Deborah is yet another artist who started painting in watercolor later in life, about 15 years ago after retiring from her phone company job where she worked for 32 years. A natural art entrepreneur, she operates out of her small studio in Schenectady, New York and today works mostly in oil and acrylic.
Previously educated in graphic design, she often constructs her ideas in Photoshop before she takes a brush to paper. Her subject matter is the landscape in her immediate environment, which to her, never grows old. Although Deborah tends to be a very detailed oriented painter she is challenging herself to become more minimalist like her idols Marc Bohne, Doug Fryer, George Innes and Richard Schmid.
When asked how she knows when a work is completed, Deborah responds:
“When you can’t really add anything more that is supporting what your idea was, it’s time to stop. I notice when I start really slowing down on a painting that it’s time to step back and there’s a good chance I’m really close to being done at that point. I’ve ruined tons of paintings by not stopping soon enough.”
I hope you enjoy reading about Deborah. She has an exuberance for life and her art that is captivating and unusually inspiring.
Laura Jajko (LJ): I hear you had a wedding in your family?
Deborah Angilletta (DA): It’s coming up in October, so it’s been crazy. We just had my daughter’s shower last weekend.
LJ: While you’re doing all this, do you still have time to paint?
DA: I’ve been trying to squeeze it in. I’ve got an outdoor art show tomorrow. They have a big show in Schenectady. It’s in the stockade area and it goes back to historic homes to the 1600s. There are artists from all over the northeast. It’s one of the oldest outdoor shows in the northeast. You can walk around and see the historic homes. I’ll have to get there about 6:00 a.m.
LJ: At these shows do you only sell your originals or do you sell reproductions?
DA: You can sell small prints, but this is basically all originals.
LJ: One thing I’m always interested in is: when did you start producing your art? Was this an early life thing or a later life thing?
DA: I didn’t start doing serious painting until about 15 years ago. I took a watercolor course at a local high school and then I started going from there and I started teaching myself acrylic techniques because I was working full time. I worked at the phone company for 32 years. About 9 years ago, they offered an early retirement and I’ve been painting full time since. So now I do oils and acrylic, mainly oil. When I was a kid I always wanted to be an artist but I went to a little parochial school and we had art every Friday. When you hit high school there was no more art and I wanted to go to school for it but my parents supported it more as a hobby. They didn’t think you could make a living at it.
LJ: That’s typical because going into art is a risk. I’m a mother of a daughter who is in school to be an artist and if she can make it as an artist—fabulous—but if she doesn’t make it as an artist I know she’s learned to work hard and think really creatively. I think there’s a lot of fear from the parents who know what it takes to get a job and survive in business. I think that artists are kind of underrated that way because I think that you naturally must be an entrepreneur.
DA: And you really have to do it on your own. You have to be self-motivated and that’s the hard part, you know?
There’s nobody saying, “get to your studio and paint.” With a regular job, you have a time you have to be there and you know what you have to do.
My daughter has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from Sage College in Albany and she does her art part time but that’s not what she’s making her living at. I was kind of lucky that I kept that thread of making art off and on throughout my whole life and got serious about it right at the time when I was able to retire and now I’m able to do it full time.
LJ: It sounds like you make your own luck.
DA: Well part of it, I was at the phone company and that’s transitioned so much in the last 30 years. They did a retraining initiative at one point so I went to school and got an Associates in Graphic Design, which ended up great because I learned all about composition, design, and especially Photoshop because I use that for all my promotional materials: my business cards, my flyers, images for the website, my logo.
LJ: We have a favorite saying in our family: “Out of crisis always comes opportunity.” What kind of studio space do you have?
DA: I have a home studio and an outside studio. The outside studio is a little storefront and it’s about 10 minutes from my house. I live in a small village so it’s just a real small place and it’s on Main Street and has a glass storefront. It’s old. It’s nice because everything is set up. You walk in the door and you can just start painting. You don’t have to recreate the wheel every day, it’s all there.
LJ: Do you do many open studios? Do you invite people in?
DA: Yes, and I do different events in the village. They do something in December and I usually open up and have hot chocolate and people come in and it’s fun.
LJ: Does your town get much tourism? Do you get many out of town guests?
DA: No, I think the tourism all tends to be a little north of our area because we’re close to Albany which is the New York state capital but that tends to close up on the weekend. I think the legislature goes home and it gets quiet. But Saratoga, where the racetrack is, is just north of us; they seem to get a lot of tourism.
