Art Force Academy

Art Force MSP Artist of the Month: Dona Kos

Art Force MSP Artist of the Month: Dona Kos

This month, we follow the inspiring work of Twin Cities painter, Dona Kos. Dona’s art is also available in the Art Force Academy Community Art Showcase as part of our commitment to igniting the local creative economy through Art Force MSP. If you missed it earlier this month, Art Force MSP is our mission to help drive the local creative economy, support local artist entrepreneurs with our showcase, empower health challenged artists through our Wings Suite and build the Art Force Community Fund to provide charitable contributions as a portion of each artwork sale.

Without further ado, please enjoy the story of October’s Artist of the Month, Dona Kos. From her studio in the California Building in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, Art Force MSP sat down with Dona to find out more about her process, inspiration and many muses. As a teacher, traveler and artist at heart, Dona is a self-described “late bloomer”, living a life of two careers before art came to the forefront of her life after retirement. To find more of Dona’s art, just search “Kos” in “Artist’s Last name” after clicking the picture below.

Snapshot from the Community Art Showcase


As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was being an artist part of your plan?

What did I want to do when I grew up? Everything! An archeologist, a missionary, a pilot, a dancer, an actress! Throughout my school years, I pursued art, drama, ballet, modern dance and so many other things. But art was the constant in my life. My sister recently reminded me that art was something I always did. From the time I first learned the joy of pencils and crayons, I drew, copied pictures, made posters, entered contests, hung out at the Art Institute and took every art class available.

So did I plan to be an artist when I grew up? I don’t know. More likely it became a dream- a distant possibility. I ultimately became an elementary school teacher where art skills were certainly useful. In the summers, I traveled, determined to see all of the great art in the world.

Dona Kos | Renaissance Man

I first saw the paintings in the Louvre- then the ancient art of the Greeks and Romans, the ancient frescos in Crete, Byzantine icons in Turkey and ancient brush paintings in China. So much art! So many amazing places! I painted hundreds of pictures in my head and took so many photographs to use as references for paintings-someday.

Someday came when I retired from teaching, I began drawing again and took figure and anatomy classes. I took portrait classes. I rented a studio. I became part of a community of artists who were helpful and encouraging. So many opportunities to make art materialized! I felt like I had finally grown up and that being an artist was part of my plan all along!

Dona Kos Meadowland
Dona Kos | Meadowland

Describe your art in one word.


I hear people exclaim when they enter my studio and I know that this is the feeling I hope to invoke in my work.

Please describe your interest in landscape and the natural world more.

I have always loved to walk in the woods and have had the opportunities to hike in many parts of the world. No matter where, I found the energy of trees to be both a healing and an energizing experience.

Dona Kos | Sentinels
Dona Kos | Sentinels

I loved the way the light filtered through the trees and seemed to bounce along the paths and across the water on nearby streams. Trees and water became sources of inspiration. I wanted to paint not just nature, but the peaceful feeling- the light and the atmosphere.

How do you incorporate these themes into your artwork?

A friend passed on a quote by Monet. “Painting is nature as seen through a temperament”.

When we incorporate themes into our artwork, it is what comes from inside of us. I believe it is the accumulation of so many experiences and memories that determine how themes are expressed by us on canvas.

Dona Kos | Tobi
Dona Kos | Tobi

For example, one of my favorite places is a very high hill above the Adriatic Sea. Halfway down the hill, you can sit in the ancient ruins of a temple to the goddess, Diana. You can see the fishing boats and people, tiny in the distance below. And gazing across the water, the misty outline of the island of Lesbos emerges from the mist. It is a place to dream, to soul search and meditate.

Dona Kos |What Shall I Wear?
Dona Kos | What Shall I Wear?

Years later, back in my studio, I don’t paint the island – I paint the mood. I choose a palette with calming colors, paint large areas of light, and strive to paint atmosphere. My memories guide my brush.

What is your creative process?

I can only attempt to reconstruct this process. Most likely I’ve been bouncing around some ideas in my head for a few days. Once in a while, I start with a photo but mostly I think of the colors I want to use and the shape of the canvas. When I set the canvas on the easel- does the shape feel right? Do I want a square, or a rectangle? Will the rectangle be horizontal or vertical?

Dona Kos | At the Edge of the Prairie
Dona Kos | At the Edge of the Prairie

I run my hand over the canvas to feel the areas where trees or water might be. I decide where the horizon line should be and mark the center of the canvas with a dab of paint. This is the point when I draw upon memories and determine the composition. This is also, the time that I decide how prominent I want the sky to be, because this determines, for me, the overall mood and amount of light in the painting.

Dona Kos | Madison River
Dona Kos | Madison River

Then I transport the picture in my mind to the canvas by sketching the scene with a brush and ultramarine-blue paint. From that point on, the creative process takes over. First the sky and then the middle and foreground begin to emerge. It becomes a process of searching for shapes, movement and balance. It becomes a journey from somewhere inside of me.

What themes do you explore through your art?

Nature and landscapes have been my focus these last two years. But I, also, love drawing and painting people.

Dona Kos | Sean
Dona Kos | Sean

I hope to do a series where I continue the nature themes of trees and water but where people are part of the composition and the narrative.

Is there a cohesive narrative between your bodies of work?

This last year, I purposefully tried to make a body of work that worked together as a group of paintings. So there is a cohesive narrative. The palettes are similar as are the compositions and subject matter as well as the moods of the paintings.

Dona Kos | Portrait of a Young Woman
Dona Kos | Portrait of a Young Woman

What are you currently working on?

I am finishing up three new landscapes and just beginning a commission for a female legendary hero in a setting that is in the lost continent of Atlantis. Also, I am doing the drawings for a painting of the Greek Goddess, Leda which later next summer, will be part of a dance performance choreographed by a local dancer.


A very big thanks to Dona Kos. Artists like her are the lifeblood of our creative economy. Sharing her story is what Art Force MSP is all about!

We loved hearing more about Dona’s story and hope the Art Force MSP community will rally around her and the California Arts Building to uplift the beautiful work they are doing for the creative economy of the Twin Cities. For more information about Dona or to become a client partner in Art Force MSP, please contact us or request a free art consultation.

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