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19th March 2012 

Water Colours, her favourite medium

By Sonia Golt

Deborah Lawson was born in Yorkshire, near the coast, and as an only child had to find things to do to entertain herself as she was growing up. She took to drawing and painting as she loved it and it also absorbed much of her time. It is also natural for a child to paint if they are brought up in a family that paints.

Her father was a very good artist and even though her mother did not particularly draw or paint she had great interest for paintings and would very often take Deborah to art galleries in the nearby area or even in visits to London. At school she took A level and O level art and this is when she started to put forth her idea, to her parents, that she wanted to go to art college after school, but her parents were not too happy about it as they felt that this was not the type of career that would give her enough income in the future, unless she suddenly became very famous, which is not always the case! So all in all the decision to look at other options as a career came about and Deborah took up social work and qualified for it, but at the same time always with a brush at hand.

What was it like, leaving behind your dreams as a teenager?

"Well I did not ever think I was leaving that behind me as I always kept drawing and painting as a hobby. After studying social work I took a job in this field until both my children went to school. At the back of my mind art college was always an option and it was then that I took a large leap in my life and applied to Art College when I was in my 30's having been inspired to do so by a friend who was an art teacher and had done the degree herself also a lot later in life."

"I went to Bradford College where David Hockney, an important contributor to the Pop art movement in the 1960's and one of the most influential British artists of the twentieth century had also studied. The actual course was very good as they made us work very hard and varied - photography, sculpture, print, textile and painting. I actually took my degree there and got a first in art and design, a mixture of practical and theoretical work that also included illustrations. My finals where in fine art textiles and painting. I really enjoyed my four years there even though it was hard with a young family still, but I had a child minder for a while and I found a way around it even though I also went through a divorce that actually happened in the middle of my studies. After my Degree I still returned to social work as my parent's prediction was so true and money was not as forthcoming via the arts as it was with social work"

You then started teaching water colours, why?

"A few years ago I decided to try teaching water colours, which by then, was my favourite medium. I did a City and Guild course for adults and started teaching for local authorities, but it was not paying too well, so had to keep looking for other ways of making money and so went part time once again to social work, but at the same time doing some exhibitions and getting some income from my paintings." Round about the year 2000, Deborah's husband Neil, who is a Civil Engineer by profession but also a folk artist, was employed to do the Millennium Bridge at Newcastle and he was involved for a few years in this project. Luckily for Deborah she sometimes went along with him and she would sit to paint the scene of the works, it was at one of these sittings when she was painting one of the boats fringing in the building equipment that Neil's boss, the Managing Director of the Main Contractor actually commissioned her to do paintings to record works and progress of the bridge as it was being constructed.

"I found this work fascinating, it was interesting to be part of what was a historical moment and the community was very excited about it as for them this was a very big step forward to regenerate the area. At the same time they were also building the Baltic Art Gallery from the old Baltic flour Mill. Wonderful moments. After the works ended I had an exhibition in Newcastle with all the paintings I had done of the works. After that I have done teaching and worked part time to sustain my expenses, and I have done mainly my own style of paintings but have also taken on commission work, mostly portraits, even though I had not done them for a while. So when we came to Gibraltar four years ago, as Neil's job dictated, and I was thrilled to come over, I started doing a lot of portrait commission work here, as well as buildings. Since I have been here I have dedicated most of my time to painting, I am very busy as I have a solo exhibition coming up in November at Sacarello's and I am preparing for that while at the same time teaching."

How did you get involved with the Arts and Crafts community projects locally?

"Well I have been a member since I came and I wanted to do more work with the community so when they asked me if I wanted to join and do some of the painting classes, I took this on and I am really enjoying it."

Deborah is a wonderful and patient teacher, great to follow her method and she can get out the best of each student, I know as I am one of them! Her professionalism is evident as with little strokes here and there she teaches us to make beautiful cards and paintings that somehow seem effortless and the results are quite good.

"Art and craft work is very therapeutic, I do not consider myself a therapist, but when people get absorbed with painting and you enjoy it, somehow it takes you into different levels, it is like other creative arts, writing etc."

What do you think of the local artists?

"There are lots of very good artists, generally I think that in Gibraltar people are very artistic and talented in many fields like music, dance, etc and the standards are pretty high considering the size of this place."

What would you recommend to a person who has never painted but would like to try?

"I think that I will boast a little now, as I think that I can teach anybody to paint who wants to (I can vouch for that) it is because the way I teach is my own sort of system and one that I have devised because it works for me and my students, I do things by demonstrating step by step all the way. and the reason for this is because when I first started painting with water colours myself I was making the most horrible messes so I know it is best to teach the basic techniques before you start to paint in this medium. If you have the interest, the desire and the commitment to paint, nothing can stop you."

You have also illustrated a poetry book, tell us about that.

"This happened in Saltaire, which is a village near Bradford, it is a world heritage sight, and a model village built in Victorian times by Sir Titus Salt.

(Saltaire Village is near Bradford in West Yorkshire, England. It is named after Sir Titus Salt who built a textile mill and this village on the River Aire. In December 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

This status is owed to the dedicated work of people from the local community.)

"A very talented friend of mine, Eddie Lawler, who loves Saltaire and is interested and involved in the conservation of the village, decided to write a musical about it which he then put into a book format with the poetry from the musical, it was then when he approached me to do the illustrations for the book in a fairy style format. Actually there are four very important lions I painted from the sculptures in the village, these were supposed originally to be placed in Trafalgar Square but instead they have been kept in Saltaire."

One of the poems in the book describes the place a little more:

"For those who do not know Saltair
These tales invite you to come here
For those who know and treasure it
The aim is to enhance the pleasure
With a hint that now we are all responsible
For keeping history alive and well."

Deborah's illustrations within the book are beautiful and you can see that many hours of work have gone into them; the drawings are mostly pastel beautifully portrayed in fairy tale style.

What will your forthcoming exhibition be about?

"I have been doing a lot of landscape paintings for this particular exhibition as I like to paint buildings and the sea and there are loads to see in Gibraltar so am keeping it to the Gibraltar theme. I hope it will be enjoyed by those who visit."

Deborah has in the past entered the Spring Festival and she was very happy with the outcome, "I may not have won a prize but I immediately sold the painting I entered, it made me feel good!"

For those interested in taking painting classes, Deborah gives classes at the Arts and Craft's at Casemates and privately as well.

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