Artist to Col­lect: Deborah Tilby

Arabella - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - writ­ten by Brett An­ning­son

The World through Dif­fer­ent Eyes

writ­ten by Brett An­ning­son

"I re­call very clearly," says Deborah, "the mo­ment I first sus­pected that, just maybe, I didn’t see the world quite the way oth­ers did. It was in my late teens; I had been sit­ting out­side on a step chat­ting with a friend and, al­most with­out re­al­iz­ing it, was study­ing a low wall a few yards away. It had nails stick­ing out at odd an­gles and the very oblique light was cast­ing won­der­ful long shad­ows. I com­mented on the beau­ti­ful colours in the shad­ows and the look my friend gave me said it all." Deborah Tilby grew up in Al­berta, the daugh­ter

of a very cre­ative fam­ily. Her father de­signed schools and houses, in­vented and de­signed ma­chin­ery, sculpted and made mu­rals, while her mother cre­ated with her sewing ma­chine and was in­ven­tive in the ac­tiv­i­ties she dreamed up for her kids. There was never a mo­ment when a sup­ply of raw craft ma­te­ri­als was not nearby. Many painters say they know from a very early age that they were ‘artists’ but for Deborah it was a lit­tle later in com­ing. By her mid-teens, the need to cre­ate re­ally took hold. "It was my all-con­sum­ing love for horses that was the be­gin­ning of my pas­sion for draw­ing and, later, for paint­ing. I spent many hours sit­ting in a haystack draw­ing the horses in our neigh­bour’s field, draw­ing the horses in mag­a­zines, con­tin­u­ally draw­ing horses. I re­mem­ber that I had dif­fi­culty with muz­zles and hooves, so my horses were al­ways eat­ing hay and stand­ing in tall grass." Deborah al­ways felt en­cour­aged in artis­tic en­deav­ours; her cre­ativ­ity ac­knowl­edged when she was given a set of oil paints, sketch pa­per and pen­cils. She says, "My par­ents never crit­i­cized and I started draw­ing ev­ery­thing in sight – the vac­uum cleaner, my hands and feet, fur­ni­ture, toaster, my sis­ter’s rag­doll, bits of old sad­dlery and farm­ing tools that I col­lected. I loved pen­cil draw­ing and still have the pen­cil my father gave me at that time. It is held to­gether with mask­ing tape but is still in daily use. He also gave me a wooden draw­ing pen and a tin full of nibs. I still have both, and trea­sure them." The oils re­sulted in two paint­ings, a vase of flow­ers and a por­trait from a photo in a mag­a­zine. Then Deborah was asked to do a water­colour for

her school art class … she did a small paint­ing of the horse shel­ter in the back field and was in­stantly hooked. Water­colour be­came one of her favourite medi­ums. There were times when she asked her father for tips, but she also learned a great deal by read­ing about and study­ing artists she ad­mired. She would pore over works by An­drew Wyeth, Rus­sell Flint, Row­land Hilder and Trevor Cham­ber­lain, to name but a few. And she painted con­stantly, learn­ing by trial and er­ror. At the age of 18 Deborah had her first show, jointly with her father, at the John­son Gal­leries in Ed­mon­ton. Her fam­ily moved to Vic­to­ria, BC the next year, where she was rep­re­sented by Leafhill Gallery in Bas­tion Square. Then, at 21, she crossed the strait to live in Van­cou­ver and started show­ing with Har­ri­son Gal­leries.

The Mad Idea of Mov­ing

In try­ing to fig­ure out the art world and how to sur­vive, Deborah got what she calls "the mad idea" that she wanted to get into il­lus­tra­tion. Act­ing upon the ad­vice of a cre­ative di­rec­tor, who hap­pened to be Bri­tish, she took off for Lon­don, Eng­land plan­ning to find a job in an il­lus­tra­tion stu­dio, work for a year and re­turn to Van­cou­ver, hope­fully more qual­i­fied. This cre­ative di­rec­tor seemed to think that the large num­ber of such stu­dios in Lon­don would make it eas­ier to get that all-im­por­tant first job. It was a good idea. Deborah man­aged to last four years in ad­ver­tis­ing be­fore ad­mit­ting it was not for her – but it would be an­other 14 be­fore she re­turned to Canada with a fam­ily in tow. "The minute I ar­rived in Lon­don I felt that I had found what I truly wanted to paint!" Deborah

ex­claims. "I was to­tally cap­ti­vated by the old build­ings, the streets, the cot­tages, the gar­dens, door­ways and win­dows, the chim­neys (I had quite a thing about chim­neys) and ev­ery­where we trav­elled in Eng­land and Europe there was some­thing in­ter­est­ing and in­spir­ing to paint. We al­ways trav­elled by mo­tor­bike. Ev­ery Septem­ber we loaded up the bike and headed across the chan­nel with only a rough idea of where we were headed, but never re­ally plan­ning any­thing. Trav­el­ling in this way gave us the free­dom and fun of be­ing in the mo­ment, but it did mean we had quite the sto­ries to tell about some very ‘in­ter­est­ing’ ac­com­mo­da­tions." Deborah is not a painter who re­mains sat­is­fied for long. She cred­its this to a keen aware­ness of where she wants to be, mixed with the con­stant de­sire to see more, do more, un­der­stand more, per­haps say more with less – so there is al­ways a strug­gle, but it is within this ten­sion that growth oc­curs. This was ev­i­dent while in Europe, with the seem­ing in­abil­ity to con­fine her­self to one space. Many of her wa­ter­colours dur­ing this pe­riod were from France, Italy and Spain. She had found gallery rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Lon­don and Kent, but also con­tin­ued to send works back to Leafhill Gallery in Vic­to­ria, where they were very well re­ceived.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tional Beauty

