Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Feature: Deb Ward

"Farmall" by Deb Ward
Hi Everyone,

Time for another Friday Feature:)  This week I'm featuring blogging buddy Deb Ward!  Deb is friends with Rhonda Carpenter, I didn't realize this until recently--I think it's fun to see who hangs out with who.  Deb does beautiful works with watercolors and liquid acrylics.  She has a great asthetic that speaks to my Southern Illinois roots and the rural areas that are surrounding.   Deb's blog is a go to blog for me.  She always shares her work in progress, it's so fun to go on the journey with her.

To see more of Deb's work check out her blog.

How did you get your start?  What’s your artist journey so far?
I’ve always been “artsy” and throughout high school I would sew, knit, crochet and needlepoint.  I was accepted to University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art and Architecture (now DAAP) but due to life circumstances, did not attend college.  I did, however, take some Saturday art classes at UC after I graduated from high school.

Then life really got in the way and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-40s that I had the opportunity to take some watercolor classes.  At a certain point, several people from the class rented a studio together in a local town.  I can still remember the excitement I felt when I sold my first painting there and actually had a “bidding war” over it! 

A few years after that, a friend asked me to join her in a gallery and studio in another local town (Batesville, IN) and the gallery owner asked me to teach a watercolor class.  Several of my students were local doctors’ wives.  At that time the local hospital was building a cancer center and one of my students suggested that I contact a woman at the hospital who was in charge of renovations and looking for artwork to hang in the new center.  Several of my paintings were purchased for the center’s offices. 

I subsequently moved my classes to my home and gave weekly lessons for a few years.  Now I give weekend workshops in my home from March through November, each workshop focusing on a certain technique or subject.  I also teach several Saturday morning classes throughout the year for a local arts group and have three 6-week sessions yearly for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

I’m an active member of the Cincinnati Art Club Board of Trustees, having chaired ViewPoint, a national art exhibition, for the past three years.  Currently I’m the Membership Chair for the Club.

Since joining the Greater Cincinnati Watercolor Society I have been Program Chair and Show Chair, am currently Membership Chair and Blogmaster, and will take on the Presidency in March of this year. 

In addition to that, I’m also a member of the Queen City Art Club (Cincinnati), Kennedy Heights Arts Center (Cincinnati) and a Signature Member of the Georgia Watercolor Society.  


"Industrial Revolution" by Deb Ward

Where were you born?
Batesville, IN.   My parents lived in Cincinnati, but my mother came to stay with my grandparents in Batesville a few weeks before I was born.  Now I’ve almost come full circle.  When I was a child and we would visit the relatives in Indiana (pre-interstate) we would go past the road I now live on, and I used to look up at the hills and think “I’ll live up there some day” – and now I do!

If you could live anywhere where would you live?
I can see myself living on a beach in Florida – and I do mean on the beach!  But I can also see myself living out West in “big sky country.”  However, that would mean I’d have to give up my friends here, so I guess my real answer is, right here in St. Leon, Indiana!
"Teapot and Orb 8" by Deb Ward
 What’s your favorite thing to paint and why?
Still life and florals.  I can incorporate some of my “treasures” into my still lifes.  There are glass door cabinets in the dining room that contain items (Roseville pottery, Fostoriaware and various old china pieces) that once belonged to my grandmother and mother.  Each one carries a story, and I like to use them in a still life set up.  Upstairs I have quilts that my grandmother made, and have used some of them in my paintings.  I’ve been told that one can feel an emotion in my simple still lifes, and I guess that is the reason.

I like to paint in series, and lately I’ve been incorporating an oriental theme into my floral paintings.

At one time I had painted a series of old cars, from photos gleaned on trips with my husband.  Then I had a series of trains, also from a trip we took, and I wouldn’t mind revisiting those themes some time.

How did you arrive at watercolor being your medium of choice?  Do you dabble in other mediums?
I had always thought watercolors were beautiful, and I’ve never really been able to stand the smells associated with oil, nor do I like the idea of such a long drying time.

But several years ago I wanted to try something else.  My first foray was with acrylics, and it was a disaster so I tried casein, which I like very much.  I find it “quirky”, kind of like me!  Then I heard of and tried fluid acrylics and I knew I’d met my new, favorite medium. 

