Behind every piece of art there is an artist with a story. This blog is dedicated to sharing these stories. There is an abundance of talent in West Virginia that should be celebrated. Here at The Red Caboose we get the privilege of interacting with local artisans and makers on a daily basis. Through these interactions we learn more about the person behind the product and find out their motivation, their challenges, and their triumphs. Every month we will feature a local artist or maker and share a glimpse of what goes in to making the art and goods that you’ve grown to love.
West Virginia artist, Debi Ellis has a personality as colorful as her vibrant fuchsia hair. Debi creates bold multimedia pieces that are packed with bright colors and inspirational phrases. In addition to being an artist, Debi is a certified life coach and is dedicated to helping those in addiction recovery and their family members. Debi takes a unique approach as a life coach by integrating her art and the creative process in order to help her clients explore emotions and cope with trauma.
The Red Caboose: Thank you for having us in your studio space. Can you tell us a little bit about this space and how you’ll be utilizing it?
Debi Ellis: Being both a transformational life coach and a whimsical artist I will be using this space for both! I am in the process of opening up an office in the Unlimited Future business incubator. The office will be used mainly for meeting my Life Coach clients, working on the day to day business part of marketing, social media, etc. and art event planning. I will be using the available conference rooms to hold peer support groups for mothers with children who are battling Substance Abuse Disorder and also art workshops. My goal is to provide weekly support groups, daily one-on-one coaching sessions and weekly/monthly art workshops.
TRC: What inspires you to create your work?
DE: I felt so driven to do it towards women and girls. I write constantly. I always have a notebook beside me and writing down quotes that pop into my head, so you can pretty much tell where I am in my life.
TRC: Much of your work seems to be aimed at empowering women and girls. What motivated you to take this direction?
DE: The trauma of women really pierces my heart. What emerges in my art, is a moment of hope, of strength if needed, of simply “getting” what it is to be a woman and to let that woman who sees my art know she will be okay. When I sell a piece of my work I always ask if it is going to a good home and more often than not, receive a smile and an enthusiastic yes. If I can lighten a burden of one woman for one second my art has served its purpose.
TRC: When did you start making art?
DE: I was about 45 when I started. I didn’t ever take art lessons or anything like that. I was always creative. I did party planning and hospice window displays. I was the one everyone always called for ideas for parties, decorations, and school things. So, the creativity was always there.
TRC: You started your journey into art later in life. What were some of the challenges you were faced with? Do you have any advice for someone who might also be considering a major life or career change later in life?
DE: I was challenged first all by my hearing. I am deaf and am able to hear with a cochlear implant. I am still limited though when I attend art sales and workshops because I often times do not hear the client or instructor so I am always a fraction behind. Do things in small chunks of time instead of expecting to accomplish hours of work in one sitting. I actually worked with a life coach to jump start my art business. She helped me work through a step by step plan of action in achievable steps.
TRC: You share your artistry through artist workshops and “art parties. Tell us a little bit about that. How does it feel to guide people and uplift them through art?
DE: My workshops have instruction but each participant will take that and create a totally different piece of art that relates to themselves. I have held workshops in affirmation journal making, collage, gelli printing, alcohol inks and more. How does it feel? It feels like I have been fed. The old cliché of getting back more than you give is actually true I think.
TRC: Do you work in other mediums besides mixed media? What draws you to mixed media work?
DE: I have dabbled in just about everything. I have sculpted, sewn, painted, made paper and jewelry and more but I prefer mixed media because I am able to repurpose old papers, fabrics, lace, buttons, jewelry, etc and give them a new life as art. Mixed media is layers and layers of paint, papers, adding and removing… and so on and so on. You can’t mess it up! Also, I want people to touch my art…it is very tactile…feeling the layers are reflecting on the layers of our selves.
TRC: You’re an artist and a certified life coach helping people who are going through recovery for addiction. Can you tell us how those two worlds have collided for you?
DE: A lot of my quotes are empowering from that angle. When my daughter was in treatment, she messaged me and told me that there was a girl there that said she would be the only one out of 250 women in that facility that would never get a piece of mail while she was there. I thought “well, why?” Well, her mom had passed away and she had burned all of her bridges. So, I sent her a set of “Happy Thoughts” cards that I made and that was the only piece of mail she received in 12 months. But what was really cool about how much it meant to her to get those was when they graduate from this program their name is on a big board and when they graduate they get to write the word “done” and a quote and she wrote one of my quotes. That was just like, wow it gave me shivers. What I’m doing now is some groups for mothers of addicts to help walk them through the process of still loving their child through all of it and that being okay. So, what I’m going to do is incorporate my art through vision boards, mapping, and affirmation cards specifically for moms of addicts.
TRC: What advice would you give to an aspiring artist who might be afraid to get started?
DE: Two things: if you’re going to take classes, take a class with a teacher who doesn’t teach the color wheel. I hate the color wheel, and forget rules. There are no rules in art. Also, I would say play is the biggest thing. Because that takes the stress off you and goes back to your inner child.
TRC: What’s next for you? Any new projects in the works we should know about?
DE: Next is to further help women who are mothers of addicts by life coaching sessions. I will be there during jail visits, court dates and more.
For more information about Debi and her work you can visit her website, www.debiellis.com and her Facebook, www.facebook.com/ThePinkChucksStudio. Her work can also be seen here on The Red Caboose website.