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Debbie Drake: The strength of observation

Shea Stanfield~ 9/3/2014

CAREFREE – Impressionist painter Claude Monet once shared with a friend, “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way to paint the light in natural forms.” Monet was defining, at the time, the painting style he pioneered more than a hundred years ago.

Today, Carefree artist Debbie Drake uses the French expression En plein air, which means “in the open air,” to describe the act of painting landscapes in nature. A number of years ago, while painting a plowed cornfield in Lakeville, Conn., Debbie became aware of the “patterns…in shapes, colors, shadows, and light.” She realized at that moment she had found her passion, her new form of abstract realism that she would make her own.

Art has always been a part of Debbie’s life, beginning with her beloved crayons and 5-10 pan watercolor sets. It was at this early age that she knew she wanted to be an artist. She won awards throughout her early education at elementary and high school. So the writing was on the wall that she became an art major at the University of Denver. She also attended the School of Visual Arts. With her husband Burtch, an advertising executive, the couple traveled extensively and lived throughout the U.S. and Europe. It was here she took classes and workshops at ILEA-London, and back in the states, the Washington Art Association, Silvermine Guild Arts Center, and the National Academy. Each step of the way lead her to the ultimate, career defining “ah-ha” moment in creating her present style.

Today, Debbie works in both watercolors and oils, although she will readily point out the last three years she has focused primarily on oils. She spends about a third of her time painting en plein air – studying the landscape, making visual notes on composition, color, patterns, etc. These are sketches that can become a finished painting, or she will take these studies to a larger canvas or board.

 Debbie and her husband are now retired and have settled into their home in Carefree. She works regularly from her home studio and attends a painting group on Saturdays under the instruction of Susan Diehl – a wonderful teacher of light, color, and values. Debbie continues to attend classes at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, where she enjoys working with and learning from the many talented teachers that share new insights and techniques. She shares that her biggest challenge, since moving to Arizona, is getting use to the patterns, lighting, and details of our northern Sonoran Desert landscape.  She finds with years of training painting fields of Connecticut, waterways and beaches of Long Island, and various gardens in between that the desert environment presents a variety of new challenges, all of which she enjoys tackling.

Debbie is a member of the Sonoran Arts League and a Circle of Friends member and volunteer with the Scottsdale Artists’ School. She has been a studio in the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour these last two years. She also exhibits with her painting group’s Annual Art Show. 

Debbie Drake’s paintings are in numerous private and corporate collections across the U.S. To view additional paintings of Debbie Drake’s En plein air style, review her resume of past shows and education, or for contact information, visit her Web site at 

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield at