February 22 - 28, 2015: Issue 203

Debby Waters

 Debby Waters 

One of the wonderful artists Pittwater has in its midst is Debby Waters, a lady who has contributed well over a decade of work in a voluntary capacity to grow the arts scene in Pittwater and ensure annual exhibitions like the Pittwater Community Arts Annual Art Show and Sale are a success. In November 2014 this favourite of the community celebrated its 10th anniversary

Debby has also contributed some of her absolutely beautiful works to support community projects. Readers may recall the wonderful mural 'Symphony of colour’ she created for the Mona Vale Hospital Auxiliary to brighten up the café.

Her vast experience and lifelong passion for creative work, and the etiquette that accompanies the proper showing of works, are just some of all you can learn by spending even a few hours with this lady. Her works themselves, exhibited nationally and internationally, are sought after by collectors – they’re just glorious. 

There’s lots of energy in Debby, sparks and a great inner fire. Soft spoken, a delight to be around and allowing us to show some of works as our feature Artist of the Month for April 2015,  this week a small prelude to what many state is what you want in your home, or if wanting to learn how to be creative, from whom you want to learn it. 

When and where were you born?

I was born in Sydney, New South Wales. I’ve always lived on the Peninsula – I grew up here, bought my first unit on Narrabeen Lagoon and then bought land and built on Newport hill, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

You would have seen a few changes – what are the most dramatic you have noticed?

The population increase would be the most noticeable. This was considered quite far out from the city when we moved to Newport and it wasn’t as popular as it is now. Closer to the city was considered better, land value wise, and now land values have soared as people realise it’s such a gorgeous area to live in.

Where did you go to school?

Mackellar Girls High. 

What did you do when you left school?

I went to Teachers College straight from school and trained as a Teacher. I was also right into my sports and played six Australian Tournaments of Netball. This involved touring around Australia with the Netball team.

On my return I did lots of jobs in offices, I also did a courier job for about eight years, driving. I had my family then, three children.

I decided to get back into my painting as my children grew, as I’d always painted,  and did a course initially which got me thinking creatively again.

Can you remember what your first creation was?

I don’t remember ever not painting. I did it as a kid – we weren’t into all the computer games, so we drew – my sister and I drew and painted all the time. 

What were your subjects then?

I would draw anything – people, Still Life, animals – anything – I would always practise drawing, and I think that’s what honed my skills.

My mother was artistic in a sewing way – sewing and fabrics and designing clothes and she really encouraged our artistic sides, let me paint walls of the house and paint the toilet with big sunflowers. She never held us back in that regard. Some people may say ‘you’re not painting the wall’ whereas she would say ‘go for it’.

Did the landscape influence you at all?

Probably when I moved up to Newport, the water. I’ve gone through heaps of developments – Mixed Media has always been a real favourite for me, so I’ve been through a lot of styles and have done a lot of training in different areas (to support that).

I spent a couple of years doing big graphic flowers, years doing Figurative. I’ve moved towards more Contemporary styles now and slightly Abstract but not total abstraction.

For me it’s always experimenting and learning – you’re always learning with Art, ‘you can never know enough’ has been my attitude.

I also think it’s important to have fun with it – I think some people can get too bogged down in ‘it has to work’, especially now I’m teaching I find it is sometimes hard to encourage students to just play and have fun with it – it doesn’t matter if it’s a disaster; use different mediums and try it all out, have a go.

How did the shift into teaching Art come about?

I had done Artfest with Meredith Rasdall since the instigation of this art festival for children. I was working with Sarah Paul then, and working one class a week with Meredith. Sarah and another friend from Newport were part of ART AT Newport School, and I was at Bilgola through my kids. 

These ladies wanted to start up this business (Mixed Palette), and Sarah and I had spoken about doing art together and teaching. The school was really behind what we were doing as they wanted an extended art program when Harry was the Principal. 

So we started at the school and did one term in the school hall. That proved to be difficult as far as space and having enough room to store things and leave paintings drying – all that is associated with teaching art.

