Debbie Willbanks: Inside the Artist’s Studio

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Debbie-Willbanks-Painting---Target“We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” – Army campaign

By Derrick White
She’s a firecracker! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn local artist and art teacher Debbie Willbanks has a time stopping machine hidden in her home. She seems to get more done in a 24 hour day than the rest of us accomplish in a week. She is spirited, persistent and driven. Some of the beneficiaries of all this vitality are the students of Tyler’s Moore Middle School. Not only do they have a brand new building, but they have also added a new art teacher in Mrs. Willbanks. Buckle up kids. Her enthusiasm is contagious. “Everyone’s an artist! Everyone has the ability to make and respond to art. Art is an expression of who you are and what you believe. You don’t have to draw or paint to be an artist. If you can sing, dance, play an instrument, write, take pictures, sew, or anything else creative, you’re an artist! Creativity is merely problem solving so even mathematicians are artists,” says Debbie.

Debbie-Willbanks-PrintDebbie Willbanks’ inspiration to pursue art came, not surprisingly, from her family and a teacher. Willbanks affirms, “My mom used to carry a picture in her wallet of a turtle I drew when I was 3 years old. My parents knew I had a talent early on. I remember taking an after school art class in 4th grade. I still have one of the pictures I drew in class. It is a circus seal done in chalk pastel. It was a study of the direction of light on an object. I drew a lot throughout my childhood years.” She adds, “My 8th grade art teacher, Mrs. McMillen, was the only art teacher in my public school years that inspired me to pursue a career in the field of art. She was very encouraging and told me I was talented and creative in my work. She also challenged me with assignments.”

Debbie-Willbanks-Moore-Color-WheelIn adulthood, Debbie put her talents and creative thinking to good use taking early art positions, including hand drawing wiring diagrams for technical manuals and drawing circuit boards for manufacturers. She also worked in the graphic arts department at the Johnson Space Center making charts and graphs for top management space shuttle meetings. Debbie started a freelance commercial art business in her early 20’s. Jobs have included logos, signs, displays, programs, flyers, stage backdrops, props and scenery, hall and room themed decorations, paintings, and drawings. “I work with multiple art media because of my commercial work, mostly with pen and ink, tempera, acrylic, and interior house paint, markers, colored pencils, and graphite pencils. My favorite art mediums are colored and graphite pencils,” states the artist.

Debbie-Willbanks-CeramicsLater, Debbie Willbanks took art courses at Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler. She found the art professors at both schools very encouraging and challenging. She was exposed to a variety of media and styles. “I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into my imagination. They held my hand, watched me grow, and let me fly,” Debbie remembers. Willbanks has enjoyed working with kids and she thought, “why not combine this love with my passion for art.” She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2009, at the age of 53 and her teacher certification in 2011. Debbie began teaching 6th grade art at Bullard Intermediate in the fall of 2011. She has also taught after school art classes for 2nd-6th graders. “I had always thought of myself as an elementary art teacher until God opened up the door for a full-time middle school art teacher at Moore Magnet School in Tyler this January (2016). I am enjoying it,” says Debbie. She is the perfect person you want teaching your kids art at the pivotal and vulnerable age when most kids quit, get discouraged, and stop pursuing creative outlets. Debbie did not quit. She received important encouragement at this age, and she spreads her excitement about art and creating like wildfire through the classroom. “One of the most important things art has brought into my life is a child-like mind. I am inspired by children of all ages and have learned so much from them. Children are born creative, are not afraid to fail, willing to learn, do not care what others think, and are willing to take risks and try new things. If we view life through the eyes of a child, we can create in ways we have never imagined,” confirms Willbanks.

Debbie-Willbanks-Bullard-KIds-ParkDebbie Willbanks finds the most frustrating part of being an artist is having the time for personal projects. “I am so busy teaching art and doing commercial art jobs for others that I don’t have much time to ‘make art for me.’ It is important I find time to ‘make art for me’ because I need to be learning new techniques and fine tuning old techniques. I should be a constant and lifetime learner, open to new ideas, and willing to take risks and try new things,” says Debbie (Okay, she doesn’t have a time stopping machine but she still does more by 9am than most people do all day.)

Debbie’s favorite artists are Andy Warhol (American artist and leading figure in the pop art movement) and Roy Lichtenstein (another American pop artist using comics as inspiration) because they made commercial art and comic book art acceptable as a fine art. “One of the reasons behind my favorites is I consider myself a graphic and commercial artist rather than a traditional artist. I prefer clean lines and hard edges in my work. My favorite subjects to draw are cartoons.”

Debbie Willbanks has lived in Bullard, Texas for 28 years with her husband Stan. They have 2 sons, Patrick and Kyle. She is a member of the Bullard Southern Baptist Church where she is the Wednesday Night Children’s Program Director and the Church Librarian. She earned her Associate of Arts from San Jacinto College, Pasadena, Texas, attended Tyler Junior College and graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Debbie was a freelance commercial artist for 35+ years, former art teacher in Bullard and is currently an art teacher at Moore Magnet School, Tyler.

For more information check out; or find Debbie Willbanks on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Blast Off!

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