Donna Lee art hobby turns from photos to wood burning

A fascination with art turned Donna Lee to photography, and now year’s later, it has led her back into the art world with wood burning.

Lee operated Donna Lee Studios in downtown Sweet Home for several years. It was while at her shop that she discovered wood burning about four years ago. Since then, she has completed somewhere near 100 works and is now displaying them in area businesses and shows.

Lee was graduated from high School in Ohio then began attending the Cooper School of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I wanted to become an illustrator,” Lee said. “I could draw, but I wasn’t quite good enough.”

Still, the art classes required students to take a basic photography class so they could take photos of their work. The class was based around still life shots. Out of that, Lee began teaching herself portrait and wedding photography.

She’s been at it since then. She has photographed countless weddings and portraits and still has crates full of negatives. She quit doing photography because of arthritis in her hand, but she has kept up with the wood burning she started while in business downtown.

“I thought I can do this,” Lee said. “I looked at a book about someone who had done wood burning (on wood eggs with elves and fantasy). I screwed up the first couple of pieces I tried because I didn’t get it hot enough.”

Her pair of wood burners reach 950 and 1,050 degrees.

Mostly, Lee burns images of barns into bird’s eye and fiddle-back maple and myrtlewood, hard woods that burn smoothly. She starts by scanning a four-by-six print of a photo, usually a barn from somewhere in Oregon. She then prints out an eight-by-10 from her computer.

She traces the outline of that print, she said, “because my perspective stinks.”

That is then blown up to 11-by-17 transfer paper to put the outline on the piece of wood.

She traces those lines with the wood burner, then switches burners to shade the image and detail it freehand. She will change backgrounds and details that may appear in photos depending on her taste, whether that means moving a tree, adding a mountain or removing a bush.

“I just change things just a little bit,” Lee said. “If things don’t look right, I’ll change it.”

The final step is to put a clear finish on the wood.

Lee shows her work at fairs and has collected first prize four years in a row at the Oregon State Fair for her work. Her work has sold anywhere from $30 to $450 for a tabletop.

Her work is on display at Timber Hill Athletic Club in Corvallis, 2855 Northwest 29th St., through the end of July. The club is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Her work can also be seen at OK Country Feed Store and sometimes at Roger’s Floral.

“It’s just fun,” Lee said. “I’ve got to have one going all the time. It’s relaxing. I can work on it and think about other things.”

While burning, Lee may enjoy the sounds of Bond, a musical group incorporating classical and pop elements, talk on the phone or just watch TV.

Each piece takes anywhere from two to 40 hours.

“I like old barns,” Lee said. “I’m intensely fascinated with old barns, even dilapidated old barns. I’m just a farmer’s wife at heart.”

Ever since she was a child, Lee was always in and around barns.

Lee and her husband own the Rockin’ Double J Ranch. Lee raises and trains horses. She has 16. She also works for the State of Oregon as a livestock inspector. Lee has lived in Sweet home for nearly seven years.

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