A Celebration of Miracle & Mystery
by Luke Osteen
If you wish to unravel the riddle of Laurel’s cover artist, Donna Rhodes, you need to look no further than that irresistible cover and this dare-you-to-look-away dog portrait.
The cover – all Easter-y colors and images lifted directly from a child’s naptime idyll – is the perfect encapsulation of the playfulness that informs every aspect of Donna’s life. There’s heaps of whimsy in the figures of the rabbits, an entire suite of carefully balanced colors and shapes, and, with every brushstroke, an undeniable celebration of miracle and mystery.
“This illustrates the ‘happy dance’ that lives inside me,” Donna says.
Now consider that wise-beyond-his-years Dachshund looking at you from the opposite page.
You can feel the gentle wisdom radiating from those eyes, a simple declaration of love and devotion. It’s the anatomization of a transcendent understanding first broached between an almost-too-timid-for its-own-good wolf and a human who offered an open hand and a gentle word. There’s love here, and understanding, as eloquent as anything penned by Keats.
The discernment embroidered within both of these works has been on display on the pages of Laurel for over a decade. Donna’s Rants, her impish observations about life lived with open eyes and an open heart, are deeply satisfying and always a favorite with readers. She’ll start with some worn, everyday topic like an indifferent breakfast or, in one memorable essay, heaving bosoms, and, like a one-armed IHOP chef, flip it like a flapjack and give it to you as something rich and funny and unexpected. All served up with a smile.
“Looking back over a lifetime of adventures, I think I’d best be described as an entertainer,” Donna says. “I live to tell a tall tale, orchestrate a walloping Young Adult adventure, or immerse myself in music, songwriting, performing.”
This lifetime of exploration and reporting on the unexpected delights that shape her life has led to her latest endeavors.
“Currently, I take commissions for pet portraits,” she says. “I am open to just about anything that has to do with animals, including a Mountaintop Bunny Hop.
“Immortalizing pets is a soul-satisfying passion. I am intrigued by the love affair of beast and human. When preparing for a portrait, I invite the owner to tell me a story or two about his or her pet. That gives me the inside scoop, (no litter-box puns intended).
“The first feature I paint is the eyes. That’s where the soul lives. The eyes open a dialogue and tell me what I need to do next, which is often studying the coat. The fur’s character frequently reflects the personality of the beastie – wiry, soft, pristine, or out of control, especially out of control.”
Naturally, a good portion of this deep preparation relies upon the ideas and observations of the pet’s owner.
“I ask about the pet’s most outstanding characteristics, followed by questions about the portrait’s style… classic, stylized, abstracted, cartooned. I inquire about the addition of props. I work from a quality photo that has strong contrasts and, for reasons just related, an excellent view of the eyes.”
If you’d like to commission a painting or start a conversation with this most surprising woman, contact Donna at email@example.com. You can view her work on Instagram as Donna Loo, or you can contact her through this magazine.
In fact, if you’d like to meet Donna and see her works up close, join us for a Cover Artist’s Reception in her honor at the Laurel office and Studio 106, 478 Dillard Road in Highlands, from 5:30 to 7:00 P.M. Friday, April 5.
Donna in person is just as surprising as her art.