Let me introduce you to Donna Varn who greets Loudoun Sketch Club plein air artists on Tuesdays with a sparkling smile and a chilled bottle of water. Perhaps you have enjoyed some conversation with her in the tasting room at the end of our winery paint-outs?

Donna is a lifelong artist.

As a child, growing up in the small Mississippi Delta town of Indianola, she loved to draw, color, paint and create things from “nothing”. Summer afternoons in her grandmother’s backyard were spent designing and constructing villages from rocks, twigs and larger sticks, berries, seeds, nuts, flowers and lots of mud (to hold it all in place). There were homes with gardens, buildings, roads and bridges for matchbox cars, scaled trains and tiny trucks. Deceased butterflies and cicadas traveled as cargo along the roads and matchstick tracks.

At about 7 years old, Donna took lessons from a local artist. After that, there was no turning back. She knew that she wanted to explore the amazing world of art!

She attended private school through Grade 12, and, after graduation, enrolled in a small liberal arts university in Mississippi to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Art Education with double minors in English and Psychology.

On campus she was active in Kappa Delta Sorority and held several board positions, including Membership. Donna married in her senior year and transferred to and was awarded her degree from the University of Alabama/Birmingham. Later she earned a specialty certificate in teaching young children to read.

The Varns welcomed two daughters in the early 80s and her husband’s corporate job relocated them from Mississippi to Birmingham, AL, Nashville, TN, Syracuse, NY, Atlanta, GA and eventually Leesburg, VA. Along the way Donna worked as a Pre-K teacher and a school resource director. While a Pre-K teacher she developed curriculum for a program based on art and children’s literature immersed in a whole language approach.

In Georgia, Donna was active in a Friday painting group at the Atlanta Artist Center and exhibited in their juried shows at the Grandview Gallery. Over the years, she participated in numerous workshops strengthening her skills, learning new techniques and enhancing her style of painting.

“My absolute favorite workshop was in Charleston, SC with Mary Whyte, an American watercolor artist who has received international recognition for her paintings of contemporary realism and portraiture.”

In retirement, Donna has unpacked and restocked her watercolor paints and supplies and devotes herself to her passions.

Donna is an active member of our Loudoun Sketch Club.

She also joined a weekly painter’s group in Shepherdstown, WV. She was delighted to sell several pieces of her art at that group’s recent annual show at the Back Alley Tea and Garden Tour.

Donna chooses subjects from nature and has a deep love and fascination with the directional lines present in the growth and shape of trees – from the gnarled swirl of exposed roots to the top of the branches. Her favorites are the majestic American Sycamore, the stunningly textured River Birches and the Ash.

Not limited to landscapes, bare trees and leaves, Donna also enjoys portraiture of people and animals.

Donna is passionate about the work of the Impressionists.

Her favorites include Monet and his water lily series and Mary Cassatt’s mothers and children, especially “Children Playing at the Beach”. “Their palettes are so lively, enthralling and bursting with luscious colors.”

Another influence is John Singer Sargent – “his amazing portraits and their frames, which are just as stunning!!! .. [among her favorites].. “Dr. Pozzi” and “Madame X” glow with life”

Donna is enchanted by Degas’ “Little Dancer” sculpture and has had the opportunity to view it on many occasions. She is also attracted to the work of Renoir, especially his ”Little Girl in a Blue Chair” – “..so charming and impish!”

Among her “go-to” painters, Donna looks to Winslow Homer and the serene fluid qualities of his paintings for inspiration. And, oddly enough, she is drawn to Jackson Pollock’s large murals with their energetic blasts of action and color.

Last, but not least, has been the influence of Andrew Wyeth’s incredible detail and the soothing, earthy colors of his palette.

“The magnificent quality of light, the incredible life his paintings exude, the starkness of realism, the simplicity of his subject matter, the emotions that leap off the canvas…and the story behind each painting…is simply…astounding! “

Donna just finished reading A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Cline.

This novel, woven with fact and fiction, examines the relationship between Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olson, the subject of his most famous painting, “Christina’s World”. She is now immersed in, Andrew Wyeth, A Secret Life by Richard Merryman, a portrait of the artist and his bizarre upbringing by his famous illustrator father, N.C. Wyeth and his quite unusual mother, Carol.

Donna considers herself fortunate to have viewed many of Wyeth’s paintings in museum shows throughout the years. On her bucket list is travel to the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania and the Farnsworth Art Museum’s Wyeth Center in Maine.

Currently Donna is painting in watercolor on yupo.

Unlike traditional watercolor paper, yupo has no “tooth”. The paint sits on the surface of this unique product and does not get absorbed into the material. Yupo’s slick, bright white, smooth and durable surface, does not tear and can be wiped clean or manipulated in unlimited ways/methods. Not happy with a painting? Take it to the sink, wash it off and begin again!

Yupo, extruded from polypropylene pellets is  a 100% recyclable, waterproof, tree-free, synthetic “paper”, ideal for outdoor signage, labels and packaging. It is available in a range of grades, weights and sizes here.

Donna, also, dabbles daily in photography – black and white as well as color.

All subject matter is fair game to shoot!

Her keen eye seeks unusual subjects, unconventional compositions and unique perspectives. She will often zoom in on the scene and adjust the angle, giving the photograph an abstract appearance. She owns several top of the line cameras but prefers to challenge herself to produce amazing, intriguing, quality images with her iPhone 7.

Donna often shares her images of our paint out venues on the Loudoun Sketch Club Facebook page.

Donna Varn’s Artist Statement

is a sum of her talent, experiences and influences:

“Inspiration… comes through the luscious colors, textures and lines found in the explosive everyday surrounds of nature. My goal is not to reproduce exact replicas of a subject but rather, to interpret the subjects I paint in a “painterly style”, filled with the joy of color, as well as the emotions garnered through this exploration of movement and texture.”


Interview by Pat Neuman.