I am 225: Joy McDonald

Joy McDonald’s interpretations of famous paintings may never be featured in world-renowned galleries with the likes of the Mona Lisa. And she’s perfectly fine with that.

To McDonald, it doesn’t matter where her art hangs as long as it makes people smile, or even laugh out loud. Her name, Joy, is perfectly fitting.

After 25 years of bartending, McDonald started a sobriety journey in 2016 that would lead her to rediscover the color in her life. Now it’s her mission to share that newfound happiness with others.

“Once I quit drinking, it changed everything. I got a second chance at life,” she says. “Once I started drawing and flowing, I realized how happy it made me feel, and now I can’t stop. I’m more addicted to making people happy than I was to alcohol. This addiction is way more healthy and more rewarding.”

McDonald has always had a creative spirit. She remembers running out of time while taking tests in school because she doodled little characters in the margins. By the time she was in high school, she designed T-shirts for graduations and small businesses in her community.

“There’s so much sadness, grief and anger in the world. Sometimes we need a reason to smile. Art is so emotional, and it can help you forget about things and escape.”

As a self-taught artist, McDonald finds herself experimenting with different subjects and mediums, whether it’s a painting or cheerful chalk doodles on her neighbor’s driveways. One thing is consistent across all her work: There is no shortage of color.

While painting one afternoon, McDonald birthed her own signature characters. What started as a red line painted on a canvas turned into an army of expressive, multicolored rectangles that McDonald uses to bring joy to everyone who encounters her art.

“Everyone always asks, ‘What are they?’ And a lot of people will guess that they’re popsicle sticks or sticks of gum,” she says. “I don’t really know what they are. I call them my little LOLs, because they just make you laugh out loud.”

McDonald uses these LOLs to bring a sense of happiness to the mundaneness of life around her.

She places them in Louisiana scenes like Saturday nights in Death Valley, or uses them as substitutes for famous celebrities like The Beatles. Their smiling, carefree faces pop up in renditions of well-known art pieces by Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.

“I started with The Scream, and now he’s The Laugh,” she says. “Then, I recreated The Kiss for a friend with the LOLs. Recently, I reimagined The Girl with the Pearl Earring because she looked sad, and I wanted to make her laugh, too.”

It’s these reimagined paintings that make McDonald’s work stand out in shops like Local Leaf Gallery and Mid-City Artisans Art Gallery. She hopes to one day have her work displayed in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.   

“Her work is hard to miss,” says Local Leaf Gallery owner Brittany Rouse. “It definitely makes you smile.”

And in February, McDonald delivered her biggest commissioned painting yet to her friends Anne and Dave Brassett. The canvas is covered with LOLs getting into shenanigans from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Though there’s a lot going on in the piece, one element makes it special: puffy paint.

Dave is blind, so the addition of 3D paint allows him to feel the canvas and get an idea of what’s going on. 

“Dave can feel the crawfish claws and the muffulettas in the painting, and it makes him smile too,” Anne Brassett says. “I love that he can be part of it and still experience the painting in his own way.” facebook.com/joy.mcdonald1

This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue of 225 magazine.