Luz Donahue painting outside

I learned watercolor painting with my mother when I was about five years old. Somehow, colors fascinated me. Watching my mom paint and see how all these beautiful images appeared seemed like magic to me, and I wanted to do magic too. 

I was born in Costa Rica and grew up there until the age of 10. Feeling lonely was something familiar to me since I was a child. 

My family environment was strict and conservative, imbued with religious ideas that didn’t sit well with me, even at that young age. I’m not even sure why. How come I didn’t simply follow in my parent’s footsteps? How come I didn’t close my eyes and absorb all the ideologies they were feeding me? I honestly don’t know, but I’m glad I didn’t.

My early tendency to rebel gave me the status of weirdo. I was the black sheep, the one who didn’t fit in. Anyone with this kind of experience understands how lonely this is. 

Things only became worse when we moved to the United States. I was not even a teenager and I was taken away from everything I had ever known—without anyone preparing me for it, without the support this kind of life-changing event requires, and without even feeling I had a home within my own family. No one even bothered to teach me a few words of English before we moved. All this made my first years in the U.S. the loneliest period of my life.

Two things kept me going during that time: my connection to nature and painting. We lived in the city, but outside our apartment building was a small pond with ducks. I loved going there to feed them and watch them swim around and gather in the pond. Their little flick flocks in the water made me smile. For a moment, I was happy, and their presence was company, the closest thing I had to friends.

The rest of my free time, I spent it painting. I would always carry some kind of notebook around where I’d draw abstract swirls and shapes, letting my hand wander to the flow of my emotions, without trying to do anything, without judgment; simply letting the movements of my raw creativity soothe my pain. Forgetting how lonely I was for a while—that’s the only thing that mattered.

Now I see this is what shaped many aspects of my creative process until today—the flow, the letting go, silencing the inner critic, and allowing myself to be surprised by my own creations.




In high school, I was a troubled teen but Art was, unsurprisingly, my favorite class. One of my teachers noticed my inclination to painting and started giving me extra attention—more assignments, more feedback on my work—and I was grateful for her support. 

After some time, she took me under her wing and became my first mentor. She would take me to modern art museums and we’d talk about all kinds of art concepts: balance, the use of colors, movement, different mediums, and creative processes… My passion for modern Art grew over time through these conversations and visits to museums, even though I didn’t fully understand anything about Modern Art yet. 

We never spoke about topics like modern Art history. She didn’t feel the need to educate me on the progression of Art, how abstract art began with artists painting real-world things they simply saw differently, and how this later set the scene for famous artists like Kandinski. 

I realized only much later how unconventional this was since Art history is so ingrained in the artistic process of many contemporary artists. Because I didn’t have this kind of knowledge, I shaped my perception of abstract art in a way that made sense to me and was aligned with my interests and creativity.


Luz Donahue — Abstract Watercolor Artist                

When I reached my mid-twenties, I started painting full-time. At first, I had a good run painting portraits for people. You could even say I was successful. My paintings were selling at a good price and I was on demand; commission requests were flying in and I had no shortage of work. 

But somehow, I didn’t feel I was an artist. 

I was a painter, yes… but doing this kind of painting didn’t feel the way I imagined being an artist would feel.

Then, during one summer, my career as a portraitist came to an abrupt halt. That season, I’d painted nineteen portraits and my body couldn’t handle the strain. I got a serious tendonitis that hurt so bad, I could barely turn a doorknob. I had to stop painting.

At first, it felt like a tragedy. Not only because of losing the small business I had going, but also because life without painting was excruciating. I had always done some abstract painting in my free time using watercolors. Now, gently stroked color washes were all my body could sustain doing. 

I started experimenting more with these watercolor washes, applying them layer by layer on the canvas. Since my arm was hurt, I couldn’t paint for long periods at the time so I started applying a first layer of color, leaving it to dry, and coming back to it a few hours later or the next day. This way of painting is something I perfectioned through the years and is now at the center of my artistic process.

My injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My process with these abstract watercolor paintings with layers and layers of colors felt right, unlike painting portraits. Portraying is a niche, a genre, but what I was doing with my abstract work felt like my own creative expression, something unique to me, and that’s where my heart was longing for all along.