Learning With Every Piece

Photo courtesy of Amanda McDonald

Mason artist talks about her experiences with art and about some of her work


Nails, thread, wood and paper towels might not be the first materials you think of when you want to create art, but for Amanda McDonald, such nontraditional mediums are normal.

McDonald, an art and visual technology major with a focus in drawing, is pursuing an English minor to combine her interest for storytelling with her love of art. “I’m very interested in storytelling, and I love comics and graphic novels,” she said. “So I was wondering how I could combine my art and English minors, and hopefully one day I will pursue writing my own comics.”

While McDonald wants to pursue writing comics, she does not want to stick to one genre. “I love all different genres,” McDonald said. “I think picking a genre and sticking with it is kind of boring, you know … I think it depends on what kind of story you want to write and what message or ideas you want to convey.”

This attitude can be found in her art as well, as McDonald can be found working with many different mediums throughout her pieces.

“I do all sorts of things,” she said. “It kind of depends on how I’m feeling, sometimes I’ll do personal pieces expressing feelings that I have or something about myself that I don’t put into words well. Sometimes I’ll talk about things that are going on in the world, important issues, that sort of thing. Sometimes I’ll just pick a simple subject matter when I’m trying to do something interesting or creative with the materials.”

McDonald started working with nontraditional media in her nontraditional approaches to drawing class last semester. She took a spherical piece of wood and hammered nails into the wood before wrapping multiple layers of thread and wire onto the nails to create a three-dimensional tree.

This was not her first attempt with such a medium. It was based on a previous project that enlisted more or less the same procedure as the making of the three-dimensional tree. In her first piece, McDonald took two tree stumps, sewing needles and thread to make two complementary foxes on the the two stumps.

“So the first piece I did, a few things I learned the first time, is I did the staining first,” McDonald said. “I painted the wood stump black and then I drew on top of it, and it was very hard to get rid of the pencil drawing underneath because I was trying to add paint after I had done the thread and the pins and what not … With the next piece, the tree piece I did, I put the nails in after I drew the image and then I put the stain on over top.”

Photo courtesy of Amanda McDonald

McDonald has made a total of three such wood pieces. “They’ve been pretty fun to do,” she said. “I’ve improved with each one and learned things—what to do, what not to do. As with all pieces you tend to learn as you go.”

This is a sentiment McDonald carries with her into her other pieces as she feels she learns something new with every piece she creates.

“The one thing about being an artist is you’re never done learning,” McDonald said. “You’re always learning new skills and it’s always helping you improve, but I think working with the different materials and having these amazing professors who are helping you do the best that you can do and giving you important feedback.”

“I think there’s that mentality when you look back at something you did freshman year, you can really see how far you’ve progressed and you kind of cringe a little when you are looking at your old work … but there are a few pieces that I worked really hard on that I still kind of really like,” McDonald said.

She continued, “I don’t know if I can name one in particular and be like ‘Yes, that’s my favorite,’ because all of them have room for improvement … but they are all special to me for different reasons, whether it was my first time working with a medium and it turned out a lot better than I expected or the subject matter is really dear to me. So even if the drawing is not the best, at the time [it] helped me work through something or express my gratitude towards a certain person or something.”

Besides her wood and thread pieces, some of McDonald’s work includes painting her pieces onto paper towels, one of which depicts a woman with her back to a body of water and another which shows a doll with elderly hands holding onto it.

McDonald plans to continue working with nontraditional mediums in her work and her degree as she moves forward with her art. “I just always like working with new materials, you know,” she said. “After a while, you can only do so much.”

Photo courtesy of Amanda McDonald

While working on her pieces, McDonald revealed that she sometimes struggles with knowing when a piece is finished. “I think the biggest challenge that all art majors face is knowing when your project is done because … you get so invested in these pieces and you can work on them for hours,” she said. “I know I have worked on projects for over 30 hours, and at some point you have to step back and make sure you don’t overwork the piece.”

McDonald has had one of her pieces shown at the Torpedo Factory Art Center when she took a  Comics and Zines class at Mason. Her pieces could also be found hung on the walls of the Art and Design building last semester, along with the works of other Mason students as well.

“One of the best things about being an art major is there is just such an amazing community there like everyone wants to create and help each other and will often give each other advice on projects or like inspire each other and encourage each other to continue to do what we want to do,” McDonald said.