Graphic designer Debra Evans is redefining the creative working life
GRAPHIC artist Debra Evans left the fast-paced world of corporate graphic design in the advertising industry, where she created on demand, to create art from home.
Evans, the founder of Elysian Charms and Carvings, said she started her studio four years ago after feeling she needed a change to improve her day-to-day experience as an artist and seek to make it more fulfilling.
Her work includes sketches, watercolors of charming gingerbread houses around Trinidad and Tobago, calabash flowerpots with intricate carvings, and fairy-tale animal-inspired decorative sculptures.
There was no specific moment when she remembers realizing she was an artist.
As a child, she says, she was usually given books as gifts, “and we always had art supplies at home. My dad was a commercial artist and masman, so there was no shortage of materials.”
Her father, Lincoln Evans, is a master carnival craftsman and award-winning cable bender.
“His work is well known in all the major carnival groups, and he and my mother, Brenda, have produced many individual and carnival king costumes over the years.”
Evans said being artistic was not something that stood out for her because she was always surrounded by it. Art filled the walls of her childhood home in San Fernando and remains ubiquitous in her home in Maraval.
She did painting up to A level at Naparima Girls’ High School.
After that, “I was at a crossroads. I chose subjects that would point me towards a career in cartography. Looking back, I wonder what I was thinking.”
Cartography is the science of creating maps or charts.
But then, luckily for Evans, “A chance meeting showed some art samples to a print shop in Port of Spain. They hired me as an artist/illustrator and paths opened up.
From there, Evans branched out into advertising. She gained experience working as an apprentice, took classes to improve her skills, met her deadlines and felt fulfilled.
She learned from people such as the German artist Renate Dowden, with whom she worked for two years. Evans also spent several years honing his skills at Peter Minshall’s Callaloo Company and Brian MacFarlane’s mas camp.
She took courses throughout her career as a graphic designer at various advertising agencies, but also learned a great deal from writer and editor Jerry Besson and graphic designer Stephen Wong Kang.
“Otherwise, I’m completely self-taught as a sculptor and 3D/multimedia artist.
“I used to view my lack of formal training as a disadvantage, but I’ve come to see it as somewhat liberating in terms of approaching any material. The bohemian in me sees it all. as experimental and challenging.”
Along the way, she was inspired by French artist Henri Matisse and Czech painter Alphonse Mucha, in illustration; and Ken Morris, in his approach to working with copper and 3D. Two of TT’s great masmen, Minshall and Wayne Berkeley, were also sources of inspiration.
“Yet something was missing. I opened my studio, Design Workshop with my husband and offered printing and marketing services to a core regional client base.
“For the first time, I was also able to pursue my other passion, writing, and I did so in an environment free from office politics and big personalities.
“Even with this commercial success, I felt something was missing.”
Graphic art did not fill the creative void she felt. Evans knew this because when she painted pieces as gifts for family and friends, or designed and made costumes for her daughter, she felt euphoria.
“I have dedicated my life to creating art on demand, but rather wanted the freedom to create whatever I wanted.”
His ideas come from several sources: the color of leaves, the tones and shapes of stones and beach glasses, an abundance of beads and threads.
“It doesn’t take much to get my mind racing. Being creative is just who I am. I’m driven to create. It gives me joy and it gives me purpose – it makes me feel whole. Amazingly, that’s the appeal my art holds for other people, it gives them joy and there’s something meaningful about it.”
Evans wants to create beautiful pieces that will be cherished and provide comfort or bring a smile to someone’s face. She regards her sculptures as small talismans and hopes her sketches of houses evoke nostalgia in those who see them.
“I wish I could identify one thing in particular, but it’s more of a feeling than a tangible thing. My daughter Isabella is my muse.”
Her favorite mediums are clay and wood, due to their versatility.
“There’s no machinery involved in my sculpting process, it’s all done using blades and scissors, and it’s tricky and time-consuming, but so helpful.”
In the silence and restricted movement that has accompanied the covid19 pandemic, Evans said she felt fear and uncertainty there.
“Due to my empathetic nature, the many effects of covid19 have been emotionally difficult. Although I could function well in isolation, I was concerned about family, friends and the nation as a whole. Obviously, this n There was no time to create in those early days.”
Nonetheless, she said the lockdowns had very little effect on her day-to-day activities — she was, as usual, in her studio all day, quietly creating.
“Isolation is conducive to my productivity. Suppliers have run out of materials due to shipping issues and a huge increase in people interested in crafts and DIY projects.
“It didn’t affect me, as I just used whatever was available, like rocks, wood, seeds, clay and paint. Versatility is everything.”
Evans says her clientele is as diverse as her art.
“When things were closed or more restricted, I started showing more of my work on social media. This works better for me because viewers can take their time and browse and then contact me.
“I’ve done markets in the past, but I don’t think they’re the best forum to showcase my pieces.”
She said the regular reopening of industries was yet to impact business.
In May 2021, her skills led her to be invited to be a guest artist at the International Labor Organization’s regional symposium on resilience in the Caribbean.
“I work periodically for the ILO as part of the team of artists who normally collaborate with the organization for publications. Of the five of us who collaborate with the organization, one of us would be chosen every few months to do graphic design.
“I’m also an illustrator, so they approached me to do some illustrations for the seminar, which was hosted online.”
Although she had never exhibited her work in this original way, she was open to the experience of completing live illustrations during each of the five presentations given at the symposium. Each piece was related to each talking point, such as global warming or the green economy.
“The experience opened my eyes to what TT does and does not do to preserve the natural environment.
“I enjoyed the experience of doing the illustrations, talking about each piece – even though I was nervous, representing the orange sector, which is the creative industry.”
Perhaps the hardest part of being an artist for her, she said, is the pressure she puts on herself to excel.
“Also other people’s expectations of what I should do to further my career as an artist, the endless inducement to exhibit and be seen, which don’t appeal to me. This is practical advice, although may cause unnecessary pressure.
“I exhibited twice last year, but I plan to be part of a few group shows this year.”
Despite the pressure and uncertainty that comes with being an artist and entrepreneur, she said she is content knowing that a career in art is her birthright.
“Every time I do something, I do it knowing the owner is there. I do my best with each piece because it’s created from equal parts gratitude and amazement that I feel. , and so I know every piece will find a home. I pinch myself sometimes.”