We found this premises just down the road, where all the kids could walk down the footpath to get here – so it was great location wise as far as that transition from Newport to here.

It was like any business when it first starts up, even though it was a good business it was hard for it to make enough money to support three people and cover the overheads. They stayed 18 months and were going to close the doors and I decided to buy them out and try it on my own.

I’ve been here nine years now, it’s just grown.

What’s the best thing about ensuring all children have access to doing art?

I think it’s fantastic. We do have a few Special Needs children, we have children who aren’t sporty. We get a mixture of all children.

Some of them that may not be achieving in other areas are often quite creative. That then gives them that avenue to excel. Kids that can’t communicate fluently in some areas do so through art. They feel comfortable doing this too – it’s just an expression of yourself, Art, so it’s never wrong. They can’t be wrong in Art Class, which is really nice.

Some kids just want to draw…they don’t know what mediums are available to them and that’s why I think Mixed Media is really good as it exposes them to far more ways of representing their Art.

I’m often asked can I just do drawing classes – and think, well drawing is always an element within every lesson anyway. What’s important to remember is that kids can’t know that they don’t like sculpture or wax resist or print making, or any associated mediums, as they haven’t done it before.

So if I let them have a taste of everything to begin with they can then, when they get older, narrow it down to what appeals most to them.

Where do you start a child?

We have a structured lesson for the 5 to 12 year olds. Within that lesson they have a scope of where they take it to, but they always have something to start with which we show them – my daughter helps me too, Ellie Waters.

We put a big drawing in front of them, and show them how to break it down into simple shapes. If you just say to them ‘today you’re going to draw a hippopotamus’, that’s very daunting for some kids if they have no reference in front of them or even if the reference is a photograph. But if you can break it into simple shapes, and give them a starting point, they can do it. They know what a circle or a square is, and can see the basis of the drawing from that.

I don’t assume that they can’t do it, I assume that they can.

So many parents are amazed with what their children do here, they can’t believe they did it.

You do get people who come along and say ‘I haven’t got a creative bone in my body’ – well, everyone does – it’s just whether you tap into it or not and then know how to get that out.

I also find that in any Art class, and working with creative people, creates that vibe around you and you bounce off each other, feed off that creativity in the room, not just from the teacher, and this helps too. You start thinking that way, you learn from others in how they’re representing things as well.

Who were your influences when you first started?

There wasn’t one that I could point to. When I was in Teachers College I did my thesis on Salvador Dali, and it wasn’t that I really liked surrealism I just thought he was really clever and very different for the time. 

I wouldn’t want to paint alike Salvador Dali now – he’s a bit out there and weird – I appreciated his style of what he was doing at the time. For me it’s always having a go at different styles – in that regard I’m influenced by everyone and everything around me.

You have also contributed a lot to the Pittwater Arts scene, growing that and instilling it for years – why do so much voluntary work in that area?

I think we’re in a really arty area, for a start. I was in the formation of the Pittwater Community Arts and stayed with that for many years on the Committee – there was a need for some central body for people to go to, to have a support system set up for them.

I loved Artfest*, and working with Meredith, and it’s a shame that’s not happening at present. We did that for 12 or 16 years – and it is a paid job now and is different each time now, so you’re starting with someone else.

For we who started it, our kids aren’t at school now, so it’s the new generation that need to take it up and other people who need to do it so they have that energy and that time to put the next lot of kids through. 

The Ceramics Exhibition was great too – that involved the schools.

True – these are all a lot of work, and involve a lot of time beforehand to organise all involved in them. When you attend these events you don’t see all that goes into them; getting that advertising out, getting to the schools to get the kids involved is huge.

Artfest was huge too, and that’s why we got so worn out. Hopefully that will become part of the Pittwater arts scene again soon. It’s sadly missed, all my kids miss it as it isn’t scheduled for this year.

The annual Pittwater Community Arts Show and Sale is another great one – a good chance for so many artists to show what they’ve created that year?

