Donna O’Hara Combines Passions for Painting and the Outdoors


It was probably inevitable that Anderson Artists Guild member Donna O’Hara would grow up to be an artist. As a child, she lived on a clay pit in Sayreville, New Jersey. “I used to play with the clay all the time,” she said. “I made little things. And I rubbed it all over my body and would then jump in the water.”

As an art major at East Tennessee State University, she chose clay for one of her major media. After graduation, she and her husband traveled the circuit of high-end craft shows from New York to Florida for about two shows a month for eight years. They created and sold a line of animal mirrors that featured 30 different animals. One was an orangutan hanging from a tree, a mirror lodged between its arms. While O’Hara loved the creativity and the feedback from customers, it was a challenging way to make a living. “It was hard work, and you never knew what you would make,” she said. “It was very up and down income.”


She eventually got a master’s degree in education from Oswego State University in New York and spent 25 years as an elementary school art teacher. “I loved getting kids all excited about art,” she said. “It was great to be able to teach them to do things with their hands because they don’t do many things with their hands anymore.”


After retirement, O’Hara and her husband moved to West Union, S.C., seeking an escape from the harsh winters. They enjoy the outdoors and spend a lot of time camping, hiking, kayaking, and taking long road trips in their motorcycle with a sidecar.


O’Hara also likes to paint outdoors plein air style. “You’re smelling, listening, influenced by everything,” she said. “You have to paint quick; the shadows change so quickly. You have to paint the essence of what you see.” She even brings along a lightweight easel and a set of 40 little pastel chunks on hikes.


Her style is evolving into a softer, more emotional realism, nowadays often portraying landscapes. “I’m trying to paint what I feel,” she said. “You can’t have a painting without seeing what you’re inspired by, but I want to be able to change it and not be so married to it.”


Though she has begun experimenting with oil, pastel is her passion. “I love the feel of it, how you can layer it and make it look real or blurred,” she said.

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