LJ: How would you describe your artistic process?
DA: I think of myself as more of a studio painter than a plein air painter. I like to think about the process more. Sometimes I do plein air painting but I’m never really happy with them. Two to three hours and the light is changing and it’s like, “Ehhh I wish I would have done this or that.” I’m always kind of disappointed but it’s funny, the paintings that I do in plein air always seem to sell. I’m the one that’s unhappy with them.
LJ: That’s really interesting. So it might be kind of fun when people buy them to ask, “What in particular do you like about them as opposed to my other work?”
DA: I think I capture the light better when I’m outside. I think that’s the thing. So what I’ve been trying to do now is I’ll do a couple small sketches and I try to capture the light and color and then bring them back to the studio. I take photographs, I sketch. Sometimes the photographs flatten things out. Everything has the same amount of focus to it. Normally when you look out, things in the distance are a little more blurry and things closer are clear. But the photograph makes everything the same sharpness and they’re good references for design and to see what you might want to move around. Sometimes I go into Photoshop with a couple photos and make up a composition and play around in Photoshop.
LJ: Oh! So you compose in Photoshop before you paint?
DA: Yeah, I do! A lot of times I’ll get the a photo and maybe it’ll be a bright blue sky and I was looking for something with a bit more drama to it. You can combine another photo to see if it’s going to work with that. When I’m starting a painting I’ll do a monochromatic under painting or I’ll do a full color block in. I work on panels. I don’t like stretched canvas as much as a like panels.
LJ: Is it because they’re primed and ready to go?
DA: Yeah, but stretched canvas, there’s something about it, I have the worst luck. I’m always poking holes in them. I’ve repaired more stretched canvases. And I like panels too because you’re not limited to your frame size either. If you’ve got a panel, almost any frame size is going to fit with your panel. You don’t have to get a certain depth rabbet for it.
LJ: That’s absolutely true.
DA: And panels are a lot easier to store too. They don’t take up as much room because they’re flat. I think they end up price wise about the same but I like to experiment with different textures.
LJ: When you’re exhibiting, you can put more in your car and whoever buys them isn’t carrying around a big bulky piece. There’s pros and cons to everything. So, the underlying theme to your work is the landscape. Do you ever find yourself tiring of the landscape or do you find yourself more engrossed in it, the more you do?
DA: It seems like I always find something different that I want to do. And different moods and different light affects. I like really moody paintings but for some reason I don’t paint that way. I like barns and trees and everything. My grandfather had a farm and we were always out in the pastures playing when I was a kid. I think what you are when you’re young kind of stays with you as you get older. I notice I had a lot of paintings with a lot of roads in them too. I don’t know whether I like that idea of not knowing the unseen ahead of you. I’m lucky where I am because you drive two minutes and it’s farm country and fields and then there are mountains and we live by the Mohawk River and you drive up north for an hour and I’m in the Adirondack Mountains. It’s a great area for a painter as far as subject matter.
LJ: It sounds like you can go a lot of different directions and never paint the same thing twice.
DA: It’s very different whichever way you go. We are kind of in the middle of the state and there are so many different types of landscapes around here, it’s wonderful.
LJ: And then with the seasons, that makes everything different.
DA: Exactly. It multiplies everything by 4.
LJ: Exactly. Is there a specific person or artist that has inspired you in your work?
DA: George Inness. Currently, I’d have to say Richard Schmid because he’s amazing, he’s the master. There are a couple artists that are out in Utah. There’s Doug Fryer and Michael Workman. And then there’s an artist in Seattle, Marc Bohne. They’re abstracting the landscape and simplifying it, but there’s still this beautiful landscape. I would love to be able to do that eventually. More abstracted and simplified but still be able to have the textural response to it.
LJ: Sometimes being a minimalist like that is so difficult because how do you keep the mood and know that it is a landscape and keep the feeling of it without putting in the detail?
LJ: That’s truly an art!
DA: It is, it is. That’s what I’m trying to work towards and that’s who I’m inspired by. I’m a bit too detail-oriented sometimes and I have to make myself step back from it.
LJ: Being very detail-oriented, how do you know when something is done? How do you know when to call a piece or series done?
DA: When you can’t really add anything more that is supporting what your idea was, it’s time to stop. I notice when I start really slowing down on a painting that it’s time to step back and there’s a good chance I’m really close to being done at that point. I’ve ruined tons of paintings by not stopping soon enough.
