Designing Home Lifestyle's Gallery:
By Kelli McElhinny
Ron Donoughe takes to the streets and highways of western Pennsylvania – along with the region’s hillsides, forests, state parks, and a variety of other locales – to practice his craft.
The Lawrenceville-based artist uses a plein-air style, painting outdoors to capture landscapes ranging from city blocks to rural countrysides in their natural light. The approach blends a few of his interests.
“I loved nature, and I loved art,” says Donoughe, “and it seemed like a good way to combine the two.”
Donoughe finds a number of advantages to the plein-air style. “It’s a very direct and honest approach to painting the landscape,” he says, adding that the colors are three-dimensional and the lighting and shadows change across the distance. “It gives a spirit of place that you don’t get from working from a photo.”
On the other hand, outdoor painting has its drawbacks, too. “The most obvious challenge is the weather conditions,” Donoughe says. Extreme temperatures won’t keep Donoughe from painting outdoors, but precipitation becomes a problem because oil paint will not adhere to the canvas. In fact, while many Pittsburghers hunker down indoors during the cold-weather months, Donoughe gets a chance to paint his favorite subjects: winter landscapes. “It reflects light in a very subtle way,” Donoughe says. He also appreciates how the white blanket of snow gives paintings an opposite effect of many other landscapes, concentrating the lightest value on the land, not the sky.
In painting outdoors, Donoughe must also work efficiently. He only has a window of two or three hours before the lighting changes significantly enough to alter the landscape. These time constraints tend to limit the size of his on-site paintings, which typically have the dimensions of a laptop computer screen, although Donoughe has completed as big as a 4-foot-by-8-foot painting outdoors. If he likes the smaller image, he’ll replicate it on a larger canvas.
“These little ones are my dailies,” he says, comparing them to an athlete’s calisthenics or a musician’s scales. “It’s what I do every day to keep me in tune.” The larger replications can be striking, though, emphasizing the interplay of light and shadows and magnifying the richness of the colors.More recently, Donoughe has turned his attention to working from vintage photos. He has done a number of paintings of early 20th century industrial settings. The knowledge of light and shadow he’s gained from 25 years of outdoor painting translates to more authentic work, especially when working from an old photo. Donoughe says that it helps him make a photo his own.
In addition to his work in Western Pennsylvania, Donoughe often paints on the west coast where his twin brother, Don lives. He has an ongoing relationship with a gallery there that sells his San Francisco paintings. Last year Donoughe had a joint exhibition with Don at their alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and his work is included in the permanent collection at the museum there. Donoughe’s work is also featured in collections of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art and the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.
Donoughe, a native of Loretto, knew early on that he was destined for a career in art. “This was my passion since first grade,” he says. “All of my school notebooks were full of drawings.”
Before he was able to focus fully on his painting, Donoughe’s career took a more conventional route. He majored in art education and later worked as a graphic designer until he went full-time as a painter in 1991. Even then, he maintained a variety of part-time gigs, even though they took his attention away from his true passion. “All the other jobs just seemed like a distraction,” Donoughe says.As the audience for his work grew, he became less and less reliant on those part-time gigs for financial stability. A few years ago, he was able to give them up entirely.
Donoughe says that Pittsburgh is an attractive environment for full-time artists, in part due to its low cost of living. The region’s topography is appealing, as well. “Every time you turn another corner, you have a new vista,” Donoughe says.
Donoughe adds that the sense of community among Pittsburgh artists is also a plus. “There’s a camaraderie I feel with other artists, especially landscape artists,” he says.
Donoughe’s western Pennsylvania roots earned him a special honor this year. The curator of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg has invited Donoughe and another Pittsburgh artist, Patrick Ruane, to exhibit their work together. The exhibition, Across the Alleghenies, will showcase Allegheny County because the newly-elected Governor is a Shaler native.
More information about Ron Donoughe is available at www.donoughe.com. His website includes a link to his blog, where he posts a new painting every week and encourages readers to provide feedback.