Once a month, we feature local small business owners and artists who are using their creativity to make the homes and businesses of Roanoke beautiful.
This month, our spotlight is on artist Donna Tuten. Donna’s oil paintings capture a wide variety of subjects.
Part-Time Artist, Full-Time Passion: Donna’s Story
Donna Tuten is a full-time court stenographer. When she moved to Roanoke from the Richmond area about 10 years ago, she decided to pursue an interest of hers—art.
“I thought taking art classes would be a fun way to meet people,” she said. “I had always admired art, but I had no inkling that I had the ability.”
Through taking drawing classes at Virginia Western and then other art classes with local artists, she quickly found that she did have the ability. And that art was not only a great way to achieve her goal of meeting people, but it was also a relaxing hobby that she had quite a talent and passion for. “To discover art late in life was exciting for me,” she said.
In addition to the beauty of the area, the art community helped Donna in her transition to Roanoke. “I had lived in Richmond my whole life so it was a huge transition,” she said. “But there is so much natural beauty around us here and the mountains are beautiful. I love the art community that I’ve found.”
A huge part of that art community for her is Gallery 202. Donna is one of about 10 artists who each have their own studio in the space, which is located at 206 Market Square near the Farmer’s Market in Downtown Roanoke, up one flight of stairs. The space also features a gallery of the different artists’ work.
“We have people come up and view our art and they can see us work,” she said. “It’s a great space to collaborate and get a feel for what people like to see and what styles appeals to different people.”
You can find Donna painting at Gallery 202 during most of her spare time. “My goal to meet new people was met, both the artists and customers that come through,” she said. “I’ve met some great people through the studio.”
Painting Things That Bring Joy: Donna’s Style & Inspiration
Although Donna started out painting with acrylic, she has now transitioned to primarily using oil paints. “Acrylic dries too fast, and I find using oil to be more relaxing,” she said.
Donna’s style varies dramatically from one painting to the next. “It changes depending on my mood and whether I want to paint tightly and more realistically or whether I just want to throw some paint down and do something more impressionistic,” she said. “I never really know which one it’s going to be until it’s in process.”
Two of Donna’s paintings. The first, Field of Dreams, representing her impressionistic style. The second, Four Roses, representing the realistic style.
Her style is also influenced by what she’s listening to. For her, art and music go hand in hand. “I always have the music on, and I listen to all different kinds—pop, rock and roll, soul,” Donna said. “I get lost in the music and lost in the painting. Painting for me is a great form of relaxation, and I don’t think I would enjoy it quite as much without music.”
Donna’s inspiration for her paintings comes from things in life that she enjoys the most. Which is why her paintings represent such a wide variety of subject matter—florals, landscapes, animals, still life, reflections, glassware, and scenes from travel destinations, to name a few. Her goal is to create enjoyment for others through her bright and colorful artwork.
“I’m inspired by the things that make me happy that I think will make other people happy,” Donna said. “I like colorful paintings, and I like to exaggerate color. I want to create paintings that others will find relaxing and enjoyable.”
This variety of subjects in both realistic and impressionistic styles is what makes Donna’s artwork unique. She loves the freedom to paint wherever the music and her brushes take her. “Sometimes people will walk in and ask if I painted all of these paintings because they all look so different,” she said. “In the future, I wonder if I will settle into one style or the other, but for now, I just bounce back and forth.”
One set of pieces, accompanied by a special family memory, sticks out as one of her favorites she has ever created—a series of 10 baby safari animals that she painted for her granddaughter’s nursery. “The safari pieces were painted with a lot of love,” she said. “My daughter asked for gender-neutral safari animal paintings for my soon-to-be grandchild’s nursery. I was so excited and happy about the grandchild that I would paint a little bit then cry a little bit.”
Two of the set of 10 of Donna’s paintings of baby safari animals.
Donna looks forward to retiring in a few years so that she can spend more time on her artwork and marketing it. “I’d like to get it beyond Roanoke, but for now, I spend my time painting, not marketing,” she said.
Since painting is still her hobby for now, she declines most commission requests in order to paint what she wants to paint. She does sell her pieces at galleries, and prints of many of her pieces are available for purchase through her website.
Instead, Donna is focusing on using her hobby as a way to bring joy to others. “I enjoy knowing that my art is out there in the world, bringing smiles to people’s faces and making them feel happy and peaceful.”
You can see Donna’s artwork at Gallery 202. Stop in sometime and see her and the other artists, and talk with them as they work. Donna is also participating in the Open Studios Tour of Roanoke on April 28 and 29. Additionally, you can find her work on display at Magnolia, Black Dog Salvage, and other locations around town.
When Donna is not using her free time on weekends to paint, you can also find her enjoying food and wine in the Roanoke area and spending time with her family, including her first grandchild, a granddaughter who is now 9 months old. She and her boyfriend also enjoy traveling, especially to destinations where they can go scuba diving.
For more information about Donna and her artwork, visit her website.
Some More of Donna’s Artwork