You seem to have the rare ability to somehow reflect a woman’s soul in your work. Is this something you feel when you create?
I see women as having this inner steel strength. Adversity, disappointment or grief, women just seem to step up and be as strong as they need to be. I know for myself; I’ve looked back and wondered how I survived something, but we do. I believe this experience creates a thread of melancholy that becomes a part of your signature in the world. It’s that thread that interests me. I think it’s in everyone, a ribbon of yearning. You know when you watch a movie and it breaks your heart, but you love it? Or you hear a piece of music that resonates, and it brings tears to your eyes? It’s that. It is a state of grace and I think my ribbon threads its way into my paintings. My state of grace is speaking to your state of grace. I like to see it that way. I think it’s beautiful.
I see women as having this inner steel strength. Adversity, disappointment or grief, women just seem to step up and be as strong as they need to be.
Rather than ask how you do what you do, we’d love to know why?
I value space, quiet and time so that is what I try and create in my life and in my paintings. I crave calm so I try and imbue my work with a sense of peace. I love history and stories and the idea of less is more. I paint with few details to create the idea of space and room to breathe. I use a very neutral colour palette because I find it calm and grounding and I always feel I’m painting a feeling or atmosphere, more than an image.
My house paintings are usually on their own, making a statement. Welcoming but also strong in themseIves. Rooted. I feel like they are stories that have happened or are about to happen. I like things that have history and character, mystery and secrets.
My women paintings are an ongoing experiment. They are any-woman and every-woman. Again, they are about atmosphere, thoughts, a moment, more than about the figure. I keep it simple; they seem stronger for it. Saying more with less.
My illustration work is just plain, unadulterated fun. Whimsical. This is creative, back to fairytales and odd ideas for me. The freedom to just let go. There are no rules except I try and keep them light and quirky. They balance the intensity of my paintings.
First image above: On one of her many fabulous chairs, Deb is wearing HK Rock Salt Robe. Second image: Deb at her studio desk in HK Rock Salt Robe. Third image: Deb sitting in her private courtyard in HK Morocco Chemise.
What is your relationship with inspiration? Do you find it fleeting or ever-present?
Elizabeth Gilbert did a great TED talk a few years ago about how, in history, creativity/inspiration/muse was an individual being in and of itself. It wasn’t a part of you but a separate entity that appeared then disappeared then appeared again. That is my experience. A creative gremlin. It comes and goes.
It is, however, one thing to be inspired, another to do something with it. Looking at images almost always inspires something for me, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to translate to a successful day painting. There is inspiration to try something and then inspiration that comes outside of yourself. The muse. If I’m inspired and the muse shows up, what I’m doing is as natural as breathing. Inspiration without the muse is a lot harder. No inspiration and no muse is when motivation becomes a discipline.
Is that why you have so many different creative outlets?
I have alternating creative pursuits that help inspire in turn. They feed off each other. The fun illustrations, the intense paintings, the wonderfully in the moment creativity of styling and shooting food. I am also constantly collecting images, snapping photos of everything from a leaf to a cracked window, or picking up twigs and stones… whatever triggers my mind. I am always seeing things and translating them artistically.
Can you explain what it feels like when someone really ‘gets’ your work?
The best description of my artwork I ever heard was from a publisher in Prague who used my painting ‘Old School’ as the cover for a book about a struggling young woman. The publisher said my work was perfectly suited for the concept as it had a ‘refined melancholy’. When I heard that, it felt like someone had plucked a perfect guitar chord in my heart. When people get my work, it’s profound. That what I’m visually saying is heard by someone else is astounding to me. Who knew what I painted would call to anyone else? That’s why it’s so powerful and moving to have your work understood. The art world is full of different artists and art and you just have to find work that appeals to your heart. I love the stories people share with me about what my painting triggered for them; the feelings, the people, memories and moments that it brought up for them. It’s wonderful.
You wrote a great IG post about your feelings around aging. What are your thoughts today?
