The life of an artist is rarely a charmed one, although Kinnelon artist Donna Farrell's artistic abilities have brought her around the world to sketch and paint Olympic athletes.
Farrell credits much of her success to not being afraid of "getting dirty."
“Getting dirty” is the way Farrell describes studying art under Donald Earley, an artist and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her BFA in Fashion Art in Advertising. “He encouraged us to use mixed media, to see things from different vantage points,” she said.
“We did a lot of life drawing, so we used pastels and charcoal, got up on ladders, down on the floor,” she said, describing the no holds barred nature of the class.
After graduating, Farrell briefly taught art before what she described as her "big break." In 1992, Donna Weinbrecht became the first gold medal winner in mogul skiing. A life-long athlete herself, Farrell was very excited to find that Weinbrecht lived close by, in West Milford (Farrell lived in Ringwood at the time). She contacted the town and offered her art services. The mural she created ended up being the backdrop for Weinbrecht’s homecoming celebration.
Farrell parlayed that experience to more Olympic opportunities. She went on to do similar work for figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and speed-skater Bonnie Blair. She began getting sponsors who sent her to the Olympics in Barcelona, Lillehammer, Nagano and Atlanta to photograph and sketch the athletes in motion. During the Atlanta games, she even did a mural for decathlete Dan O’Brien.
Missing her family and home, Farrell returned to New Jersey in 1997. She worked in a couple of design companies, but was not satisfied with her career, she said. With work coming in sporadically and not making much money, Farrell became discouraged and contemplated throwing in the towel.
But when the chance to work for local manufacturer McFarlane Toys as a photographer/graphic artist came about in 1999, she jumped at it. After two months of waiting, she was asked to join the team.
Farrell worked for several years at that and other jobs, as well as freelancing, when a space opened up in August of 2009 at 104 Boonton Avenue, in Kinnelon. Farrell decided to take a risk, she said, and open up her own store. She sunk her savings into starting the store, . “When we opened, it was tough, but the people of Kinnelon and the surrounding area have been really supportive,” she said.
Farrell now freelances for McFarlane Toys and teaches, even as her own business finally takes off.