Category Archives: Art Talk

Donna Zagotta, award-winning watermedia artist, writes about being an artist and suggests ways to improve your art

Turning Points


  • Turning point: a point at which a significant change occurs (Webster’s Dictionary)
  •  “In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and clear that one feels as if one’s been hit in the chest, all the breath knocked out, and one knows, absolutely knows without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt that one’s life will never be the same.”  Julia Quinn

Forty five years ago, I was a full time mom with a two year old toddler and a three month old baby girl. I was happy as a lark. I loved my husband, my family, and my beautiful life.  But one day, browsing through the day’s mail, I came upon a catalog from a book store that contained books on how to paint. I didn’t know that you could actually teach yourself to paint by reading books! And I thought, “when Tom and I retire, that’s what I’m going to do – teach myself how to paint!” And then the next thought that entered my mind was, “why wait until retirement – if you begin now, you’ll have a really good head start.”

Fast forward to today……………Tom’s last day at work – he is retiring today!  It feels as if those forty-five years flew by in an instant!  And I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t decided to follow my heart so many years ago and pursue my dream of becoming an artist. That one decision was a major turning point for me.   

When I first began my journey, I decided that I would educate myself by creating a curriculum that one might pursue in getting an art degree.  My goal was, and always has been, to learn everything I could possibly learn about how to put together a fabulous painting. And I discovered that I’m as passionate about researching and learning about art and art history as I am about creating it. I’ve explored many paths over the years and my art journey has lead me to places I never could never have even imagined when I began. It has provided me a place to get to know, grow, honor, and express myself every single day of my life, and an opportunity to share my passion and my discoveries through my teaching and writing. Seeing and experiencing life through the eyes of artist has given my life grounding, meaning and purpose. I am so very grateful to have this very precious gift in my life.    

So, today a new chapter begins for Tom and me – and I wanted to mark it because have a feeling it will end up being another turning point in my life!

Happy Painting!

That Time of Year

I love this time of year! When I was a kid I loved the idea of going back to school in September after a long summer break. Note that I said I loved the idea of going back to school. Come November, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t loving it all that much! Actually, if I’m being totally honest here, it’s really the back to school SHOPPING that I love. Last week I was picking up some ink for my printer at Staples and there they were – the kids and their moms and their shopping lists – SHOPPING for school supplies. Retailers know that this particular time of year is going to be busy, so there may even be coupons and codes to discover online on sites like Raise that can help save some money too. How I longed for those by-gone days when I saw the shoppers! For me, going back to school in the fall and back to school shopping has always symbolized fresh starts and new beginnings. Well, fresh starts and new beginnings aren’t only for kids. I bought myself a fresh new notebook for my art journaling (along with a bunch of very necessary “school supplies”), and once back home, I made some plans for what I was going to study this coming year. At the top of my list is COLOR. I’m going to be studying the Munsell Color Wheel with the goal of working more effectively with color schemes in my paintings. Because color depends so much on value, I’m also going to focus on more creative value patterns as well. And because great value patterns are so dependent on a fabulous composition of shapes, I’m going to focus on stronger compositions too. Hmmmmm, inventive color combinations, creative values, and strong shape compositions – what else is there?

One of the ways I keep myself “forever a student” is to create a learning project for myself once or twice a year. Lately my projects seem to all revolve around composition and design. How about you? What are you going to be studying this year? If you’re looking for some ideas, check out my series of posts on “deliberate practice” and “mapping a personal journey – heading in the right direction.” on the right. PS: I am in the process of updating and remodeling this blog, so if you click on any of the topics and “Not Found” appears, simply type in “deliberate practice” or “heading in the right direction” in the box that is provided and click “Search.”

Happy Painting!

Jurying the 2012 American Watercolor Society International Exhibition


2012 AWS Jurors Donna Zagotta, Linda Baker, Antonio Masi

Earlier this month I had the honor and privilege to be one of 5 jurors of selection for the 2012 American Watercolor Society International Exhibition. AWS is one of the oldest and most prestigious watercolor organizations in the world and every artist who is ever juried into one of their annuals is understandably elated. I’m excited to share with you some of my thoughts about this amazing experience along with some information about the AWS jurying process.  

This year’s 5 jurors of selection and the 3 awards jurors were chosen last spring by ballot vote from the signature members of AWS. The jurors of selection met in New York City the first week in January to choose this year’s exhibition and to vote on the submissions of those artists applying for signature membership.  We were given electronic devices that contained only a “yes” button for voting. Votes were registered instantly and AWS President Jim McFarlane announced the results immediately with an “In”, “Out”, or “Maybe”. Images receiving 4 or 5 votes were “In”, images receiving 3 votes were “Maybe”, and images receiving 2 or less votes were “Out”. 

The first step in the jurying process was a non-voting run through of the 1185 images entered this year. Each image was digitally projected onto a slide screen that was about 10 feet in front of where the jurors sat. The images were shown in the order they were received by AWS and there was no indication of whether the image we were viewing came from a signature member, associate member, or non-member. This initial non-vote viewing of all submitted entries took about an hour. 

The next step was jurying the approximately 30 artists applying for signature membership. Each had submitted 2 images that were shown separately and then together. During the process of jurying for signature membership we could discuss the images and ask questions if we desired. 4 out of 5 votes were needed for signature membership, and if an artist received signature status, we then voted on which of his or her image would hang in the exhibition. This year, 19 new signature members were chosen. 

