Story by Larissa Cox
Meet Debbie Flood - an inspirational artist that captures the emotion in children and the bonds they have with their animals. From award winning portraits of the equine, to limited edition landscapes of her home in Maine, to children's books, Debbie has a full career. Enjoy reading more on this talented artist's journey.
What has been your artistic journey, and what are your proudest accomplishments?
My artistic journey has taken a few paths, but always seems to bring me back to children and horses. I started out very young, painting and drawing the horses on our farm or any horse in general. It didn't matter as long as I was drawing a horse. As I got older, my relationships between myself and our horses grew and I started painting and drawing them with more emotion and caring for the individual I was drawing or painting. As a teenager and onward into my twenties, though I still had a studio, my direction was a bit haphazard and I didn't have focus (as many individuals that age experience). I worked part time in non-art related jobs, but still found venues to display my paintings of wildlife and landscapes. It wasn't until my thirties that I realized painting horses wasn't a child's fantasy and that indeed there really are collectors and other artists out there who love the equine subject in art. Once that clicked into my head, I was off and running with my focus and goals. Creating equine art has led me many directions, though all directions have a common thread: the horse and children.
My proudest moment? I've had a few. It's seems that each step is just as important as the last. I'm very proud of what I have become and what I have built so far with my art. A year ago my proudest moment was getting a painting accepted into the American Academy of Equine Art, The Museum of the Horse Exhibit in 2008. The most recent proud moment was winning first place in the oil painting category, with a Zebra painting, at the Waterville, Maine, downtown sidewalk art festival. I have been exhibiting my booth there for 20+ years and this was my first win in the judged competition there. I'm also proud that children in my area, themselves equine enthusiasts, look up to me for what I create and the fact that I am running a business doing what I love. That is inspiring to me, to hopefully be inspiring them that they can do anything they set their minds to. That is something to be proud of.
What is your equestrian background, and what inspired your fondness of equine illustrations?
My dad grew up with farm horses and belonged to a local stable club as a teen. He was very bonded with animals, particularly the horse. When I was about two years old, my parents bought a farm and the barn began filling up with horses. So did my room! With the toy horses, books, coloring books, stuffed toys. I used to think I was a horse! I lived in the barn and pasture. I slept, ate, and breathed horses. My grandparents had Morgan horses, my Great Aunt had Arabians, and we raised Appaloosa and Quarter Horses. My dad halter showed a couple of our horses and my parents ran a local riding club. We also belonged to the Appaloosa Horse club. You know the old saying "Paint what you love and know" - that's what I did and still do. I remember the emotional bonds between people and their horses and that is what I enjoy portraying in my work.
It seems that you draw a lot of inspiration from turn of the century (1900's) Maine. What about this period do you enjoy?
Our small city has changed a lot over the years, buildings gone, farms gone, new buildings replace old ones and the way of life is changing, a lot. A local Gallery in our downtown area put on an exhibit about "The way it used to be" and what we as artists remember our city and town being like. I had some ideas and went to our Historical museum for reference images. When I started going through those old photos, something sparked in me. I was actually digging into my own ancestral past here and was finding things out about my own family as well as friends of theirs and how tough it really was for them all living back then. This museum also houses expensive works of art created by a cousin of mine, Percy Sanborn. I felt that if I created works of art of the past and created Limited Edition Reproductions of those works of art, I could bring awareness to this time period and what the people went through. I could raise funds to donate to the museum to help keep it alive and bring awareness to the museum. As I got further into the series, I was on even more of a personal journey. I have a group of collectors of these works and they often ask me "What's next?!". It's been a fun journey too, because I have many who can tell me more stories about my paintings. It really opens up dialogue, bringing together the generations.
You recently self-published your own book, 'Children & Their Four-Legged Friends: A Series of Watercolor Paintings & Poems', and on your blog at www.debfloodart.com you "Paint a Child a Day". How have children become your muse for your watercolors, and where do you see your artistry moving in this new creative avenue?
The book came about from a series I did of children with horses from local horse shows I attended with my booth. I had an exhibit of this series, but the originals sold and the series was broken up. I wanted a way to still have this series intact and viewable as a whole. So the book was born. To enhance the images, I wrote the poetry to go along with them. I find that the children I paint with the horses are really a reflection of my own childhood. I see the child who longs for a horse and can't have one. I had close friends in school who felt that way. I know the spiritual and emotional bond with one horse or pony. My work reflects this passion. And even after we are all grown up...we still love the horse. We never lose that. That is what I enjoy creating. I taught a couple years on a Farm that offered Summer Camps and riding lessons. I was asked to join in the camp and teach an art class to the campers. The first year the Camp art was a 'tribute to their lesson horses' past and present. I assisted them in painting large portraits, of their favorite mount on the farm, on large panels that were attached to the stall doors of each horse. Then in the barn on a large wall, they created a tribute mural wall that contained horses that had passed on to greener pastures, foals that had been born on the farm, the different disciplines that had been learned, and all the horses who had ever come and gone on that farm. A wonderful bond was also created between me and those kids.
After some prodding from artist friends, they felt my work was suitable for children's books, I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. While I have been learning more about this industry, I thought I would start painting a child a day to hone my skills, to test myself with deadlines and beef up my portfolio to show to potential publishers. Since I started the "Painting a child a day" project, it has taken on a life of its own. So I am just going with the flow of it for now. Many new doors are opening up from this. I am meeting new artists, new collectors, and certainly more interviews from this project, which has been really wonderful! Time is a bit scrunched, but that is what I wanted to feel from this: time constraints, prioritizing and meeting goals. It's very exciting and I'm enjoying painting these little gems as well.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and illustrators in finding their source of inspiration and funneling that into a career path?
Look into your heart. Don't look at what other artists are doing and are successful at. It may not be what you would be successful at. Yes, study other artists, see how they accomplish their goals, and learn to prioritize, organize and run a business and customer relations. There is so much about being an artist, other than the painting. The marketing and socializing and networking are the biggest battles. I've always said that being an artist is 10% creating and 90% marketing. Find what you love to paint, what excites you, what medium you enjoy the most and hone those skills and find the right market for that subject matter. If it's horses, then get involved with all the horse venues. If it is dogs, then go with the dog venues (though often horse and dog people overlap). If it is flowers you love, get involved with flower clubs, garden walks/visits, green houses and so on. Whatever your subject matter go to where the people are for that subject. Whatever your subject matter, enjoy what you are doing and love and know what & why you are creating and the rest usually falls into place. But be prepared to work and work hard. If you don't have the passion for it, so bad you can taste it, it often becomes 'work' that you will not be happy in.
Happy Riding Everyone!