Above: Joan McDonald crafts colorful screen-printed design from her Dixon studio. Photograph by Haley Lynn.

AS THE OWNER of Embudo Fabric Design, in Dixon, Joan McDonald creates vibrant, screen-printed designs showcasing iconic New Mexican imagery on aprons, tea towels, and potholders. While the Boston native can’t pinpoint when she realized her calling, one childhood memory sticks out: “If I ever needed a present, people gave me paint-by-numbers kits. I pulled them apart and would just paint over the drawings.”

State of relocation: A city kid, she moved to New Mexico with her husband after grad school at the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied under Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. “The minute I got here, I knew it,” she says. “I was always looking for the country.”

Making it up: She initially focused on creating wearable art and selling products to museums. But it didn’t take long before life as a fine artist in Dixon became economically unsustainable. “I wanted to stay in New Mexico and support my family, so I made up potholders.”

Point of sale: McDonald eventually realized what she was selling had little to do with her work’s design, function, or humor. Customers wanted a real connection to her and her art. “People want creations that are slightly off—with a dot of color where it’s not supposed to be. That makes them alive.”

Devil in the details: Her favorite designs—a crushed Tecate can, pickup trucks—capture everyday life. But her technique makes them special. Rather than traditional opaque silk-screen dyes, she uses transparent paints. “When you layer them, they create new colors.”

Art opening: She has artistic freedom in Dixon. “In the city, you keep this energy tight inside you. In the country, your energy can expand and tendril out—you’re completely wide open to everything.”