The Camino – Interview with Debra Wulinger
“Sometimes in your life you will go on a journey. It will be the longest journey you have ever taken. It is the journey to find yourself.” ~ Katherine Sharp
When you walk into Winking Moon Art Studio in the home of artist Debra Wulinger, the first thing you notice is the light. Warm, delicious light pours gracefully through the large front windows of her North Durham home, sliding up the sides of garnet and royal blue vases filled with bristling brushes and well used pencils; skipping off brightly painted canvases and sheets of paper and glass hutch doors like stones across Few’s Ford; sidling through the narrow hallway and resting gently on visitors and artists alike. It’s the perfect place for creating, with paint splattered tables, yellow walls trimmed in bright white, boxes of buttons and notions and tools and supplies; everything orderly and clean, but comfortably used and within easy reach. The studio, and indeed the house, is a toasty incubator for possibilities, even those that may at first seem slightly impossible.
Warmer than the light and twice as bright is the artist herself. You can feel Wulinger’s warm presence the instant she enters the room. Her shimmering silver hair worn shoulder length belies her youthful face and exuberant smile. Studying Wulinger and her studio, one would believe that she has always known what she wanted and where she was going. This is partially true…I was privileged to interview her and discover more about her personal, artistic journey.
Tell me a bit about your background in art…
I have always been interested in art, ever since I was very young. However I didn’t begin to take it seriously until close to my fortieth birthday. Time has a way of waking you up and asking, “If not now, then when?” So, I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art for a year where I expanded one figure drawing class to fill a week, through the generosity of the instructors. After being told that I didn’t need a degree to create art, “just keep working and the work itself will lead you to what you need to know”, I started creating art for a small gallery at Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio. I would show there every other year, in between creating murals with groups of people for their communities and going into the Cleveland schools as an artist in residence to do in depth projects with the students.
How has your art evolved over time?
It has taken me time to evolve into a painter. When I first began creating I was interested in quilting, creating fabric collages. It was exciting to play with the colors and shapes of the fabric but not so much fun sewing little pieces of fabric together. When I discovered batik, a way of painting on fabric using wax as a resist, and could get the same jolt of color without sewing, I never went back. Batik and silk painting are very similar to watercolor because the paint/dye is fluid and moves freely on the cloth. Although I did enjoy the happy accidents these methods led to, I kept experimenting with different mediums until I finally, over time, have come to paint with oils.
Tell me about the art you create now…What inspires you?
I love painting with oils. I use a limited palette, a warm and cool red, yellow and blue along with dark umber to get a good dark and white. It is amazing to me that with these eight hues I can mix any color and because they are oils, they stay wet on my palette long enough for me to muse and ponder while I paint. The paint itself inspires me. I took a hand building clay class last fall and was introduced to a book called, “Finding your way with clay” by Paul Berensohn. In it he describes a process of listening deeply within and letting your fingers pressing against the clay create a work of art. I am doing the same, finding my way with paint, listening deeply and watching the way the brush moves with color and carves shapes and patterns onto the canvas.
As for subject matter I am always expressing some aspect of the feminine divine in my work. One of my first series of silk paintings was called Sophia Sings. In it I asked the question, “If God were a woman, how would she create the world?”, and proceeded to answer by depicting a large, beautiful woman creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh while sipping a cup of tea.
This same woman finds her way into my work in many ways. Right now I am at work on a series called Old Wives Tales Spun into Life. The idea of the Grandmother as a reflection of the divine feminine grew out of my remembrances of the unconditional love and the treats that were showered on me as a child from my own grandmothers. As I started painting old photos of me as a child and of my grandmothers I realized that the themes in the fairy tales that I have read since childhood carries universal truths and that we all play them out in our lives in various ways. Right now, I am Little Red Riding Hood and my grandmother is painted as The Grandmother. I am thinking deeply about the motifs in the story, the cottages, the woods, the wolf -who he represents- and painting us into these situations.
In what ways do you/have you shared your love of art?
Right now I am sharing my love of art through my studio school, Winking Moon Art Adventures. I am lucky to have several classes of children come to my home studio and create art with me. The children keep me on my creative toes, planning interesting projects for them and then letting them take my plans and turn them into their own. I love to watch them paint, the freedom they have as they express themselves and their love of color mixing inspires my own work.
I also run a meet up group called the Triangle Sketch Crawl. Every first Saturday of the month interested sketchers and I go to different locations in the Triangle to draw. We then get together at a coffee shop or restaurant to share our sketchbooks with one another. It is a lot of fun and helps me to keep my sketch book going.
Since coming to North Carolina, I have worked with students in two schools to paint murals. At EK Powe Elementary School in Durham we painted a mural about different forms of alternative energy. The Spanish Club at East Chapel Hill High School painted a mural in their school cafeteria about their annual trip to Nicaragua. I have also painted the Goddess on tarpaper and these were used as props for the choral piece The Goddess Suite.
I remember reading that you taught a course in which people would work through the book The Artist’s Way (one of my personal favorites). How did this come about and how did it go?
It has been a journey in order for me to be able to create freely. There were many blocks inside of me that thwarted many artistic attempts. In my mid-thirties I was gifted with the book, The Artist’s Way. I devoured it and have been using it and the techniques that it teaches for twenty years. It is a manual for looking at what is keeping us from living the creative life we long for and through journaling each morning, artist dates, and group support, blasting through the blocks that keep us tied up.
It is a passion of mine to share these tools and help others on their journey to creative freedom. So, I hold a thirteen week workshop called Uncovering the Artist Within. We meet around my kitchen table for a meal, to share our insights we gain from The Artist’s Way and to plan small steps to reach our goals. Then we go into my studio where we create a visual journal of our journey. I teach basic drawing, composition, design, collage and color theory as we create vivid pages. A new class is forming that starts on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.
Anything else you’d like to tell us? (About your studio, your business, what you’re looking forward to, about art in general)
Last summer my husband and I walked The Camino, an ancient pilgrimage across Northern Spain that ends in Santiago de Compostela where St. James’s bones are buried. It was an amazing adventure full of wonderful people from all over the world and beautiful countryside. One of the biggest gifts I received from walking this path under the stars was a freedom from the rest of the blocks that had kept me bound creatively. As a result I have a flow of paintings coming out from under my brush that I find exhilarating and worth the excruciating late afternoon marches it took to complete the journey.
If YOU would like to share part of your artistic journey with the very talented Wulinger, through The Artist’s Way workshop (first class: March 20th), Winking Moon Art Studio, and/or the Triangle Sketch Crawl, check out her website for more information: www.lumenartstudio.com
“Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend,” Grantland Rice.