Yes, I’ve run that with Lorrie Morgan for a while now. It gives all artists a chance to exhibit as we’ve lost a lot of local galleries in recent years. We have a high population of artists in the local area and people have few opportunities to put their work out now.

There’s no permanent space unfortunately.

Debby with Lorrie Morgan at 10th Birthday of PCA Art Show and Sale 2014 - Lorrie attributes much of the work and success of this annual sale and exhibition to all Debby does beforehand

Going forward – what are your plans – are you going to enter the Archibald or…?

I haven’t even thought about that one – but what I have thought of is the Children’s Archibald. It would be lovely to get some of my students to enter that – I would probably get more of a kick out of seeing their little portraitures go into that – so that’s on the cards, to eventually get them to try for that.

How would you define Mixed Media?

Mixed Media is a combination of different mediums used in a painting. My whole thing(focus) is about layering – so starting with a textured layer then working up through the layers just exposing small amounts of the layers beneath – some people think ‘it’s a lot of materials’, which it is but that is what gives depth to a painting, when you’ve layered it. This also gives a maturity to that painting too.

It’s also an interesting technique to learn and that’s what a lot of my classes for adults and teens are based on – the layering side of things.

Mixed Palette Classes – are the Children’s ones are run to suit their hours?

Yes, these are run after school – I supervise them from 3.30, and we get a lot from Newport School. They walk down, have afternoon tea here and then they have an hour and a half lesson. These are run three times a week.

I do teenagers classes three nights a week and there are classes for adults on two days and one night.

So it’s quite a busy program. I also have a full class of Year 12’s – I love working with the Year 12’s, they’re so diverse in what they’re creating.

What are the main differences you’ve noticed between the children, the young adults and the adults?

What I’ve noticed is that when they start in Kindy they’re really loose and free and expressive. And this remains through Year 1 and Year 2. They’re lovely to work with and you can never be anything other than inspired by what they produce.

When they get to upper Primary they get much more tight and they want to be accurate in every element – like green grass has to be green, and this can be due to the influences they have around them then.

When they get to High School they often want to try and get back that freeness to their work. They go through this progression into getting really tight – little boys want to draw these war things and do tiny little drawings that are very intricate – they’ll do this through Years 5, 6 and 7 and then begin to stop doing that.

By Year 9 or 10 they start to free up more and be more playful with the art – this is a pattern that you see right through.

What about the adults – have you had any students there who have just amazed you with their progression?

Yes. Some who have been with me for almost as long as I’ve been teaching are finding their niche where they’re comfortable. I can expose them to a lot of things, but that’s just showing you a technique – but once you grab one of those techniques and stay with that for quite a length of time, that’s when you develop it and that’s when you can really grow with that. One of my adult students is right into the impressionism style and she has just excelled now – wonderful work.

Have any expressed to you a sense of having developed as a person alongside this?

I think they find simply that the art is a release for them – they don’t tell me that they are particularly growing in any way, it’s more that this is their outlet, something that is totally for them, in their space and that they really don’t like missing the class as that’s their time for them. 

What’s the best thing about being brave enough to be a full time creator or teaching how to create?

I meet some lovely people, I rarely have anyone that I clash with. You meet and are with the same type of people because you’re all wanting to live the creative side of life.

It’s a blessing to have the children too – I’ve seen some of them grow up and do well – two students I’ve worked with are part of Express Yourself this year and we were taking one boy’s work down earlier this week – so that’s always great to see that happen. One of these boys has been here since I opened and then I’ve seen him leave school. 

Tom, who was dux of the school at Freshwater, was pre-selected for Express Yourself. Harry from Barrenjoey High School, whom I worked with for a while is also in Express Yourself – so I’ve had a high success rate with Year 12’s and they’re great to work with, even though it can be stressful making sure they get it done on time. 

Tom Hammond and Debby at Express Yourself 2015 Opening Night - Two awards are granted annually to students featured in the exhibition. Manly Art Gallery & Museum Society presents a $3,000 award and the Theo Batten Youth Art Award of $5,000 is awarded to a student continuing studies in the arts. Tom Hammond won the Theo Batten award at Express Yourself 2015 - picture courtesy Jean Bentley: 

Your daughter is working here with you too – Ellie?