I generally alternate between watercolor and fluid acrylics, and have recently been adding in traditional acrylics and various acrylic mediums and am having a lot of fun with that.  I guess the time just has to be right for us to be receptive to new materials.  Not sure if you would call it “dabbling” because I consider myself competent in all three mediums.
"Oriental Roses" by Deb Ward
 You and I have talked about the fact that we have very similar aesthetics and styles.  I have recently been drawing on memories from my life when choosing my still life subjects.  Where does your inspiration come from?
I have partially answered this above under “favorite thing”.   Memories are important to me, and using my “treasures” ties me to the painting.  Memories of trips taken with my husband or my friends can come alive again when I paint from photos of those trips. 

I also like history (which certainly ties into memories!) and when I see old things – antiques, old buildings, something obviously used and worn – I find them compelling.  There are some old towns near by that still have buildings from the 1800’s and there are some antique stores locally.  Old, rusty things catch my eye - old cars, trains or old equipment.  I have started a series of old equipment from photos taken at the local farm and machinery show.

I have some oriental trays and a tea set that were my mother’s and over the years I have collected silk fabric and scarves with an oriental flair.  Lately I’ve been combining these into my still lifes.

How did you arrive at your current style?
Gee, I’m not sure I arrived at a style.  I think that at some point, after we have been painting a while and get away from the “paint like your teacher” phase, and begin to try things on our own, and make our mistakes and learn from them, that we just begin to paint like “us”.

I enjoy color and like to use a lot of color in my paintings. You can feel the sun in most of my paintings, even if you can’t see it.  I also think you can feel the human element, even though there are no people in my paintings.  A valued instructor once said that we should “go with our strengths and work on our weaknesses” so I guess that’s what I do. 

I tend to have a lot of hard edges in my paintings and, try as I might, can’t seem to loosen up, so that must say something about my personality – not sure I want to know what, though!
"Ball Jars" by Deb Ward
 Could you talk about your painting techniques?
I usually begin with a generalized idea of what I want to paint (floral, still life) and then look through my digital photos to find something that interests me.   Sometimes a single photo looks fine, sometimes I’ll want to blend two or more.  Since I have a very simple editing program, I cannot combine photos as you can in PhotoShop.  Therefore I’ll lay a photo under tracing paper and get the main subject down, then move other photos around until I find the composition that looks best.  Once I have all of the objects traced onto the tracing paper, I will enlarge the drawing to proper size and then trace that onto my support.  Once the drawing is on my support, I very carefully go over my lines, adding and subtracting as necessary.  This entire process can take several hours, sometimes over several days. 

I then decide whether miskit (frisket) is necessary.   If so, I’ll cover my highlights or small areas that would be difficult to paint around.  Then I’m ready to paint. 

I’ll usually wet the paper and lay in light washes in specific areas.  If I’m using 140# paper I’ll sometimes tape the paper down prior to adding those washes.  That serves double duty, allowing me to effectively stretch the paper while adding color.  If I’m using 300# paper (or board or canvas) there is no need to tape down.

Most of my paintings are a full sheet now and that seems comfortable; half sheets seem kind of small.  But, for teaching purposes, I usually use ¼ sheets since students are generally more comfortable with that size.

In each medium that I work in, I usually glaze.  This can be via layering in specific areas, or by pouring paint in layers.  This allows me to gradually build up my darks.  I think this gives richness to the painting that cannot be achieved by one layer of paint.

Sometimes I work around the painting, but lately my paintings have been more complicated and I find myself working like a typewriter – left to right, top to bottom – and essentially completing each area as I go.  Sometimes I focus in on the main area first, sometimes the background, and I can’t really say why I’ll choose one way versus another.

On the other hand, some paintings just call for a different process.  Perhaps I’ll decide to use a batik technique, or Masa paper or, on rare occasions, Yupo.
"Sunlit Teapot" by Deb Ward
 Do you have a favorite artist?  Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My favorite artists are contemporary.  I love the work of Chris Krupinski, probably because her quilts evoke thoughts of warmth and love (memories again!).  Laurin McCracken’s paintings amaze me.  I was excited to learn from a recent article in International Artist that I basically use the same techniques that he does, so I guess I’m not as dumb as I look (just cannot paint as well as him!)  If I could paint a portrait the way Mary Whyte does I’d be in heaven! 

