Donna Howard began painting in late 2010 after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She decided to fight back against the disease with a paintbrush. She has shown her endearing works of art in 73 juried group shows around the country as well as 28 solo exhibits. Artsy Shark named her one of the 6 most visited Artist Pages in 2015. She was Artful Vagabond’s featured Artist in 2012 and given an Award of Excellence from Artavita in 2016. Her paintings have been lit up on billboards in New York’s Times Square with the “Art Takes Times Square” Shows in 2012 and13. Three of her paintings are in the permanent collection of the Lowell Community Health Center and in many private collections. She is a member of Cambridge Arts Association, Cambridge, is a member of Cambridge Arts Association, Cambridge, MA, Gallery Z Co-op in Lowell, MA, and Lowell’s Brush Gallery. MA.
In this poignant article Donna explains how her creative process helps her heal wounds of her past and bring her feelings of power and a sense of peace. To view more of Donna Howard’s beautiful art and read more about her please visit her website Donna-Howard.com. ~ Renée Phillips
Donna Howard’s Story
I don’t have great recall when it comes to my childhood. The memories come to me in snippets. Which is fine. I couldn’t handle an avalanche.
When the past is brought up in family conversation we all laugh. Sure it’s funny now, but growing up in my skin was traumatic. I was that anxious kid that wouldn’t stray from mom for fear of being left somewhere. I was afraid of monsters too – especially the one under my bed.
Getting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in my 40’s explained a lot. I’d hit a wall and fortunately I decided to fight back against the disease.
I was intimidated at first,
but what came out of me was absolutely amazing.
Somewhere inside I found the strength to begin the journey. I was aware that people used art and music as adjuncts to their therapy. Having a background in Art studies I figured I’d give that a try as well.
I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in 25 years so I was intimidated at first, but what came out of me was absolutely amazing. It wasn’t a masterpiece but when I was finished I was looking at a small child sitting in the dirt while happy kids played around her. It felt like the first honest thing I told myself in years. This painting is titled “121 Wilmington Rd.”, shown above.
Although my therapist was not an “Art Therapist” I brought in new paintings every week. They were our way to communicate with each other. The images I painted represented the people, places, fears and phobias in my life. Each new painting seemed to make way for the next. The narrative of my childhood complete with an explanation was unfolding before me. The more I understood the easier it was to forgive.
Images of the scary part of my childhood
still come up but not as often.
I’ve been at this for about seven years now. Images of the scary part of my childhood still come up but not as often. Sometimes I get a great memory like “The Swamp Out Back Our House” (above). We played outside as kids. Mom would toss you out in the morning and wouldn’t expect you back til dark. My best friend and I spent summers in these woods hiking, building forts, picking blueberries and feeling the peace and quiet of the space.
You might be curious about my treatment of negative space – I was! It evolved very unconsciously but painting after painting I’d fill up the background with layers of brush strokes. They build upon each other like mesmerizing little geometric color studies, hoping to land on a harmonious color scheme that eases or adds to the tension. In my world the “negative space” is far from empty. It’s busy and filled with light and noise, anxiety and color. It begs for my attention and I do my best to interpret the chaos I feel.
By exposing pieces of my past to myself I’ve been able
to go through this incredible healing process.
“Scruffy The Cat” (above) is one of many self-portraits. I’ve been a dog, a turtle, lots of birds and even occasionally human. I feel like I’m Scruffy on those days when life kicks you a little harder than usual. I fight the urge to slink off and I stand tall in my disheveled way.
By exposing pieces of my past to myself I’ve been able to go through this incredible healing process. I’m figuring out the source of my anxieties and that knowledge seems to be all the power I needed to forgive and make peace with some of those demons.
I’d love to use my art and my own personal journey
to reach the little insecure kids…
I’d love to use my art and my own personal journey to reach the little insecure kids of today and help them realize that they have power over these kinds of feelings. I’d like to reach the little kid inside so many adults as well. Show them that while their anxieties may have deep old craggy roots, there’s peace out there too and it’s within reach.
Visit Donna Howard’s website at www.donna-howard.com
Join her on Social Media
Read an interview with her on Peripheral ARTeries Magazine at https://issuu.com/artpress/docs/p.arteries_81/22 .