I’m not sure I can say it better than I already did on that Instagram post. There are so many WTF moments in aging. I totally get the discouragement of it! There is no going back, the only thing to be done is accept and move forward as gracefully as possible. It’s not about wilting, people make the mistake of thinking it is. It’s about taking stock, adding it all up and bringing it together and offering up this package of all of you. You are experienced, centered, have strength of character, belief in yourself, integrity. There is tremendous value in aging but you do have to get over yourself. That requires shelving your ego, no longer yearning for yesterday and wishing you were young again. It’s letting go of things that are gone. It makes me think of cracked Japanese pottery mended with gold to honour the beauty of imperfection. It’s rich. You don’t crack. You reinvent yourself.
I’ve had terrible disappointments and heartache, but who hasn’t. As you age you just become. You become all of you. It’s actually really cool, just being whoever the hell you are.
Original Instagram post:
‘It is hard getting older. I feel 35 but I’m 53. Seriously odd how one minute you’re young and the next minute you feel young but look a lot older. Now I just own it. Accept it. Celebrate it. My hair is silver, bring it. My life is not what I thought it would be, I love it. There are things I wish for that I don’t have, but I’m still trying. I’ve had terrible disappointments and heartache, but who hasn’t. As you age you just become. You become all of you. It’s actually really cool, just being whoever the hell you are.’
Deb in her living room wearing the HK Morocco Chemise.
You do a lot of collaborative projects with other women artists. Can you tell us a bit about why and what’s coming up?
Being an artist can be a bit isolating. It’s wonderful to break out of that and team up with a creative like-mind or in a complimentary way. One of my favourite projects for the past two years has been with Chef Denise Marchessault. She’s a fabulous, talented woman. Everything she makes is wonderful. Her book British Columbia from Scratch is fantastic and I’m not even much of kitchen person. She creates the most delicious food and I get to style it, shoot it and (with any luck) eat it. I’m learning all the time just working with her. We contribute to EAT Magazine regularly and are working on a bigger project together. It’s very exciting. Through Denise and EAT, I’ve become creatively involved in events for community causes and I like the interaction, the connections and being part of something bigger, as well as having that creative back and forth that happens when working alongside someone else.
Who’s your Femme Superhero?
The usual suspects, Georgia [O'Keeffe] and Frida [Kahlo]. I think I probably channel Georgia more than anyone else. I’ve even been told I remind people of her. So interesting! I’ll take it! She had wonderful resilience and a natural, strong presence. I admire her. And Frida. I love her work, her straight up attitude. She chose beauty and colour to illustrate pain. An icon.
I admire a lot of women for different reasons. I have to say I have an enormous soft spot for the underdog, the odd. I love success in the face of adversity in everything from politics to sports. The women that accomplish something and you say, ‘yes!’, out loud because they kicked ass in whatever they are doing.
How does fashion play a role in your life and your art?
As I work from home, I would say I am mostly all about comfort and in the winter, warmth. I tend to wear the same things. Ripped jeans and linen and sweaters. I live in my Blundstones this time of year. I like layers and simplicity. I am what I paint! I’ll wear something out and my friends say, ‘oh, that is just like one of your paintings’! My home and my wardrobe is all natural palette and materials, leaning heavily to black, white and grey. Texture but no patterns. I like feeling at home in what I wear. I swing between elegant, artsy and downright scrappy.
Can you tell us about your most memorable lesson learned and how if affects you still?
I’ve had many many memorable lessons. One I live with every day is about thinking. I think too much, I analyze things to death, and it does little in the overall scheme of things. As an artist, I’m in my head a lot and I realized that although experiencing every little nuance is interesting, it can be debilitating and paralyzing. It’s similar to the person who makes lists, then another list, then maybe another. Nothing actually happens, nothing actually gets done. It’s the same with thinking to much. It creates the illusion you are doing something, but you aren’t. My saving grace is running. It is the only time when I stop thinking and I’m just present. It’s the most wonderful mental break and I love being outside in all kinds of weather. If anyone asked me for advice for an over-stimulated brain, I’d say find that thing that releases you from yourself and do it.