BETSY JONES MCDONALD never runs out of inspiration for her large-scale paintings. Conveniently residing on the marsh of Daniel Island, she’s reinvigorated each day by the view from her windows. Jones McDonald translates what she sees into immersive murals and centerpiece-worthy paintings on canvas that are 3-by-4-foot and larger.
Take, for example, a client’s dining room in historic Downtown Charleston. Wrapping around its four walls is a 360-degree mural that transports viewers into a peaceful, current-swept marsh. Trees drip with Spanish moss while birds wade through a waterway that wraps gently around the room’s fireplace.
Jones McDonald has made a name for herself as the go-to artist for Lowcountry scenes. Her iconic pieces are even exported to other states; she is happy to ship directly to buyers.
Although she specializes in Lowcountry life, Jones McDonald’s perpetual muse is the region’s marshes.
“You can look at the same spot and never see the same thing twice,” she says, explaining that the changing tides, seasons and times of day produce different shapes, reflections and colors. “I find it fascinating that the same subject can change so much.”
Her love affair with the marshes began almost accidentally. A formally trained, lifelong artist, Jones McDonald was raised in Georgia and moved to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, as an adult, where she says she got a lot of requests for marsh scenes. The rest is history.
“I fell in love with them,” she says. “I have a fascination with color and reflections—how light interacts with water. I can explore all of that through the marsh.”
She captures Lowcountry beauty in all of its vibrancy with a wet-on-wet or alla prima painting technique. Creating a work of art from start to finish before the paint dries imbues the canvas with a kind of urgency that translates naturally into energy and movement. Armed with a bare minimum of colors, Jones McDonald mixes her paints into the dynamic palette exhibited in the marsh.
Before she goes into the studio, though, the process actually begins on location. “I go up and down the coastline by boat, from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head, winding through the marshes,” she says. “I try to find the most remote areas to capture the best nature scenes.” She snaps photos as source material to bring back to the studio.
It’s amazing Jones McDonald finds the time, given that she’s in the studio from sunup to sundown at least five days per week. “When I’m trying to enjoy fishing with my husband on weekends, I’m thinking about all of the scenes I want to paint. I can’t help myself,” she says with a laugh. It’s safe to call her dedication an obsession at this point.
Her passion has paid off. “A lot of people are shopping online, looking to brighten their space while they’re spending so much time at home,” she says. She also accepts commission requests to re-create a homeowner’s favorite scene.
Clients can shop conveniently from her website, which is updated regularly with new pieces—or for those who would rather peruse in person, her work is viewable at her studio and in several area galleries, including Perspective Gallery in Mount Pleasant and Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet.
Jones McDonald says she loves her work not only because of her passion for painting or the beauty of marshes themselves, but for what her artwork means to the people who collect it.
“They’re buying for a new home, an anniversary gift or when they’re redecorating. I get included in special events, and I meet the nicest people,” she says. “Plus, my work is hung in people’s homes. It will become a piece that they’ll pass down for generations. I love being part of those moments in people’s lives.” *
Alaena Hostetter is a content strategist, editor and journalist who writes about art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food. She can be reached via her website alaenahostetter.com.