LJ: It is a hard thing to do. I love the different answers to this particular question when I do these interviews because everyone has a different idea of ‘finished.’
DA: And sometimes it’s when you start to lose interest too. That’s a key point. When you just kind of make things up in your head like, “oh I should do this or that.” Something is telling you that you should stop at that point and put it aside for a few days and look at it with fresh eyes. And maybe there is something more you need to do but, there’s a good chance there isn’t.
LJ: How long does it typically take you to do one piece?
DA: That’s a really hard question because sometimes you can start a painting and I don’t know, in a couple of days I’m completely done with it and then there are other ones that I’ve labored over for 6 months and I haven’t finished them and I might, but maybe I never will. Some of them you get to a certain point and don’t know what to do with them anymore. Somebody will say, “Oh it looks fine to me,” but if it doesn’t feel fine to ME I can’t put it out there. I’ve got some that are unfinished and others seem to paint themselves almost.
LJ: What’s the largest format that you work in?
DA: I’ve got a couple 24 “ x 30” pieces but those are almost too big. My studio is real narrow. It’s a tiny space. It’s almost too narrow to work on those and be able to stand back enough without tripping over a chair. But 18” x 24” is my large go-to size. I do 12” x 16”, 9” x 12”, 18” x 24” and I like a horizontal format. I’ve been doing a lot of 8” x 16.” For the landscape they’re a good size and so many people have been downsizing that they don’t have the wall space for something larger. I started doing them as study pieces for larger works and people were really responding well to them
LJ: It’s kind of a modern size too.
DA: Yeah, I like the horizontals too. I do squares too. I do some 20” x 20” squares, some 8” x 8” squares. 18” x 24” is about the largest that I do. I’d like to do larger but I don’t think I have the room for it.
LJ: So you say that your medium is both acrylic and oil?
DA: Mainly oil now though.
LJ: Is there one that you prefer over the other?
DA: I like them both for different reasons. I’ve been sticking with the oils now because I just want to explore them more. The acrylics I got really comfortable with. They’re fun because they dry quickly and you can dry brush over them and you can make mistakes sometimes and it’s so much easier to fix with acrylic than with oil. I always varnish them just like I do with the oils but they dry quicker. They’re fun. Right now, instead of using regular oils, I’m using water-soluble oils and they are awesome.
LJ: Oh, I’ve never heard of that!
DA: Yeah, there are a couple of brands. There’s one called Cobra which is made by Rembrandt paint. And the other one I use is made my Holbein. It’s called Holbein Duo. I still end up using linseed oil, but in the beginning I can use water instead of odorless mineral spirits for the initial wash and the block in and they clean up with soap and water. You scrub them up a little bit and you don’t have to have the turpentine or anything.
LJ: That sounds amazing. But you’re saying that the particular oil that you’re using, the result is the same as if you were using a traditional type of oil?
DA: Exactly! You can’t tell because I’ve got several paintings that are traditional oils and the ones that I have with the water-soluble oils, you can’t tell by looking at them. You can’t tell the difference. They’re amazing. They’re very easy to use and I like the idea that I don’t have to have turpentine in my studio.
LJ: Yeah, no kidding. Too much exposure to that isn’t healthy.
DA: No, it’s not and having a real small studio, you like to keep it as safe as you can and as environmentally responsible. But it’s nice to travel with too because you don’t have to bring turpentine with you. You can use water for your initial wash in, because water takes the place of the initial solvent and once you get going you can use walnut oil, linseed oil; they have all sorts of stuff you can use with it.
LJ: It sounds like in your environment there, in your setting, you don’t really have an issue with material. But do you ever have to deal with creative blocks?
DA: I get stuck sometimes, but most of the time if you just keep going. If I’m kind of stuck, I’ll look at some of my reference photos; taking a walk sometimes helps, or looking through old art magazines - sometimes that’ll jump start you. If you look at an old painting you did, it’ll give you an idea of what you could have done differently or better or whatever. But it doesn’t happen that often. Sometimes you get impatient with your progress and you feel like you should be doing better than you are. And that’s not so much a block but more of a mental thing you just have to work through.
LJ: Sometimes it’s just the pace of the progress vs. what you’re imaging you should be doing, especially if you’re trying to meet a deadline. I would think that would be hard.
