The big picture

Fort Dodge artist seeks new challenges in painting

-Submitted photo
Renee McDonald stands next to the mural she painted on her garage in 2020. It features a monarch butterfly, a bouquet of flowers, a hummingbird and a sunrise.

A visit to a hairstylist last spring led Renee McDonald to what is now the biggest and most visible project of her artistic career.

The Fort Dodge woman had an appointment with Amanda Peart at Personal Expressions. Peart, who is also an artist, told McDonald about a mural she was working on for a neighboring business, The Fish Room.

Even before her appointment was over, McDonald and Peart walked over to The Fish Room, where an underwater scene was taking shape on an exterior wall.

“We kind of made the deal that I would take it over before I even talked to Tom Bethke,” McDonald said, referring to the owner of The Fish Room.

The end result is an 85-foot-long and 15-foot-high mural covering the east wall of The Fish Room. It is apparently the largest full color mural in Fort Dodge.

Now she is eager to see what other kinds of big, eye-catching projects she can tackle.

“I want a challenge,” McDonald said. “I want to see how big and far I can take it.”

McDonald’s artistic skills have advanced dramatically from when she was a shy fourth-grader secretly sketching her classmates.

She said she “doodled my classmates when I was bored.”

“I was very socially awkward,” she said. “I just made a habit of observing.”

McDonald said she likes the artistic style known as Expressionism. Expressionist painters strive to present a subjective perspective, often distorting things in their art work to create an emotional effect.

But she added that her favorite artist is Salvador Dali, because his works don’t fit in any defined category.

She added that she is inspired by street art, which she said combines fine art with graffiti.

The Fort Dodge native’s own art was kind of put on hold for many years, however. When she was a child, the family moved to Kansas City and later Independence, Kansas. She returned to Kansas City before coming back to Fort Dodge in 2004. Stays in Carroll and Washington state followed.

Along the way, she earned an associate degree in chemistry from Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and communications from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake.

In 2017, she returned to Fort Dodge. That was also when she started painting.

She began by painting people, using photographs as the basis of her artwork. Hummingbirds have also been a regular subject of her paintings.

Since 2017, she has sold at least 20 paintings and given away another 10.

Last year, she tackled her first really big painting. Her garage was her canvas.

“I really didn’t have a plan,” she said.

McDonald started by painting a large monarch butterfly. What she initially envisioned as a beehive became a bouquet of flowers with a hummingbird nearby. A sunrise covers the east wall.

Painting the garage took about two months.

She started working on The Fish Room mural in the middle of last spring. She was sidelined by a broken ankle in the summer, so the project wasn’t completed until October.

With that mural done, McDonald is looking for the next big project.

“I’m just excited to see where it goes,” she said.

“It is the one thing in my life where I can confidently say I’m talented,” she added.


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