Local artist strives to put those ‘moments’ into pastels


Donna Van Leer isn’t interested in making bold, political statements with her pastel work, but she carries a camera with her everywhere she goes just in case she comes upon that “artistic moment.”

Submitted photo: Donna Van Leer stands by one of her favorite paintings of a tiger titled ““There’re a Few of Us Left.” Van Leer’s work is being exhibited at the UNM-VC Fine Arts Gallery until Oct. 3.

That moment can then become one of her paintings.

“Most of my work is from photographs,” Van Leer said, “and if not from one of mine then from a friend’s photograph.”

Once she decides on a photograph, Van Leer then translates the image to pastels.

“If I can inject a bit of emotion into my art and create an image that will touch the viewer in some way,” she writes in her artist’s statement, “then so much the better.”

People of Valencia County will have the opportunity to view Van Leer’s pastel work through Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the UNM-Valencia Campus Fine Arts Gallery.

Work featured in this exhibit includes both stills and wildlife. Her favorite piece in the show is of a tiger, which she’s titled “There’re a Few of Us Left.”

Her work leans toward photo realism, though she admits in some pieces she creates a background from her imagination. One such piece in the exhibit is entitled “Asian Lilies.”

Van Leer came late to the world of art. She started taking lessons in 1997 from BethAnne Bethel, a pastel artist, who, at the time, had a studio in Los Chavez. Van Leer started with still lifes and florals.

“I really missed a lot of opportunities in high school and college to explore art because I had misconceptions about what an artist is suppose to do,” she said.

Van Leer had the conception that an artist must draw from the imagination only.

She always had an interest in arts and crafts and grew up doing a lot of sewing.

“I always had the desire for art,” Van Leer said.

She majored in psychology in school and had a career that had little to do with art.

“The last job I had I was in the HR department of a large hospital,” she said. “I managed employee benefits.”

But now the kids are all raised and she’s started a second career as an artist.

“Our third bedroom is now my studio,” Van Leer said, “and my husband is always asking me what are you going to do with all of these paintings.”

Her daughter and friends are very supportive, and she has colleagues in both the Pastel Society of New Mexico and the Belen Art League that she connects with as kindred spirits.

Van Leer has had her work in various national juried shows. Besides national shows in New Mexico, her work has been in exhibits in shows in Arkansas, Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, California and Washington, D.C.

Awards for her work range from the International Artist Magazine, to the Pastel Journal to Expo New Mexico Fine Arts Show, to name a few.

Compared to oils or watercolors, pastel work is not as crowded of a field, she said. Van Leer said she is still learning about the technique of using pastel, and that she is also challenged by the plays of light and shadow on objects and how best to capture that in a pastel painting.

Van Leer is also now working in miniatures in acrylic, but that is something fairly new. She might have came to pastel and art later in life, but “with luck, I’ll be in this for the long run.”

And her advice for anyone just starting down the artists’ path?

“Just do all the art that you can, that you can cram into your life,” she said. “Just keep doing it. Don’t give up.”