Artist Debra Cartwright's exhibit, "Made In Her Image" recently debuted at the Sol Studio in Harlem. Debra creates watercolor paintings highlighting feminism and social awareness. She was recently featured by McDonald's at this year's Essence Festival in New Orleans and she's a Fluff favorite. Fluff had the honor of interviewing Debra and its evident that the artist is just as amazing as the art!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a Harlem based watercolor artist with a womanist obsession.
Your work was recently featured by McDonald's for the Essence Festival. That must have been a honor, how would you describe that experience?
It was crazy. My mother of course cried everytime she saw it, collected like 25 bags, my sister the same way. It didn't register to me until I left. I looked at the billboard and just cried. To see your work on a billboard...just made me realize dreams come true.
When did you discover your talent for illustration?
Ever since I can remember I drew the characters of the Saturday morning cartoons and made paper dolls for my little sister.
Can you remember one of the first things you painted? What makes it memorable?
Tough question! Painted? My oldest painting to my memory is an oil painting of a girl in Haiti. I was in this Haiti relief club in high school and we were sent pictures of the children in the school we sent aid to. I painted one.
Currently your exhibit Made In Her Image is featured at The Sol Studio in Harlem, what was the inspiration for this collection?
For the past two years I've been transitioning to natural hair. Working in the media I noticed there was a lack of representation of natural hair in beauty ads. I've heard you should create the images you want to see, so everyday for a year I did that. I have hundreds of these, those selected for the show were the best ones.
Some of your paintings include materials such as flower petal or gold leafs, where do you gather most of the inspiration for your work?
I just like to use items that are associated with beauty. Flowers, gold, which I consider the highest value metal, has relation to my work. I want to surround my little fairy girls with feminine motifs.
How would you define your aesthetic?
Minimal, airy, serene.
Describe how you get into your zone?
Neo soul, SZA, candles and tea
What, in your opinion, is the hardest step in creating a masterpiece?
Have I created one? That's very kind if you think so. I don't think it's a step, I think you get out your ideas everyday and they start to develop. As your ideas develop your skill develops and if you end up with an amazing piece, that's just wonderful.
When using colors in your illustrations, what is your approach? Do you follow a color scheme or just follow your instincts?
One of my teachers a while ago told me to never use tube colors. I love love love blues, all shades. My work has a lot of blue, even the hair is mixed with blue. It's always been my favorite color. Never understood why it's just used for boys, it encompasses so much feeling. Doesn't make sense. But yes, blues (ultramarine and cerulean) and burnt sienna to warm up the skin tone are my favorites.
About how long does it take for you to complete a painting? How do you when it’s complete?
My watercolors, depends on the size. Sometimes I like to do quick sketches, a few an hour to get back into the groove. On weekends I'll take a whole day to create a piece. But watercolor doesn't take long, it dries as soon as you apply it, unlike acrylic or oil. I'm not patient enough to work with those mediums honestly.
Do you have a favorite artist? If yes, what draws you to that person’s work?
I do! Wangechi Mutu. Her haunting images of out there black women just inspire me. They are this ugly beautiful, theres something freeing about that. They aren't trying to be beautiful and in that they take on a greater meaning which is a deeper beauty to me. They also tell stories, enough of a story to let you create the rest of it. She's just so great. And her color pallet is a dream.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interest?
I didn't even really consider this one interesting until people started taking an interest honestly. I like to repaint my apartment, fix things around the house, get tattoos, make a mess haha. I may be a middle age mid-America man actually.
Finally, we would like to give you the opportunity to share three paintings and tell us a little about each.
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