Deborah now lives in Vic­to­ria again, and mostly works in oils. She con­sid­ers her­self a rep­re­sen­ta­tional painter who works both in the stu­dio and in the field. "Most of­ten I am at­tracted first by the light and shad­ows, which I want to cap­ture in a sim­ple and painterly man­ner, and

then by tex­tures and de­tail; my strug­gle is to find a bal­ance be­tween the two. It is some­thing I am al­ways work­ing to­wards, al­ways seek­ing to 'loosen up' yet still cap­ture some of the de­tail that in­ter­ests me. Al­though each paint­ing, each sub­ject, asks for its own ap­proach and treat­ment." Deborah has had a va­ri­ety of stu­dios over the years, at­tics, garages, and bed­rooms but one thing they all have in com­mon is the pres­ence of at least one cat. They sleep un­der a desk lamp or drink­ing the paint wa­ter if she isn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion. When it comes to the artis­tic process, there are cer­tain steps she fol­lows. Whether out in the field or in the stu­dio, she gen­er­ally be­gins a piece by sketch­ing in with di­luted colour, just enough to place the com­po­si­tion within the space. Then she mixes up most of the colours that she thinks she will use. This is ac­tu­ally the see­ing and think­ing time, the space for in­ter­nal work. "None of the colours are set in stone, they will be added to, sub­tracted from and smooshed to­gether through the course of the paint­ing, but I find it re­ally helps with the flow of the work if I have the main colours ready to go." Next, she usu­ally puts in a touch of the light­est light and the dark­est dark and then lays in the shadow and light ar­eas. Then it is time to stand back, as­sess and make ad­just­ments be­fore mov­ing on. "My oil paint­ings are a com­bi­na­tion of thin, at times washy, ap­pli­ca­tion and thicker brush or knife strokes," Deborah ex­plains. "I am very fond of my Con­nois­seur pal­ette knives, which is one rea­son I favour pan­els over can­vas, as the knives seem to work bet­ter for me on the smoother sur­face." "I am not a for­mu­laic painter," she con­tin­ues, "I tend to feel my way through a paint­ing, some­times not re­ally know­ing at the out­set ex­actly how I will get where I want to go. Maybe this il­lus­trates an ex­pres­sion I en­joy – the def­i­ni­tion of paint­ing is mak­ing a mess, then fix­ing it. Dur­ing the course of a paint­ing I find that I ex­pe­ri­ence the full range of

emo­tion from ela­tion to de­spair and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. The block in is the most ex­cit­ing stage, the time when ev­ery­thing is still pos­si­ble and it is go­ing to be the best thing I’ve ever done, and at least once in al­most ev­ery paint­ing there will come a point where I feel I have com­pletely lost the plot and have to strug­gle to find my way back." Deborah is largely a tonal painter, drawn to soft neu­trals and sub­tle colour. The ef­fect of light and shadow fas­ci­nate her, as she uses pri­mary colours to mix her way through greens, greys and browns. Her style is not pho­to­re­al­ism, but what she calls a looser, painterly style – per­haps a con­trolled loose­ness. "I be­lieve it is dif­fer­ences in mark mak­ing that most dis­tin­guish one painter from an­other," Deborah con­cludes. "The way we ap­ply the paint is our sig­na­ture. Even af­ter all th­ese years as a pro­fes­sional artist, the great­est buzz of all comes from know­ing that some­one likes some­thing I made enough to hang it in his or her home and look at it ev­ery day. That truly makes it all worth­while!" To see more of the work of Deborah Tilby, nav­i­gate over to www.deb­o­, or con­tact her at deb­o­ Deborah is rep­re­sented by: Gallery 8 Salt Spring Is­land, BC­ 250.537.8822

left, When the Tide Comes In, oil on panel, 36" x 24" above, Shore time, oil on panel, 24" x 18"

above, Calm Be­fore the Storm, oil on panel, 16" x 16" right, Fin­ished For the Day, oil on panel, 24" x 18"

pre­vi­ous spread, A Chilly Morn­ing, oil on panel, 18" x 24" above, Five Small Boats, oil on panel, 18" x 18"

Blue Row­boat, oil on panel, 24" x 24"

pre­vi­ous spread, The Wind­mill and the Cows, oil on panel, 18" x 24" above, Hid­den in the Woods, oil on panel, 16" x 20"

pre­vi­ous spread, Spring Flood­ing, oil on panel, 26" x 36" left, Over the Rocks, oil on panel, 16" x 20" above, Blue Boat in the Bay, oil on panel, 12" x 12"

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