Author Archives: Donna

About Donna

Michigan artist Donna Zagotta is a contemporary figure painter

My Cabin in the Woods

I’ve (finally!) posted my current body of work on my website. I’ve also changed the format a bit so that everything is easy to find – I clutter busted!

I’ve also been clarifying for myself where I want to go next with my paintings. How will I grow my art? How can I make it more authentically mine? It’s exciting for me to be able to take some time to reflect upon where my art has been in the 30+ years I’ve been painting, and how I can move it forward. 18

This is my first year not teaching and with the Corona Virus and sheltering in place, I now have something I’ve been wanting for a long long time – consistent time in my studio. A long-held fantasy of mine has been to rent a cabin in the woods, one of those small prefab cabins maybe, that was fully stocked with food (and wine, of course) and do nothing at all except paint. So during this stay-at-home time, I decided to do my “cabin in the wood thing” at home.” It’s a different version – I’m the one stocking it with food and wine, and I have invited my hubby to join me (I’m stocking it with beer for him).

Outdoor accommodation, excellent health prevention. Good prevention against various diseases such as impotence. There are supplements that help with this. They are available on this website

If you could plan your log cabin in such a way that it feels like you’re living in a fairy tale, would you not? You’ve read Snow White or other similar stories as a kid. You know how much fun it is to live in the woods! Hence, we have decided to make a modern version of the same in our home. I’m loving it! Here’s a photo of our “cabin” AKA our home.

Our lovely “cabin in the woods”

Bye for now…………..Donna

Mother Daughter Exhibition



Our Mother Daughter Exhibition is finally a reality! Forty paintings done by my daughter Tracy Lyons and I are currently on exhibit at Studio West Gallery in Brighton, MI. They were hung beautifully by the exhibition coordinator, Norma Inloes. We couldn’t be more pleased with how it all turned out. The artist’s reception was festive, many folks showed up to help us celebrate the achievement of our dream, and we sold a number of paintings. We’re over the moon happy!

And….a work of art does make a great Christmas gift – just sayin’.

Bye for now………………


We’re Celebrating!

This time last year, I had the idea of putting together a mother daughter exhibition with my daughter, Tracy. We are both figure painters and paint exclusively from the same model – my granddaughter and Tracy’s niece, Amelia. For the last four summers, we’ve scheduled modeling sessions with Amelia in my back yard and have amassed thousands of photos which provide us both with unlimited inspiration for our figure work.

We have been painting for our mother daughter exhibition all year long. The photo above was taken at my house and it was the first time we actually saw our paintings together. It was amazing how well they played with each other!

At the moment, there has been a flurry of activity going on in both our studios as we’ve been matting, framing and getting everything ready to deliver our work to the gallery today! 

Stay tuned!


What’s Been Going on in the Studio Lately

Currently I’m working hard on a new series of paintings that will be shown later this year at Studio West Gallery in Brighton, Michigan. My daughter, Tracy Lyons, and I will be exhibiting our work together for the very first time. We have both been painting the same model – my granddaughter and Tracy’s niece – Amelia, for three years now. Presenting our work together has been an ongoing dream for both of us. We’re very excited! Stay tuned for updates! 

Donna’s chaotic studio earlier this year.

Earlier this year, I started a collage project. My goal was to strengthen my design sense and work more effective with color value and color intensity in my paintings.  I had to put away all of my painting gear, and as you can see in the photo at left, my small studio quickly went from reasonably organized chaos to totally out of control chaos! It was fun though, and I loved being totally absorbed in the process.  

Collage Process Photo

Here is an in-progress photo of one of my 10×10 inch collages. Working with the collage medium for the first time and learning how to paint my own papers with another medium that was new to me – acrylics – was humbling, to say the least. It was also enlightening to find myself struggling with the same obstacles and missing links that I struggle with in my watercolor and gouache paintings. What a “dah” moment that was for me!

Bye for now ….. Donna

Altered Sensibility; Marrying Representational Figures With Abstraction

Avalon, Donna Zagotta 17×17 Opaque Watercolor

A great way to breathe new life into representational figure paintings is to focus on seeing the figures and their environments with the eyes of an abstract artist. With figure painting it’s especially easy to get all caught up in rendering details and descriptive elements, making it easy to loose sight of the big picture and forget that (excluding the genres of portrait and illustration) a fine art painting – even the ones that feature a figure or figures as its subject – is above all a visual art form with its own visual language – and that language is based on the visual elements: shape, value, color, line, texture and pattern along with the visual principles that govern them.

My reference photo for Avalon – my husband snapped this photo of me on our visit to Catalina Island, CA.

I have no interest in being a portrait painter. I am simply a painter trying to discover more and more creative and imaginative ways to express my vision and personal voice in my paintings. The figure is just my current jumping off place to achieve those intentions. Previously, interiors and city scenes were my chosen jumping off places. So, before I ever started working with the figure, I already had an established working process: I use the elements of shape and value to structure my paintings, and I use the elements of color, line, texture and pattern to embellish my paintings. 

A preliminary study for Avalon; distilling the subject down to simple, flat, and stylized shapes.

The key to combining or marrying realistic subject matter with abstraction is to see that subject matter through the lens of abstraction – or as an abstract artist would see it. In their book Encounter with Art, Reid Hastie and Christian Schmidt liken the process of abstraction to the distillation process that takes place in the production of a perfume – saying, “It takes a lot of original material to obtain a product which bears little physical resemblance to the source material. The result is also more intense than the original raw materials. In the process of abstraction in art an abundance of visual experience is compressed into the product. The physical end product has a different look about it from its original sources, giving the observer a more intensified visual experience.”

A preliminary study for Avalon; distilling values down to a pattern of one dark and four light shapes.

The process of abstracting a subject begins with seeing a subject first and foremost as plastic – as  a group of shapes that can be changed, manipulated, distorted, stylized, and embellished in unlimited ways – the only limit is the artist’s imagination. This concept also holds true for the rest of the visual elements as well. Value and color can be totally freed from representational duties as can the elements of line, texture, and pattern. 

A preliminary study for Avalon; experimenting with ideas for embellishing my painting with line, texture and pattern.


Crossing that line that separates representation from abstraction presents exciting new ways to see and experience the figure. Paying equal attention to figure and abstract qualities in a painting allows the artist’s imagination to soar, allowing his personal voice to enter the picture – literally!   


Bye for now…..Donna