To Top

Life and Work with Tess McDonald

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tess McDonald.

Hi Tess, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born and grew up in the Mojave Desert of California. I started making art at a very young age and was encouraged by a family of artists. I have always been very creatively minded and it just grew more pronounced as I got older. I got an associate’s degree in my hometown, taking mostly art classes, including everything from sculpture to black and white photography. I then went on to do more of the same at ASU, earning a bachelor’s in art studies. My artistic pursuits have always been wildly varied, probably due to my ADD. For a time, my major in school was photography, but then I got interested in fiber arts, aka knitting, weaving, etc. Then at the very end of school, I took several ceramics classes and got into that. After I graduated, I had a few rough years. It was hard to find a job in my field, especially in a small military town, but I started to do some freelance work. I had a few shows in my little town.

One of them I sold almost every piece, so that was cool. I was also doing tattoos for friends and myself. Around this time is when I really dove deep into my art. I was going through a lot of personal issues, and my art became an escape for me. I would sit and listen to podcasts and just draw or paint for hours every day. After a few years, I got a job up in Norcal teaching art at a private studio but eventually moved back home for various reasons. I really enjoyed teaching though. 2020 hit and I was still doing a lot of art, getting a lot of commissions, and had gotten really into ceramics again. With the first stimulus check, I bought a kiln and launched my Etsy shop. I have had pretty good success with that. Last October, I moved with my family to Arizona and I’ve been making art and running my shop ever since. Now that things are opening up again, I’m looking for a teaching job and hoping to get some of my work into some galleries.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The art has been smooth. I mean, every artist goes through dry periods, art blocks, etc. But those are pretty brief. Art has never felt like a chore to me, it’s always been something I want to do. But the rest of life? No. It’s been very rocky at times. I’ve struggled with mental illness my whole life, anxiety, depression, ADD. But besides that, being an artist isn’t easy, at least as a profession. The art is the easy part. Making money is hard. Not to mention everyone’s negativity. It’s very frustrating hearing people say things like, “why didn’t you get a useful degree?” and things like that. It’s hard for some people to understand, art isn’t just something I picked out of a list, it’s what I was born to do. If I’d tried to get a business degree or something, I’d have lost my mind before I ever graduated. I’m just not wired for that. So yeah, that kind of attitude gets me down sometimes. It’s not an easy road, but doing anything else would be like asking a fish to climb a tree.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I’ve never really been able to pick just one medium or one style. I do a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. And I guess that’s what sets me apart and what I’m most proud of. You could say I’m a jack of all arts. My friends and family have come to me for all kinds of different projects, from doing hand lettering on a vintage car to garage door murals to pet portraits. I do a little bit of everything. What I’m most focused on and excited about at the moment are painting and ceramics. I do a lot of bright colorwork in both oils and acrylic. I also make small sculptures. I guess one through-line would be animals. I do a lot of animals. I also do a lot of desert-inspired things. And I mix folk art into a lot of it. I like mixing different styles from around the world, so I do a lot of southwest stuff with Norwegian Rosemaling and in bright colors.

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
I guess I’ve learned that I need people more than I thought. I’m a bit of a home-body, but despite being mostly fine with staying home a lot, I did miss seeing people after a while.

Contact Info:

Suggest a Story: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Local Stories