As far as other favorites:  Andrew Wyeth – the detail in his paintings astounds me; J.M.W. Turner – again, such amazing detail in his early works, and we have to consider how few tools and pigments were available then; Norman Rockwell – he may be the reason I wanted to paint, since I can remember studying his paintings as a child.

What are some of your favorite things or things that are essential to your well being/success as an artist?
Number one on this list would be friends.
Next would be an ability to find humor in life and not be afraid to laugh at myself!  As we get older we get so serious, about everything.  Of course I’m serious, sometimes too much so.  But put me together with my painting friends and we can find so much to laugh about – including our paintings! 
Weekly painting time with my friends is also essential.  I probably paint more seriously by myself, but it’s so wonderful to have the companionship (and free critiques) when we paint together.
A yearly painting retreat with several out of state friends which has grown well beyond painting; it has become the focal point of my year.
(Are you noticing a trend here!)
I also need some quiet time; just being by myself to read, watch TV or just think.  I try to take a walk every day (if my doctor is reading this, then eliminate the “try to” from that sentence!)  It gives me an opportunity to resolve problems, or to paint a painting “inside my head” – where they always turn out lovely! 
Reading art magazines, online art newsletters, or attending art shows, and being able to see what other artists are creating helps me “place myself”.  It allows me to compare my work and see where I could make improvement or change direction. 
"July the Fourth" by Deb Ward
 Do you have go-to paints/colors, what are your favorites?
Absolutely!  My friends and students tease me that, if it weren’t for Quinacridone Gold, I wouldn’t be able to paint!  Another favorite is Indanthrone Blue.  Both “blend well with others”!

I was introduced to the Daniel Smith brand not long after I began painting and didn’t have the experience to know good paint from bad.  However, after a few experiments with various paint brands, I realized that the Daniel Smith paints just looked and worked better.  A few years ago at our watercolor society, a program on pigments and color by a retired P&G chemist confirmed that they are top quality paints, and almost all of my paints are DS.
As for favorite colors, that would be whatever I’m using today!
Several years ago I invested in a Possum Palette – small round cups that are removable from the palette.  You know how we artists hate to waste paint and so we tend to use up whatever is on our palette, no matter what.  With the Possum Palette it’s so easy to switch colors.  Also, since I am usually working on two paintings at a time, I can put the cups onto a butcher’s tray and have two palettes at the same time.

To further this question, the same goes for brushes.  My theory is good paper, good paint and inexpensive brushes!  I have sets of Ebony Splendor brushes from Jerry’s or ASW, some Cheap Joe’s American Journey, but my current favorites are Silver Black Velvet.  I have also invested in some Winsor Newton pointed rounds.

What are five things you would like to happen in your life in the next five years? Dream big here:)
Locate more teaching venues
Obtain gallery representation
Attain signature status in a national art society
Have my work published in a national magazine
Have my husband build me a studio (this may fall under “hallucination” rather than “dream”!)

What is your advice for other artists who are just getting started in their career?
Some “technical” advice first:
I think it’s very important for artists, especially beginning artists, to experiment with their equipment, especially paints.  Watercolor is a challenging medium since each paint will act differently due to the nature of the pigment.  Unlike acrylic, oil or pastel, watercolor will “move”.  We also have staining, lifting and granulating pigments.  Some “move” when dropped into water, some stay put.  It gets complicated.  The paints also blend differently, hence the tendency toward “mud”.   Don’t hesitate to keep a piece of watercolor paper handy, or use the back of an old painting, to test colors and blends before you begin painting.

