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Inside the Artist’s Studio: Debbie Willbanks


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.

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Gallery Main Street hosts First Digital Exhibit


Gallery Main Street will host their first digital exhibit from May 1 to July 7. While facilities continue to be closed or with limited hours due to COVID-19, pictures and virtual tours of this exhibit will be available at Art will also be available for purchase online.

The spring exhibit is an open theme to allow local artists an opportunity to spotlight their different mediums, methods, visions and experiences.

“Art never stops,” said Main Street Director Amber Varona. “Now more than ever it is important to create innovative opportunities for artists to display and sell their art.”

This will be the first juried exhibit in the new gallery space inside the Plaza Tower. The space provides the artwork to be visible beyond the hours of the Main Street office and by patrons visiting the new first floor retail bays. The gallery serves as a valued centerpiece to the beautifully furnished atrium that serves as an inviting gathering spot.

For more information, visit or call (903) 593-6905.

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Online UT Tyler MFA and BFA Art Exhibits Now Available

The University of Texas at Tyler has announced online art exhibitions featuring the work of students who graduated this spring with Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees.

Traditionally held on campus, the exhibitions were modified for online viewing as a safeguard in response to the coronavirus. The work of four MFA and eight BFA graduates can be viewed at

“While we are heavy-hearted about the inability to celebrate our student achievements face to face, we recognize the importance of taking precautionary measures during this time,’’ said Merry Wright, professor and chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “We are pleased to announce our online exhibitions, and we are incredibly proud of the students featured. They have remained steadfast in their commitment to creating and have approached the unfolding events with the highest caliber of professionalism.’’

MFA Exhibitions

Artists featured in the MFA exhibitions include:

Jessica Sanders of Tyler makes delicate-looking ceramic sculpture. Her exhibition is titled “Attach | Manipulate | Respond.” “This body of work deals with form, space, and visual accessibility,’’ Sanders said. “The pieces are made up of small, individual ceramic pieces that are attached together with wire, making flexible ceramic sheets.”

John Miranda’s exhibition, “Pan Dulce in the Sauce,“ features sculpture and paintings inspired by his hometown of Del Rio. “My work is a visceral response to a lived reality, an abstraction of space and memory,’’ he said.” Inanimate entities become communities within space as I try to find a balance between cultural history and personal experiences.”

Laminda Miller of Gladewater makes animal sculptures of epoxy clay and mixed media. Her exhibition, “Intentions,’’ features deceptively whimsical works that are allegorical representations of the social, psychological and literal constructs of identity.

Nora Schreiber of Tyler explores a curiosity of the world around her in her exhibition titled “ALL IT CAN BE IS WHAT IT WAS NAMED.” She asks her audience to step into a visual exploration of the mundane in their daily lives, with a theatrical twist.

BFA Exhibition

Artists highlighted in the BFA exhibition, titled “Nascent,’’ include

Lidia Alvidrez of Dallas – Avridrez’s work as a ceramic artist is influenced by her life experiences and dealing with a mental disorder.

Katherine Emmel of Overton – Emmel’s work is focused primarily in painting and reflects


several dystopian and emotional narratives found within everyday society.

Willow Lanchester of Tyler – Lanchester works primarily in clay and metal sculpture. Her art pieces are focused permutations of form that explore themes of concealed information.

Maggie Pierce of Tyler – Pierce uses photo-based printmaking techniques to create highly altered versions of desert landscape. Her work examines the landscape and our relationship to it as something that is mediated by various technologies.

Payton Poole of Tyler – Poole works with multimedia, three-dimensional sculptures, both interactive and wearable, that open conversations about mental illness and the stigma against it.

Grace Richardson of Troup – Richardson uses screen-printing methods to create non- objective forms that render familiarity through their interactions and emphasis on color. A vocabulary of shape and color is established through these arrangements, creating a relationship and language between form and viewer.

Justin Witherspoon of Kilgore – Witherspoon is a printmaker who works in both relief and mono-type. His current body of work is focused on contrasting hard lines and stark objects with nebulous color, inviting exploration.

Teresa Young of Marshall – Young is a sculptor whose works incorporate disposed items such as shipping material and objects from nature. The items signify abandonment and reincarnation.

For more information about the exhibitions, contact Michelle Taff, UT Tyler gallery and media coordinator, at 903-566-7237 or

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Historic Tyler Celebrates with 26th Annual Photo Contest


May is a time when thousands of individuals around the country join in a nationwide celebration of National Preservation Month, sponsored annually by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This May, Preservation Month is going virtual.  Even though many historical places are physically closed right now, we hope to excite current preservation supporters and introduce new audiences to the preservation work that makes our community special by opening a window to a world of adventure online.

The National Trust created Preservation Week in 1973 to spotlight grassroots preservation efforts in America.  Since then, it has grown into an annual celebration observed by small towns and big cities across the United States. Due to its popularity, the National Trust extended the event to the entire month of May, which was then declared Preservation Month to provide more opportunities to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states. The hope is to introduce more Americans to the growing preservation movement.

Here at Historic Tyler, we will celebrate Preservation Month by virtually highlighting preservation efforts made here in our own beautiful Rose City, and by hosting our annual Photo Contest.  Historic Tyler’s Photo Contest has been a Preservation Month staple for over twenty-five years, and this year’s theme is Beyond Your Basic Brick. We have picked historic properties throughout the Azalea and Charnwood historic districts that feature interesting bricks, brick patterns or brick details.

To enter the photo contest, identify each photograph by its address or name and submit answers to Historic Tyler, Inc., P.O. Box 6774, Tyler, TX, 75711, send an email to or private message us on social media.  Entries must be submitted no later than end-of-day, Monday, June 21, 2020.  The entry with the highest number of correct answers will be awarded a family membership in Historic Tyler, Inc. and $50 cash.  In the event of ties, a drawing will be held to determine the winner.

To enter the photo contest, identify each photograph by its current name or address and submit answers to: Historic Tyler, Inc., P.O. Box 6774, Tyler, TX, 75711, Send an email to, or Private message us on social media.

Entries must be submitted no later than end of day, Monday, June 21, 2020. The entry with the highest number of  correct answers will be awarded a family membership in Historic Tyler, Inc. and $50 cash. In the event of ties, a drawing will be held to determine the winner.

Historic Tyler, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, was founded in 1977 with a mission “to promote the preservation and protection of historic structures and sites through advocacy, education, involvement, and private and public investment.”  It is a membership-based organization with many preservation accomplishments to its credit.  Executive Director Mrs. Washmon invites you to visit their website: for more information on the organization, which is located in the Charnwood District at 110 E. Charnwood Street.


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