It’s Never Too Late To Learn: The Art of Debra Keirce

The first time I got a chance to Keirces’ art, I was really impressed how her art drew me in, literally, I had to get up close to see her art.  Why, you ask?  Miniatures.   Most of her work maybe be small in size, yet big in stature, and HUGE is details.  I’m currently visually engaged with ‘Fifth Wheel’, pictured bellow, and even though this piece measures an inch and a half by two, it’s packed with details.   The bicycles are lovingly lined up next to each other, as you would see next to a ‘hipster’ bar or on a college campus.  Each of the handle bars are painstakingly painted with what looks like a single sable brush hair and the bike frames are distinct in their own design.  Every bicycle is carefully arranged so you can see all the accessories.  When I said her work draws you in; taking that extra step into her Hyperrealistic world, immersing yourself with all that rich and fine detail, pays off.  

 

Has she been an artist her entire life?  Did she have his talent at a young age or was this aquired through the years?  How does one get inspired to work on the fine detail of everyday objects?  How does an artist spend most of the focus on what some would call ‘maddening detail’?  These were some of the many the questions that were floating around my head, then I asked myself, “What if I could interview her?”.  So, I did. It wasn’t formal, just a short list of questions that I emailed her. And Debra is fast!  Within 48 hours, I recieved her generous and genuine responses. Here’s the ‘interview’ questionnaire: 

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  • Remy:  What inspires you?  
  • Keirce:  I am inspired by the most eclectic things…a highlight on a planter in the airport, or the sunlight on balcony banisters, or prisms of color and light bouncing off walls and through bottles.  All of these things may spark a story that I turn into a paining. Most of my work is still life or urban landscape, so I suppose most of my inspiration comes from interesting objects and street scenes.   
  • Remy:  What ‘Masters’ do you admire?  
  • Keirce:  Certainly, I admire the Dutch masters like Vermeer and I often learn from their techniques. But to be honest, I find myself spending more time admiring modern masters. Our own Michael Cheval at Huckleberry Fine Art, has been like a mentor to me. Richard Estes, M.C. Escher, Norman Rockwell, and the muralist Richard Haas grew their careers in realism and Trompe L’Oeil during the sixties and seventies, which were my formative years. And of course, I have enjoyed the work of many influential miniature fine art painters.    
  • Remy:  What techniques do you love using?  
  • Keirce:  I enjoy many techniques. Often, I employ different strategies for miniature paintings. For example, in my larger pieces I like to paint a monochromatic Underpaintings, and then apply color directly, followed by glazes. This is a combination of indirect and direct painting techniques is used by the Dutch masters. With miniature paintings, I paint in a more direct, classical realism style. By this I mean I paint shapes from big to little and colors from dark to light. For studies, or quick demonstrations, I paint alla prima, which means laying in all the paint without letting layers dry. This is done in a few hours, and often you mix the paint on your canvas as much as on your palette ( mostly used with oil paint).  
  • Remy:  Were an artist your entire life?  
  • Keirce:  If you define artist as a lifestyle, I have always been an artist. I have been selling commissioned paintings regularly since 1978.  When I graduated high school in 1979, the type of realistic art I am drawn to was referred to as illustration, but I always knew I wanted to create fine art, not commercial art. I opted to pursue a career in biochemical engineering, and art was a hobby for many years. Engineering gave me the resources I needed to raise a family.  In 2010, I began my full time art career, joined a local artists cooperative and began entering exhibitions.  I quickly won awards and feature articles and in December 2012, I signed with Huckleberry Fine Art Gallery.  
  • Remy:  How were you trained; did you recieve formal art education or are you self taught?  
  • Keirce:  I did not get a formal art education.  I had a scholarship to attend the prestigious Cranbrook Institute in MI, but opted to go to The Univ. of Mich for engineering instead.  Sadly, at the time Cranbrook was not teaching realism.  I do not like to say I am self taught though, because that implies nobody helped me learn.  In fact, I have spent countless hours in study with amazing artists.  I take every opportunity I can to learn, and when I see an artist using a technique I have not mastered, I ask them to share with me.  In fact, Huckleberry Fine Artist Tricia Ratliff runs an atelier program for classical painting and drawing.  I asked Tricia to guide me through the drawing portion of her curriculum because I had never actually followed a full classical drawing program from start to finish.  Studying for several months strengthened my artistic skills.  I have taken or hosted several workshops with modern masters to improve my craft, and I continue to do do.  I feel that continued learning is an essential part of every successful artist’s career plan.  

  

  • Remy:  How do you feel working in a male oriented industry?  
  • Keirce:  Well, I think most industries are male oriented.  When I was in college, I was one female for every fifteen male engineering students.  When I was the lead design engineer for a biotech facility in New England, there were no other women on my project team.  I wonder how male artists feel, since something like 95% of professional artists are female?   If you paint art that touches peoples’ hearts, it should not matter what gender you are.  It also should not matter what age, race, religion or political inclination you are.  
  • Remy:  What’s your stance on commission work v.s. creative work?  
  • Keirce:  It depends on the commission.  Rob Gonsalves paints pieces that are commissioned and purchased, sight unseen. I have been doing something similar for a puzzle company in VT since the 1980’s.  I paint a piece, they mount and cut it, and the client works to assemble the puzzle without ever seeing the image.   But, most of my commissions are paintings designed by the collector.  In these, I am painting someone else’s vision.  Instead of creating art that I have conceived of, I am working to bring another person’s idea to life, to the best of my ability.  It is still creative work, it is just not solely MY creative work.   
  • Remy:  Are you experimental in your subject matter or in your art techniques?  
  • Keirce:n I am constantly experimenting with my subject matter.  As soon as I finish one series, I’m anxious to start the next.  As artists, this is how we grow and continue the story we have to share with the world.  I do not really experiment with art techniques.  I try different things, but after so many decades of painting and drawing, the techniques have not changed much.  It’s more like they become more and more refined over time.  
  • Remy:  What level of pressure to you try to put on yourself as an artist?  
  • Keirce:  As my husband often reminds me, all the stress I experience is self inflicted.  I am a very driven person.  I am tenacious, determined, and my own worst critic.  So, I guess I put more pressure on myself than anybody I know.  
  • Remy:  Do you have a certain standard for growth?  
  • Keirce:  If I can ever look back five years and see no improvement in my artwork, I think I will have to do some serious soul searching!

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This short Q&A is incredibley revealing; the lovely Debra Keirce is wise, talented, and wonderful.  I am sure that you agree this progressive artist is a true gem to our collection at Huckleberry Fine Art.  You can see more of her art in person at our Elegance of Color & Form: Debra Keirce and Tricia Ratliff show on June 18th and 19th at 7pm. There will be a “paint off” between these two super start artists. It’s a must see! For more details, please visit our website at HuckleberryFineArt.com. To see more of Keirces’ art online, please visit DebKArt.com or HuckleberryFineArt.com.  

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