After voting in the new signature members, we began the long process of choosing the rest of this year’s exhibition. During this part of the process we could not talk to each other or discuss the viewed images in any way other than to ask the painting’s size, and we did not know how the other jurors voted. Again, entries receiving 4 or 5 “yes” votes  from the jurors were announced by the President McFarlane as “In”, those receiving 3 votes from the jurors were announced as “Maybe”, and those receiving less than 2 votes were announced as “Out.” At the end of this stage of the process, we were not told the number of “In” paintings, but I’m guessing it was in the 60 to 70 range. The final part of the procedure was to view and vote again on the images that were in the “Maybe” category, which I’m guessing was in the 60-70 range as well. This time, we could again discuss the images with each other before casting our final votes. When all the votes were tallied, 142 paintings were juried into this year’s AWS exhibition, which will open this April at New York City’s Salmagundi Club.

Being able to discuss when we voted in new signature members and when we voted on the “Maybe’s” was very enlightening for me because I saw that as jurors, each of us brought a different vision and viewpoint to the process. Over the years, I have heard much discussion concerning the multiple juror system versus the single juror system. Some believe that with multiple jurors the resulting exhibition is somewhat diluted because it comes down to a majority vote. However, having participated in both types of systems, I like the multiple juror system exactly because each juror comes with a very different and very personal point of view. These differences become their strengths, and each juror votes from individual and different strengths, which I believe adds “multiple strengths” to the show, perhaps making it more balanced in flavor.

Having had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the table – I’ve been “juried” and I’ve been “juror” – always reminds me of how subjective the whole jurying process really is. Jurors are given no standards or rules to guide them as they cast their votes. Each juror brings his or her own subjective and sometimes “quirky” ideas and opinions to the table, and it is those ideas and opinions – those “strengths” – that set the standards that guide his choices. In jurying an exhibition like AWS, the sheer number of entries alone is mind boggling. Things are happening so quickly during the jurying process that there is no time to analyze or even think about the image before you. There really isn’t time for anything more than a (hopefully well-informed) gut reaction – you like it or you don’t.  

Here are some things I took away from this wonderful experience: 

          – To be accepted into an exhibition of this caliber, paintings need to be well put together and fully resolved. 

            Don’t enter images that have been “done to death.” Stay away from the trendy subjects and styles that are featured in the latest watercolor books and magazines. We saw so many of those kinds of images that after awhile I started longing to see something I hadn’t seen (in what felt like a million times) before.  

            Don’t paint like someone else. We saw a number of images that reflected who that artist had studied with, and many images similar to the work of popular watercolor workshop instructors.    

          – Make your work personal. Show your compulsions. Show your passion. It matters! 

Happy Painting!

Out and About Opening Reception

Sunday’s opening reception was quite exciting! We “guesstimated” that more than a hundred people attended. Good food, great conversations, and four sold paintings to boot! 


Despite a few technical difficulties, I did my first digital talk and all went well. I talked about ten pictorial ideas I’m passionate about and use in my work.  


I enjoyed visiting with family, friends, and acquaintances, especially those I haven’t seen in awhile.    

Happy Painting!

Out and About
















As I sit in my studio writing today’s post I am surrounded by messes. These messes can be seen in the rest of the house as well – the dining room, kitchen, and family room (no messes in the bathroom, though). Oh – but this time the messes are GOOD MESSES! They are evidence and confirmation of goals achieved and a dream come true. I sit surrounded by 20 framed paintings awaiting hanging wire to be attached by my studio assistant (AKA my husband). This is my Out and About series, 20 paintings that will be on exhibition starting Friday.    

I started my Out and About series at the same time I started this blog – February 2009. I even talked about it in my very first blog post ever! It’s very exciting and satisfying for me to see something that existed only in my imagination 2 years ago actually surrounding me today. This series is the first extended series I’ve done where I began with a list of parameters that I set in advance with the goal of making my art more personally satisfying.  In creating this series I learned a great deal about my art ideas and philosophies, and also about myself.  

Many of us are searching for that magic bullet – that “secret to successful painting.” I’ve learned that the only secret to creating the kind of paintings that appeal to us is to paint all the time. I’ve also learned that while that sounds very simple, it is not at all easy. Balancing painting with the rest of life is a huge challenge that must be acknowledged and addressed. Waiting for large chunks of time doesn’t work. Life these days is too busy, too complex, too full! I’m learning to work with life as it is, rather than wait for life to be the way I’d like it to be. I have a very full teaching schedule and a house and a family – all of which I love dearly, so I’m working on finding ways to keep myself connected to my work and progressing as an artist in the midst of it all. 

Working in a series helped in so many ways. First of all, I didn’t have to worry about what to paint when I walked into the studio each day. Secondly, getting more and more familiar with my subject as the series moved forward freed me to tackle my goals for improving my work because I knew I would be able to work on my drawing, painting, seeing, content, design, style, and technique goals in many paintings rather than in my next painting, I felt more relaxed and joyful as I painted. Eventually a natural rhythm developed where one painting led logically to the next because I learned what I should be working on in the next painting from the painting I had worked on last. The result is a cohesive body of work that I love, and I look forward to seeing where it leads me next.   

Working in a series can help you find your personal style and your personal art philosophy. It can also help you clarify your ideas, identify your strengths and weaknesses while providing a safe place to grow both your strengths and weakness. Series work increases your confidence, unearths your imagination, helps you discover who you are as an artist!    

Above is the invitation for my upcoming exhibition – I wish you could all join me next Sunday! I’m hoping to get some photos to share with you in my next post. 

Happy Painting!