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Visually captivating: ACT apprentice Michael Donnal

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Take a closer look at ACT apprentice Michael Donnal - his inspiration, his creation, and his goals.
Michael Donnal

Michael Donnal

About the apprenticeship program

ACT’s apprenticeship program is designed to provide high caliber, intensive art apprenticeships to eight young artists with disabilities from the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Transition Campus. Artists are gaining experience under the direction of professional teaching artist Becky Baker.

Michael's piece, "Sea of Fish"

Michael's piece, "Sea of Fish"

The ACT apprentices

The ACT apprentices

“Drawing and painting make me happy.”

Michael Donnal was in the midst of wrapping up some of his semester-long projects when we asked him if he would be able to talk with us about his art and the apprenticeship program. Michael was more than happy to multitask between his boxtroll painting and speaking on his craft.

Michael is just one of eight from the ACT apprenticeship program, launched in October, designed to provide high caliber, intensive art apprenticeships to young artists with disabilities from the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Community Transition Campus. So far, he has enjoyed his time with the program and what it offers those who are involved.

Michael has lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan since he was 9 years old. Since moving here, he began to draw people, cartoon animals, and birds inspired by his new environment. Loving the art he was creating, Michael quickly took a special interest in drawing in his spare time and teaching himself through books and online tutorials, exploring his artistic preferences and fine-tuning his craft on his own time.

 “Drawing, painting, just all different kinds,” Michael explained as his range of abilities.

Now, Michael sketches characters that exist in their own universe, bringing them to life with their own powers. His process is a careful one – he sketches first, then layers outlines on top, and then uses colored pencils to fill in the characters. When we sat down with Michael, he was turning a boxtroll sketch into a painting, emulating his process of drawing whatever inspires him and turning it into a painting once he’s happy with his drawing. Michael puts a lot of thought and effort into each painting, and this process creates a finished product that is stark and captivating.

“I just want it to be a visual experience,” Michael said about his art. He doesn’t want people to know anything about him from his artwork, and he doesn’t want his artwork to have any particular effect on people – he just wants people to enjoy the experience of looking at it.

When asked about the apprenticeship program, Michael expressed his excitement at being able to do it because art is what brings him joy. Put simply, Michael says that this is why he was so drawn to the apprenticeship program – because art makes him happy, and the apprenticeship program allowed him to spend his time doing what makes him happy. He also told us that he was excited to see all the other people’s art at the final show, because it shows all of their hard work.

Through the apprenticeship program, the artists are able to work and train under a teacher who has experience as a professional artist. They will gain experience in arts administration, professional development and artistic training. Through gaining this experience, the artists learn crucial skills for their careers in art, such as writing an artists' statement, marketing work on social media, and displaying work, as well as honing their natural artistic ability.

The ACT Apprentices will be holding several art shows this spring.

To support Michael and his artwork, visit

This article is part 7 of 8 in ACT’s series highlighting each individual apprentice throughout the coming weeks. This program is provided as part of a contract with VSA at the Kennedy Center. Follow ACT on Facebook to stay tuned to learn more about the other apprentices.

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