Creative Resources for Creative People

Debby Faulkner-Stevens

by Louise J. Beard

In Debby Faulkner-Stevens' work small has always been beautiful but beautiful has become smaller as she has entered the intricate world of miniature painting. In 2001 Debby was rewarded for her efforts by being elected an Associate member of the prestigious Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Engravers.

Debby is entirely self-taught and her highly detailed illustrative style has developed over the years into the distinctive, instantly recognisable pieces illustrated here.

Debby has always painted, drawn or made things from as early as she can remember. After leaving school she spent the best part of six years trying to find her way using her talents to greatest effect.

Recalling her time at school she commented:

'The experience that I had at school whilst doing my art A- level was enough to put me off trying to pursue Art School because, with the art world being very influenced by Warhol and the pop art movement, I felt I would be pushed into directions in which I did not want to go.

I was the only A level art student in my year and the still life part of my exam was drawing a few smelly vegetables. Amazingly, this took place in the Art Department stock cupboard lit by a 40 watt bulb. My art master was young, go ahead and out of place in that environment. He was very keen on modern art, all I wanted to paint was fairies. Needless to say, he was horrified at my final exam piece - a painting of a gnomes' tea party in a tree stump influenced by the Edwardian illustrator Arthur Rackham. In spite of his protestations I gained my A-level art.'

After school Debby became a classroom assistant helping children with their artistic endeavours and then went on to work for the Milton Keynes Development Corporation as an Architectural Technician for four years, a job which paid a good salary, but one where Debby wasn't happy, yet all the while still painting, drawing and making things at home. In 1978 she left her job at the Milton Keynes Development Corporation to start her professional career as an artist.

'I started painting animals on pebbles and spoons, mostly cats and wildlife, and before long a regular order was coming in from the Natural History Museum Shop in London. From there I progressed into designing letterheads for business and signboards. Then I drifted into designing wedding stationary and one-off designs for companies. Anything that I could turn my hand to, I would do,' Debby explained.

'My art progressed on to producing framed watercolours and moved away from the craft pieces as I began exhibiting locally.'

Debby went on to show her works at galleries around the country.

'The paintings have become bolder and much more colourful as I have developed and grown in confidence' said Debby. 'It is always an odd experience being unexpectedly confronted with a painting done some years ago. Rather like meeting an old school friend in the street, there's an instant recognition or something familiar, then a moment of doubt. Is it? Isn't it? Then an in depth study reveals what changes the years have brought about.

Debby often paints at the venues where she is exhibiting and people are always curious about her work and her style. 'I am always asked two questions 'How long do they take?' and 'Where do you get your ideas from?' and I have never really been able to come up with an adequate answer. Some paintings seem to flow, others take ages to get together. It depends on so many things, the mood I am in, how interested I am in the piece

I am working on. When I'm at home in the studio, it can sometimes be what is on the radio that inspires me.

I can get involved in a good radio play and the painting just seems to come out on its own with no great effort from me,' she explained.

Influences play a big part in any artist's work and Debby is no different. 'I am more than a little influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Edwardian book illustrators, Rackham and Dulac, the colours of Egyptian and Islamic art, William Burges, Pugin and high Victorian gothic. The list is truly endless...'.

Debby has to continuously come up with new ideas to keep her work fresh and after 25 years as a professional artist, this remains the hardest part of her job. She will spend many hours pouring over her extensive book collection looking for a theme she can base a series of paintings on.

She works on watercolour paper for her larger paintings and fine board for her miniature works. Debbie uses watercolour and gouache, which surprises a lot of people who do not expect such vibrancy from that type of paint, traditionally associated with soft washes and muted, subtle colours. 'Sometimes I find a cheap box of children's paints in a pound shop. I will always buy them, because, although the paint is of terrible quality, you can use it for small areas of spot colour in the borders. You can't blend it, mix it or do anything fancy with it, but for one little area of colour it is fine and you can get the most amazing colours!'

One area Debby will not skimp on is the purchase of brushes, which are always the best 'quality sable. I get through an awful lot of brushes, especially when working on the miniature paintings. They have to be the very best quality, as it is almost impossible working with substandard brushes. They don't hold the paint properly and I can't get the control I need for the very fine areas in the borders' she said.

Debby gets very used to working with a particular brush after a couple of days and how it feels, but finds that by the week's end the brush has 'gone off'. It is then that she has to start over with new brushes.

'It can be very frustrating at times' she explains.

More recent years have seen Debby expand her horizons and become involved with prestigious societies. In 1999 she was elected a member of the Society of Women Artists and in 2000 won the Alexander Gallery Award for Best Painting in the SWA Annual Exhibition for the 'Owl and the Pussycat'.

In 2001 she was elected Associate Member of the Royal Miniature Society and in 2003 Debby won the Princess Michael Award at the SWA Annual Exhibition. Debby also sits on the Council of the Society of Women Artists.

With two pieces entered for the World Miniature Exhibition in Washington D.C. USA, six for the Royal Miniature Society Annual Exhibition, six for the Society of Women Artists whom this year share their Annual Exhibition with the Royal Miniature Society at The Mall Galleries and six paintings to be included in the Chris Beetles Gallery Cat Exhibition in August, it promises to be an exciting year for Debby.

For the miniature paintings the challenge for Debby has been to reduce her trademark style with calligraphy and borders, to 2½ X 3". Debby didn't want to lose her trademark to the miniature style so, she has endeavoured to keep the subject matter and style the same. 'I wanted my work to be instantly recognizable despite the size of the paintings, I have spent many years developing my trademark so that was not negotiable.'

With regard to the composition of the miniature paintings Debby said 'Naturally there are restrictions, for instance, though I have exhibited three paintings depicting maidens with flowing hair, because of the size of the painting, it really does not allow me full rein to portray clothing as I would like. When painting the miniatures I do not use a magnifying glass, I have tried this but didn't get on at all well with it, I didn't like being separated from the work by the glass, I am very short sighted and can see clearly if the work is 4" from my nose,' Debby laughed.

'It is very hard work, but hopefully the end results are worthwhile' she said.

Talking about the Chris Beetles exhibition in August Debby spoke of her excitement.

'The highlight of the year and my career so far is being asked to exhibit at Chris Beetles' gallery' It has always been my ambition to exhibit with him, as he specialises in illustration and shows works by Arthur Rackham, Louis Wain and Mable Lucie Atwell, as well as leading contemporary illustrators such as Lesley Anne Ivory. For Chris Beetles' Exhibition the subject is cats, the works are much larger, but then I have to decide on the shape of the paintings. That will dictate if the cat is sitting or standing, if it will take up the whole area or will have a background. Will it be an interior or night sky? I then decide on a theme to pursue, perhaps a mystical theme; the cat, the moon, its magical connotations etc. Once the picture is in my head all I have to do is get it down on paper, which is for me the easy part of the whole process,' she explained.

Debby is also not averse to doing charitable works, in 2002 she produced a work titled 'Sisters of the Moon' based on a song lyric by Stevie Nicks singer/songwriter with Fleetwood Mac. The painting was reproduced as a Limited Edition Print to raise funds for Stevie Nicks' charity the Robin Anderson Memorial Fund City of Hope Cancer Hospital and Research Facility targeting leukaemia research. Stevie Nicks owns the original 'Sisters of the Moon' work as well as two other paintings by Debby.

Currently Debby is also working on another set of Limited Edition Prints to raise funds for the children's ward 4D at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

Craftsman Magazine - Issue 155
 
Royal School of Needlework

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