She was always a painter, but when Donna Auer joined some friends for a guided painting tour of Italy organized through the former (and much loved) Blue Horse Gallery, she didn’t know that she would actually have to paint, too. “They said that was part of the deal. You got to go to Italy, but you had to produce work from the trip.” She made seven paintings, all of which sold upon her return. Realizing that she wanted to paint full-time, she then gave nine months’ notice to her colleagues and patients in her psychotherapy practice, and dedicated herself to the brush-and-canvas. She painted twenty-three pieces of Lake Padden in fall and winter, all of which sold. She has since been in one-woman shows and group shows at the former Blue Horse Gallery and at Lucia Douglas Gallery.

After years of doing landscapes and familiar scenes of Whatcom, Auer has completely changed her style. “I took a hiatus from painting, and when I came back, I changed my style. I’m going into the difficult art of abstraction.” Without the familiar forms of trees, mountains and lakes, Auer is going to strike out into bold, new territory. “I’m interested in the contemplation, in the direct-access and process-oriented painting. I’m interested in seeing what comes out.”

The process for Auer is similar in some ways—she consumes art images, reads art magazines, looks at art books, goes to galleries and travels to see great art. But the internal process, the contemplation and rendering, is completely new. “Everything I know about art is in my subconscious, but I don’t know what the outcome is yet.” The shift brings her a lot of excitement. “I still see beautiful landscapes, I just don’t want to paint them anymore.” Auer says that her goal is to work with more intention. She has a strong educational foundation in calligraphy, painting, art history and all the classic techniques. “You have to know that foundation first,” she said. This is her first year of doing only abstracts and thinking exclusively about abstract painting.

“It’s a bit like writing, in which you take a sentence and then extrapolate. I create as I go, using the marks that I choose, and then build on those, and continue to build on those, until it’s finished.” The hardest part of any artistic endeavor is in completing a piece. “The finishing and liking is the tricky part.” Auer had just finished a painting when we spoke. “I don’t know how I know it’s finished, I just know that it is. I just suddenly know it’s done.” And this is where she seeks intention, where she looks for clarity. The intuitive process of abstraction is so far from the sturdy shores of a lake painting. And yet, she is finding herself very happy here. “It’s exciting.”

It is telling that Auer studied calligraphy, for her mark-making is very calligraphic in style. If she seeks intention in her work, it’s in these marks that the viewer sees it—in the deliberate and bold way they shape the paintings. For her, the process really comes down to trust—trusting herself to make it work, trusting her background and experience and trusting the eye of the beholder to appreciate, understand and enjoy the work she has created. To see more of her work go to

"I took a hiatus from painting, and when I came back, I changed my style. I’m going into the difficult art of abstraction."