Growing up in Sykeston, Donlin remembers dabbling in art at an early age.
“Even before I started school, I always drew pictures and wrote stories to go along with them,” she says. She was artistic in other ways, too.
In a book she created for her grandchildren, titled “When Grandma Was a Kid,” Donlin shares photos and stories from her childhood. One page includes a pastel drawing of a landscape, with the description, “Art and music were a big part of my life. I was always sketching something. I entered this pastel drawing in fifth grade in the Wells County Fair and won first place. … I played guitar a little, piano and trumpet in the band. But mostly I just liked to sing.”
Donlin’s early passion for painting was encouraged by an aunt, Lorraine Carr, who painted well into her 90s.
“She was one of my greatest inspirations to keep painting,” Donlin says.
Donlin channeled her artistic talents into a career as a public relations professional in communications and marketing departments in energy, health care and higher education, including work at an electric cooperative in Carrington and at Basin Electric Power Cooperative in Bismarck for 10 years. Her life was also filled with raising five children.
“My spare time was spent honing my skills as a painter and singer,” she shares. She is a member of the Bismarck-Mandan Civic Chorus, sings in her church choir and is often a soloist at weddings and funerals.
Donlin and her husband, Charlie, now live in Bismarck as members of Capital Electric Cooperative. Upon retiring, Linda has returned to her canvas. She launched a professional artist website at www.lindadonlinfineart.com and began another chapter in her story.
“When you work in communications, you use your artistic side in many different ways. I channeled it toward the business world my whole career and now I’m able to express more things from my heart and soul,” Linda shares.
Last summer, Linda delved into her first professional series of paintings, creating four scenes unique to her hometown, Sykeston, to honor its 135th anniversary.
Linda started the series last year with an acrylic painting of Lake Hiawatha that was inspired by a photo in her family’s history book. It depicts the lake, with Sykeston’s water tower and a rainbow in the background.
“That is very special to people who grew up in Sykeston – the park and the lake and the bridge,” she says.
“I was pretty satisfied with it and posted it on Facebook. I got tremendously positive feedback from my classmates and current and former Sykestonites, and I was enjoying it, so I decided to try a few more,” she says.
Next, she completed “Old Downtown,” a painting that preserves a historical scene before some major buildings were demolished on Main Street in Sykeston.
“That one was tougher, because there weren’t a lot of photos available of the whole street and nothing in color, so I improvised as much as I could to piece it together. I also contacted classmates to tap their memories and photo libraries. When I posted that one on Facebook, my phone really started blowing up. It was particularly poignant because several of the buildings downtown met the wrecking ball last year,” she says.
To complete the series, Linda did paintings of the elementary and high schools in Sykeston.
“In the last 10 years, I haven’t had much time to paint because of my career, so I viewed starting this series as a way to get my skills back up so I could really go into this seriously,” she says.
Linda works in acrylic and oil paints, using palette knives and gloved fingers to swirl and mix the paints into final form right on the canvas. Brushes are used sparingly when fine detail is needed.
“My paintings are vibrant with soft edges; dimensional with texture, layers and highlights; and true in shape and form. They are more impressionistic than detailed and precise,” she says. “I fell in love with impressionistic, impasto paintings, done primarily with a palette knife, and most recently with my gloved fingers.”
“These are two of my most treasured possessions, these two palette knives,” she says, picking up the tools. One is a rare round palette knife made by Art Kerner, a Scottsdale, Ariz., artist who taught a class in which Linda participated years ago.
“He taught me the palette knife method of painting, and I really like that. I’ve always preferred to paint with texture and dimension and be able to mix right on the canvas,” she says. And she uses bold colors.
“I’m not a pastel person by any means. That’s reflected in my painting as well,” she says.
Linda’s style is evident in her latest work, “The Heart’s Passion Awakens the Soul,” featuring the BMSO’s music director, Beverly Everett, and 15 members of the orchestra.
“Music has been a part of my whole life, so it was bound to come out on the canvas,” Linda explains.
In the majestic painting, Linda swirled the sky around faces of famous composers and recreated the architecture of the historic Belle Mehus Auditorium in nearly three-dimensional detail.
The painting will be part of a series, “Inside the Music,” which she will show at the Capital Gallery in Bismarck in the fall of 2019.
For that series, she has completed a painting of her son, Mike Seil, who is the choral director at Legacy High School and directs two of the Central Dakota Children’s Choirs in Bismarck. “The Solo” is another painting of a choir that she completed 12 years ago, but she has now updated the colors in the painting.
For the series, Linda plans to complete more paintings of the orchestra and other performing arts groups from the musician’s perspective.
“Most paintings are done from the audience perspective,” she says. “I want to capture the sense of what artists share when they are working harmoniously, pouring their hearts out during a performance.”
Another painting in her arts series is from the dance world. “Giselle’s Grace” features a ballerina in a monochromatic layering of paint that almost looks like a woodcarving.
With her easel propped in front of a large basement window, Linda is gratified to be able to return to one of her life’s passions.
“To me, it’s very relaxing and fulfilling – a deeper expression of who I believe I was meant to be,” she says. “I think everyone is creative. We all have different ways of expressing it. I think it’s wonderful when you have the time to think about what you want to do next and express that creativity in a meaningful way.”
“Go where your heart takes you,” she says. “I’m excited about the next chapter.”
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area