught artist.
Donna lives an exciting and fulfilling life in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She shares her love of painting with her family and friends. She is proud of her son and daughter, and absolutely crazy about her two grandchildren. As she writes on her Twitter profile, “Conservative Christian, artist, Texas girl. Moved to Oklahoma a long time ago. 2 kids, 2 grandkids. Life is GRAND.”
“All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life,” quote
by M.C. Richards. Donna is using her life experiences to create paintings that
tell her story that she enjoys sharing with the world.