Yes, Ellie co-teaches six classes. Ellie wanted to do social work to begin with and started Uni and didn’t like it as there were some avenues of social work she didn’t like. She made a decision to defer for two years and worked in Kindy with children and loved that. Then she decided she really missed her art and decided to do a Fine Arts degree at COFA and graduated with High Distinctions, even getting the Dean’s award.

Ellie's classes at Mixed Palette include co-teaching all of the teens and the Year 12’s as well as I learnt from her when she was at COFA doing all of that Conceptual art, and how it’s so much more than what you’re painting, the meaning behind it. This got me having to think about this too. Ellie also does the after-school classes too.

Has Ellie always been creative too?

Ellie yes, and my other two children have been creative as well. She began in here as a teenager. My partners had children too as well and we were all in here, creating, it was a family affair – and they helped out during the holidays with the Birthday Parties we do from here, so she has always been helping out here.

What is involved in the Art Birthday Parties?

The kids all do these birthday paintings you see on the walls. They pick out what they want and we do a minimum of 10 and maximum of 15 children and they create their own painting with us guiding them through it. We’ll set up a table with craft and a table set up with plates and decorations for the birthday food, which people bring in themselves. So it’s an hour and a half for the art and half an hour for the food and maybe opening presents. They have a great time. 

What would you like to see develop to take the Pittwater art scene forward?

First off I’d like to see Artfest be brought back, to get some youth in there to help run it so their energy and input is part of it. You then get longevity for it as well if you have the next generation running it. You also have someone in place who doesn’t have to start from scratch every two years, when it is run.

A permanent regional gallery is really important too. When you see such a high percentage of people who are creative in one area, and other areas have a permanent gallery, it seems a shame we don’t have one.

I don’t see anything wrong with starting small for that; when we looked at Hazlehurst a few years ago as an example, with its café and grounds, that is on a larger scale and that facility was donated to that community. If we had even some small area as a starting point, which is there for the artists and all the diverse forms we have here, that would be great.

What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?

I love where I live, in Newport. I love my house - the fact that we’ve got the Pittwater on one side and the ocean beach on the other side – that we overlook both. I’m quite happy with where I am. It’s lovely to be here and work close to home.

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

I just live for the day – I take each day as it comes. I’m not one f those people who think ‘in five years I want to have this, I want to have that’ – I don’t live my life like that.

Over the last ten years Debby has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally. After many years of teaching mixed media both privately and in schools Debby decided to set up her own art school called Mixed Palette - Debby Waters Art School at Newport.

Mixed Palette

Address: 3/1 Kalinya St, Newport NSW 2106

E-mail: mixedpalette@bigpond.com

Telephone: 02 9999 5048 - Mobile Phone Number: 0409 278 591

Website: www.mixedpalette.com.au

Classes to suit all ages

Mixed Palette teaches highly imaginative and creative mixed media classes for all ages, pre-schoolers to adults. Learn everything from layering, acrylics, oils, glazing, printing, collage etc. You will be encouraged to gain confidence to develop your own style and apply this to your work. You will be working in the most inspiring studio, which is flooded with natural light, and every wall is adorned with colour and creativity. Mixed Palette also offers specialist courses in Mixed Media, Mosaics, Printmaking and Decorative Art.


The studio runs very exciting and stimulatory children's holiday workshops. Children will explore their own creativity across a range of mediums -paint -collage -mosaics etc. The studio also runs specialist workshops for adults in painting, mosaics and print making.

Pittwater Artfest is a children’s art festival aimed at children aged 3 – 18 years old.  The festival encourages children to put down their PlayStations, turn off their televisions and pick up a paintbrush, pencil, pen, camera, ….and get creative.

Artfest, initiated by Meredith Rasdall in 1998, ably supported by Debby Waters, has proved a very popular with all children in Pittwater and produced some wonderful works.