Artist Debbie Rhodes; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

QUESTION: What was your biggest challenge as an artist?

Debbie Rhodes: Confidence for sure, and not knowing where my art fit in. I didn’t know where to direct my energies and even narrowing down what type of art I was doing.

QUESTION: How do you feel now?

Debbie Rhodes: Excellent.

QUESTION: When did you start making art?

Debbie Rhodes: After PTSD and leaving very suddenly from nursing. Through the hospital I had to do an * art therapy session, they tried to rehabilitate me and get me back into nursing, and so I had to see a psychologist and since I couldn’t articulate the trouble I was having, she handed me a box of crayons and said ‘draw it’. And I was so insulted. I said “Oh God, give me a hole to climb into right now.”

QUESTION: Then what happened?

Debbie Rhodes: From there I just started painting to recover, and to heal. So I was doing a lot of things not knowing where I was going. Now I do portraits, I do animal portraits, I do people portraits. I know my anatomy and the connection that I had with people and had with patients, the real heart connection and the real meaningful conversations I was really missing; I get that through my art now.

QUESTION: What is your subject?

Debbie Rhodes: I paint anything with eyes

QUESTION: What has changed?

Debbie Rhodes: I’ve really been able to focus on what I paint and what I love to do and why. It’s through that connection and through that authenticity, expressing yourself authentically.

QUESTION: What caused your PTSD?

Debbie Rhodes: So I’d been at work for emergencies only from seven in the morning until seven at night and I was just heading home and the phone rang and there had been a plane crash and there were six victims being brought to our hospital. So we had to do the emergency fan out and then one other nurse and myself had to set up four operating rooms for potential emergencies; for orthopedics or for abdominal surgery. So we did that and then I worked in emergency until three in the morning on the different patients and then back to the operating room until seven in the morning. So that was my first incident. My patient was a little 18 month old girl and I was trying to keep her alive. So it was pretty stressful.

QUESTION: Then what happened?

Debbie Rhodes: There was a ‘hundred year storm’, like some bizarre storm that came down the lake at 11:00 at night and it was so violent that it untied the house from the shore. Three out of four lines let go and we were dangling by one line to the land. I was on the deck in my pajamas hanging onto one of the posts.

QUESTION: Then what happened?

Debbie Rhodes: One of my kids had been attacked and beaten up and were away from me and I couldn’t get to them, so that all happened in a 10 day period.

QUESTION: How did you make the money to enroll?

Debbie Rhodes: I think I sent you an email asking if you had any kind of way of paying it in small payments or if you had any kind of opportunities to pay less. You sent me back an email saying “this is what I did when I was in a similar situation”, and that was the one you went to France. Yeah. Then somewhere in there there was something also saying “this is what a couple of other people did”. So I did. I took up that idea.

QUESTION: Then what happened?

Debbie Rhodes: I’m generally mostly an introvert and the idea of doing an appreciation party scared the bejesus out of me, so I thought ‘I’m doing it because, I’m here to challenge myself’.

QUESTION: How did it go?

Debbie Rhodes: It was wonderful. I was nervous just doing it, even at the thought of doing it, but I just reminded myself, these are people I care about, these are my friends, these are people I see all the time and they like and love me. And they were excited to come because none of them had seen their paintings yet.

QUESTION: What did you learn?

Debbie Rhodes: One of the things that kept ringing through as I was talking was one of the things you said: “it’s about them. It’s not about you.” And every time I talked and every time I talked about a painting, I kept bringing that through me ‘I got to paint for you. Thank you.’ That was huge.

QUESTION: What was your goal?

Debbie Rhodes: My goal was: one, to raise a bit of money, two, to make myself stretch a little.

QUESTION: How did you organize the event?

Debbie Rhodes: I was going to have all their paintings up on the wall and I thought, I like surprises, so I’m going to do surprises. I put all of the paintings in the order that I wanted to talk about them and I put them face against the wall and everyone sat in the living room in a circle. First, I figured because they donated to my course that I would tell them a little bit about what I was doing so that they knew it’s legit.

QUESTION: Then what did you do?

Debbie Rhodes: So then I told them where I was at in the course and I was getting into research and development

QUESTION: What did you do next?

Debbie Rhodes: The fact that I was a nurse and I was nursing for 35 years, I learned about connecting with people. I learned how confidentiality is important. So I went over a little bit of that and then I started introducing the paintings one at a time.

QUESTION: Did you feel shy?

Debbie Rhodes: Once you know yourself then it’s easy to talk about two other people with true depth of feeling, true authenticity, why you do what you do.

QUESTION: What did you do next?

Debbie Rhodes: Before I turned the painting around, I would direct the attention to the person who the painting was for, and I would tell a little bit of the backstory on it and not enough to embarrass them or put them on the spot. But what ended up happening when I turned the painting around, the recipient of the painting then took the story and expanded on it. It totally surprised me. They were like excited to be able to share more of the story. So we laughed and it was just wonderful.

QUESTION: Did you get a good response?

Debbie Rhodes: Oh, lots. As a matter of fact, I had people emailing me, phoning me and saying, “I had no idea”.

QUESTION: What did one of your guests say?

Debbie Rhodes: “You just expanded my world”. He said, “I had no idea so much was involved. I thought people just took a paint brush and put paint on a canvas”.

QUESTION: What else did you learn?

Debbie Rhodes: We’re all the same. We’re all just people. And if you just put everyone on the same level and know that we all have issues and we all have fears and we all have moments where we’re not feeling good about ourselves… Just reach out, step closer, don’t step farther away.

QUESTION: What advice would you give your past self?

Debbie Rhodes: When I was starting I was thinking, “Oh, there’s all kinds of artists that do portraits or this or that. I might as well not even start”. But now I think, and now I really believe that all art is good. All art is amazing and once you find your tribe, once you find who your art speaks to, then you’re exactly where you need to be, right? I mean, sometimes it’s about quality, but a lot of the times it’s not. It’s just about who you connect with.

QUESTION: What would you say to other artists who have not yet applied to enroll?

Debbie Rhodes: Get off the fence, dammit and go do it! Because it’s just; your course is just so real and you really do hold our hand, you make it such that the steps are easily managed. They truly are, and it’s not stuff I didn’t already know almost. Right? It’s just I don’t know how to apply it and what order to do things. That’s what I’m finding is, ‘Well, I, I kind of knew about that’, but it’s just too scattered. I’m not being focused enough.

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