I’ve made this series to highlight women who are starting out. They have created something out of nothing, following those whispers and are moving forward with bringing their dreams to life. I believe in the power of sharing our stories, supporting and lifting each other up. There is enough for everyone to be successful, in what ever way feels right for them.
I N T R O D U C I N G
Deborah Vass left her teaching career at age 50 to return to painting, becoming an Artist and Printmaker full time. Her work records the beauty of the overlooked, peers into the hedgerows and gazes over fields of Norfolk through the seasons. As well as painting and sketching field trips and nature focused holidays, Deborah’s abundant wildlife friendly garden is also regularly visited by many of her subjects. Lady, the wild duck, returns each year and in the safety of Deborah’s garden hatches a clutch of eggs. Seeing the ducklings safely escorted around the garden by Lady is a favourite amongst the beautiful photography on Deborah’s Instagram.
Deborah had been wanting to create a new newsletter for some while…and then she started reading about Substack and it seemed to be the perfect platform for a new adventure. If you aren’t yet familiar with Substack, you can subscribe to a wide range of wonderful contributors, of all disciplines, some paid, some free and there seems a lovely sense of community.
Deborah’s posts will be fortnightly and she will be sharing her sketching adventures in the Norfolk countryside and hopefully encourages you to pick up a pencil too!
The new Substack newsletter is called “Still, Sketching” as drawing outdoors provides a sense of stillness and peace like no other activity. It allows you to take notice and absorb the changes of the seasons by really looking at what is in front of you. The result matters far less than the process, it is the sitting and looking that counts.
In the latest Still, Sketching you can discover more about how Deborah made her oak gall ink, a potted history of who used it and when, and you can see Deborah’s first drawings using a homemade reed pen, along with October nature notes, a poem and this month’s podcast choice
Deborah sells her original artwork, prints, linocut prints and a card collection of her prints on both Etsy UK and her website shop. Her artwork and printmaking have featured in nature based magazines, journals, periodicals and books.
T H E Q U E S T I O N S
1. Would you share a little about yourself and why it is so important for you to follow those
The most powerful, happy memories from my childhood concern the hours I spent drawing. As an only
child, I was left to entertain myself and clearly remember buying a set of cheap watercolour tubes from
the local newsagent with my pocket money and feeling as though I was a proper artist!
While my teachers were very keen for me to pursue art training from a very young age, my parents were
less keen and it was pushed aside in favour of more academic subjects. I continued in my spare time, but
it became more difficult as exam demands increased and so it wasn’t until my 20’s, when I moved from
London to East Anglia, then I resumed in earnest.
I suspect that so many women drop what they love in response to all life’s demands. I returned to teaching
in my 30’s, hoping that I could continue art at the weekends, but anyone who has taught knows how all
consuming it is and I was naive to think otherwise.
As you grow older the urgency to pick up on those whispers becomes louder and I suddenly realised how
I would feel if I had never followed that early dream. So I took the plunge and one of my former pupils
signed me up to an Instagram account. Having to constantly produce work for daily posts kept me on
track and am so grateful to all those who followed my account early on giving me the confidence and
encouragement to keep going.
My focus in the last couple of years has moved from linoprinting to sketching from life in the outdoors. I
realised how much I loved drawing from observation in my local landscape, which although is mostly
very flat agricultural land, is punctuated by wonderful ancient oak trees and these have been a focus of
2. Favourite time of day?
That depends on the season! In winter, especially in the days running up to Christmas, I love dusk, the
crespucular hours when there is a chill, as the light fades quickly, and there is something magical about
the quality of the light. But in spring, I love the early morning, around 5 o’clock when the dawn chorus
has begun and everything is freshly green, burgeoning and full of promise.
3. Life is full of distractions, what keeps you focused?
I am naturally easily distracted person, so this is difficult. Walking the few steps from my back door,
through the garden, to my studio can be full of distractions: the opening of the first poppies in midsummer
to birds on the feeder, it always takes longer than the couple of minutes that it should.
But that is part of the joy of working from home and having the subjects that inspire me so close at hand.
However, when I am inside focus comes easily as I am always keen to use the time I have as effectively
as I can. Having spent much of my working life teaching very long hours, it remains a huge privilege to
spend each day focused on what I love doing, though there are always things that seem more important,
that can easily divert me and these are a constant pull. I always find it very hard to not do all household
chores before working in the studio, or going out into the countryside drawing, but I am working hard to
close the door and leave it til later. I always tell myself that at the end of my life, I will never think that I
should have spent more time ironing and cleaning…
4. What has surprised you?
How much the art world, and being an artist has changed, since I resumed painting after many years
teaching. Social media and marketing is now a significant part of an artist’s working life, whereas years
ago you would write and post slides (yes, slides!) to magazines and galleries in the hope that you would
attract interest. Now, a great deal of time is spent building a following through newsletters, blog posts and
reels. It is very easy to lose perspective and put the cart before the horse. I try really hard to keep my
focus on developing my work and not worry so much about media reach.
5. One piece of advice you would like to pass on to someone who has always wanted to take the
next step and pursue their artistic and creative dreams full time?
Just do it! Obviously the risk must be calculated financially, but it is very easy to find excuses not to do it,
and I confess I regret not resuming my art career sooner. I was prompted by a health scare around my 50th
birthday and it suddenly hit me squarely how precious time is to not to spend it doing what you love most
in life. You need to work hard at it, and it certainly is not easy in the current economic climate, but it has
instead encouraged me to be more adaptable and determined.
Follow Deborah on Instagram at @deborahvasspainting and add your nature images to the hashtag Deborah created #seekingtheoverlooked
Deborah’s Etsy shop is called Deborah Vass.
Deborah’s Substack is called Still, Sketching, I hope you will join her!
Interview Series: Deborah Vass, Artist & Printmaker.
October 24, 2023