And now for the “motherly” advice:
Keep learning – whether from classes, workshops, books and magazines, DVDs or just through your own experimentation.  Don’t be afraid to try new techniques – experiment boldly!
Keep your eyes open and watch other artists.
Join (or form) an artist group and volunteer.  Any active participation will increase your contact with other artists and improve your confidence and self esteem.
When you are ready, enter competitions.  You may only want to enter local competitions at first, but don’t be afraid to enter state or national also.  This gives you a sense of the level of your art, and you can see how your art is progressing and evolving and how it compares to similar work.
Ask for critiques from someone whose opinion you trust.  You don’t always have to make the changes suggested, but you may find areas in your painting you overlooked. 
Hand in hand with the above item - learn who you can trust.  As your abilities increase, you may find there are jealous artists who appear to be your friend, but who actually don’t want to see you succeed.  It’s a tough life lesson.
Determine a goal and work toward it.
You will learn more from your mistakes than you will if you never take chances!  And, no matter how long you paint, YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES!
Remember, until it’s signed and framed, it’s just a piece of paper!
Above all, never give up! 

"Hydrangea 4" by Deb Ward

What is the best advice that you have received as an artist?
While displaying a painting for critique at our watercolor society, a highly respected local artist commented:  “I don’t know who painted that but it must be a woman – they never get their shadows dark enough.”

That comment now goes through my mind toward the completion of each painting.  I assess my shadows carefully and, 9 times out of 10, find that he’s right, my shadows need tweaking.  Sometimes all it takes is one or two tiny dabs of strategically placed paint, but it can make all the difference.


Chocolate or vanilla?

Sunny beach or rustic mountain retreat?
Oh, once again, answered previously.  That would be BOTH – a sunny beach to live on and a mountain top retreat to visit.  I almost have this now, since I live on a lake and take an annual painting retreat either in the mountains of Tennessee or on the coast of North Carolina!

Book or movie?

Favorite author?
John Grisham, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton

Favorite movie?
Of all time would be Gone With the Wind; most recently The Help

Romance or comedy?

Favorite ice cream flavor?
Graeter’s (a local Cincinnati institution) Mocha Chip or anything with coffee, mocha or chocolate!

Night owl or morning person?
Night owl

Cake or Cupcakes?
Cupcakes, with a nice side of cherry pie!  Or maybe a cheese crown (another Graeter’s treat!)

Have you noticed – it’s hard for me to “stay within the lines” – even when answering a simple question!


  1. This was a fascinating read. She really is a wonderful Artist. I just LOVE that tea-pot! :0)

  2. thank you Carrie, for introducing us to Deb Ward. She's truly a wonderful artist and she has an amazing blog. and of course, a great interview!

  3. I always like it when I read that someone didn't really get going with art until much later in life. I was about 36 years old, so we have that in common. I like what she says about how she arrived at her style too... So basically just stop trying to paint like others - that would be my own advise to anyone who wants to paint!
    By the way - I have never come across a 'Ball Jar' before. But so many people paint them! What do they actually hold?

  4. Great interview. I love Deb's work ( and Deb's personality:-). I have been following her blog for a long time, but I have learned quite a few new things about her through this post. A great read. Thank you!

  5. I often wonder why a non-painter artist, such as me, gets drawn in here so regularly. Then I read the interview and the answer lies before me.
    The machinery paintings work so well (I've been drawing Looms and Oil Rigs for weeks...don't ask) and make a fine contrast with the fine detail of the china.
    I've never been a fan before ... but the use of colours (colors) draw me in here like a moth to a flame.

    (tries to stand quietly at the back of the blog)

  6. Thanks for the intro to Deb's luminous work! Sunlit Teapot is my fave

  7. Sandra, since no one has replied to your question yet, I'll let you know about Ball Jars. In Muncie, Indiana, the Ball family had factories that created these canning jars. They come in lovely colors and in clear glass and they are for canning vegetables, etc. So since it was the Ball factory, it was Ball jars. In Muncie, Indiana, the Ball family has Ball Hospital named for them and Ball State University, too.

  8. Interesting what you say about Ball Jars, Rhonda, thank you. The jars at the very top of Carrie's blog,here, show Kilner Jars - the screw down type preservation jars? The Kilner brothers had their factory a mile from here, in the 19th century... and I live in the house they had built for the 'mature' ladies of the family. I've spent 23 years (so far) trying to restore it

  9. Wow, fantastic art, fantastic interview. Thanks for sharing your space so graciously.