Artist Studio | Donna Howell-Sickles

Donna Howell-SicklesBy Wolf Schneider; Photos by Gary Lawson

You live and work in Saint Jo, TX, once a watering stop on the Chisholm Trail?

Yes, it’s a little redbrick town. The land is quite pretty, so it’s filling up with Dallas escapees like my husband and I. We have beautiful wildflowers here—bluebonnets and Indian blankets.

I’m guessing you’re a descendant of Joe Howell, who laid out the town site and opposed the sale of liquor there, giving both himself and the town the nickname “Saint Jo”?

He was my great-great uncle.

With a population of 1,134, Saint Jo hasn’t grown much since Joe’s time, has it?

Actually, I think we’ve got only about 800 now.

Donna Howell-Sickles' studioYour studio is in an old yellow-brick Presbyterian Church?

Yes, I pulled out the pews. We re-wired it. And we had to paint it because it was a nice cheerful yellow that distorted every color. Now it’s a neutral color so the light bouncing around isn’t yellow. It’s got really high 12-foot ceilings of old pressed tin. Hardwood floors. There’s a calm about it that I really appreciate.

What’s your trustiest tool?

I use a chamois to move my pastels around a lot. I erase a lot with them. And I have an old straightedge T-square I use for my borders.

You’re known for your cowgirl paintings—are you painting idealized versions of you, a few inches taller with your hair straightened, or is there a model involved?

There’s always a model involved. I’m not deliberately ever painting idealized versions of myself, although it seems most people ask who the model is implying they think it’s me.

Donna Howell-Sickles' studioYou’re into the mythology of bears, horses, wolves, and blackbirds—what do they symbolize?

Bears are that wild, uncontrollable aspect that life has that’s not good or bad, it just is. Horses are life’s vitality, something that can be controlled, something that your skill and accomplishment assist you in using. I do wolvey dogs more than wolves, and dogs are guardians. Birds are communication with the spirit world.

Dogs and deer have both been associated with goddess mysticism, haven’t they?

Yes. Deer, because they have the antlers, are so obviously cyclic, like the moon.

Is red your lucky color?

Red is one of my favorite colors, and for us humans it’s had a very long history of being associated with what we think of as the spiritual, because of our blood color no doubt. I’m not so much a believer in luck. I have a hard time believing something just happens like that. I believe in self-determination. Each choice you make influences what happens after.

Donna Howell-Sickles paintingWhat’s your monthly output?

[Laughs] In honesty, it varies tremendously. I don’t think I have ever in life finished a piece in October. Don’t know why. I have, oh, seven easels scattered around the studio. I just go from one to the next. If you walk away from a piece, then when you go back to it you can see it with fresh eyes.

Acrylic, oil, watercolor, or pastel?

Mixed media. I think my paper pieces are my strongest pieces.

You often start with a charcoal sketch?

Almost always. It’s the basis.

You’re 90 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth. Is that where you go for sushi and a manicure?

Yes, it is. I like Fort Worth better than Dallas. I may be stoned for saying that. It’s a whole lot easier to drive in.

What’s Texas’ best asset—the barbeque, the bootmakers, or the bluebonnets?

The barbeque. Clark’s Outpost in Tioga, TX, is worth the trip from anywhere!

Donna Howell-Sickles paintingWho’s your favorite Texas musician—Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, or the Dixie Chicks?

A tie between Stevie Ray and the Dixie Chicks.

You think Kinky Friedman’s a better musician or novelist?

I think he’s a better musician. And I have read his novels. [Laughs]

At 53 now, what’s your mantra of the moment?

God is alive, magic is afoot. Meaning, it’s up to you, basically. Stop waiting, do it.

What’s the trait that’s served you best in your career, and what’s the trait you deplore in yourself?

Best is my imagination. Worst is when I am timid and allow others to make decisions.

On what occasion do you fudge the truth?

Oh, like, about how promptly I am getting on top of something!

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?

I’d like a Rembrandt drawing.

What’s the range that your work sells for?

From $500 for small studies unframed to $25,000 for the biggest canvases.

What does an artist need most—a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine?

I’d rather add to that list—a good camera, a good computer, a good lawyer, and good light.

Howell-Sickles is represented by Meyer Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; McLarry Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Big Horn Gallery, Cody, WY; Trailside Galleries, Jackson, WY; and Morris & Whiteside Galleries, Hilton Head, SC.

Featured in “My World” May 2004