DA: I do some commissions and I’m not a big fan of doing commissions. It’s hard to say no to people sometimes. They’re landscape commissions. I don’t like doing portraits because I always feel like I’m never doing justice to the person. With landscape commissions you’re under the deadline and you just hope that they see the same things that you saw. It’s tough because you kind of interpret someone else’s ideas instead of your own.
LJ: I don’t think we’ve ever talked to an artist who says they enjoy commissions. But it’s a foundation for work, so it’s kind of a catch 22. If you have somebody who likes your work, but wants something special, you’ve got to see it through their eyes but they’re wanting it through your eyes, with your skill.
DA: I did do a couple that I was excited about. I have to say I’ve done some commissions that are more fun than others. Maybe somebody who lived out in the country and they had a beautiful barn and scenery and everything and they said, “Do you think you can do something?” and you’re inspired by the scene already, so doing a commission wasn’t that big of a hardship. But it’s like you work harder on the commissions than you do on your own stuff because you just want them to be happy.
LJ: Oh, absolutely. That’s where the pressure comes in I think.
DA: Yeah, definitely.
LJ: What does a typical day in your life look like?
DA: -laughs- Are you sure you really want to know about that? I get up about 7:15 and I go for a walk. My mom lives right around the corner from me and I swing by her house at about 8 or so and I take her dog out for her and sit and talk with her for a minute. Then I come home and I have my coffee, check my emails, shower, and do laundry. I go to the studio around noon; between 12 and 1 and then I stay down there until about 6 or 7, unless I really get going on something and my husband will call and say, “Are you ever coming home again?” So usually I work in the afternoons.
LJ: So you’re not a real night owl? Because some artists start late and work until 3 or 4 in the morning.
DA: Nope, and it’s weird that I’m not too, because for years I worked second shift and when I’d get home I’d stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. I don’t paint late because of the light down there. I’ve got a combination of natural light and fluorescent light and I’ve got a couple different bulbs. I’ve got the ones that are the daylight bulbs and then the ones that are the cool fluorescents and I think at night it just is too stark down here to paint.
LJ: That makes sense. What would you call your biggest accomplishment in your field so far as an artist?
DA: I’ve won different awards and things from different places, but I think the most amazing thing was when I’ve had people get a hold of me and say they saw one of my paintings at a show and they couldn’t get it out of their mind and they just had to have it and wondered if I still had it for sale. And I think that’s maybe the biggest accomplishment; that you make a painting that kind of resonates with someone so much that they really, really want that painting.
LJ: Truly, I mean that’s what you work for.
DA: That’s why I paint. It’s nice when you sell and everything but when you get someone that really LOVES a painting that much, as much as you love it when you did it.
LJ: How do you decide what to charge for your work?
DA: To be honest I struggled with it so much when I first started to sell paintings that I ended up setting up a price guideline by size. It’s almost like a price per inch and it includes the commissions if I’m selling something at a show where they’re taking a commission, like a gallery or a restaurant. I have a commission built in so I have that same price whether I sell it out of my studio or at a show or at someplace that’s taking a commission. I feel it’s fairer to sell my paintings the same price no matter where they’re being sold. I don’t want somebody to buy a painting at someplace where it’s on exhibit and then see it somewhere cheaper, later on.
LJ: The collector has to have confidence that the artist is consistent with their pricing.
DA: Right, and that you’ve got integrity in your prices. So I kind of set it up as a price per square inch. And it’s based on what comparable artists in the area are selling; what the market will hold here. I think my prices are lower than what they would be in another area that is an art market. Our art market here is a little on the flat side, so my prices are kind of lower.
LJ: Your pricing is supporting your work right?
DA: Oh yeah, I’ve been doing okay. I can pay for my studio and my supplies and a little bit of profit, not a lot. This year is a little slower than last year, last year I did really well.
LJ: Are there any particular framing tips you’d like to share?
DA: Shop at American Frame. Can I say that? When I first started doing watercolor paintings the instructor was all about American Frame and she had the little booklet that showed all the frames, and after I really started looking, you guys are the best prices around. Best frames and best customer service.
LJ: Thank you, we work hard for that.
DA: I would say look for a frame that compliments your artwork but doesn’t overwhelm it. I think you have very classic frames and I think the styles work well, with my art anyway.
LJ: Which frames do you particularly use? Do you have a favorite?
DA: I tend to pick out a frame per piece instead of having all my art framed the same way.
LJ: That’s good to hear because I would say that generally artists will choose 2-3 frames or frame styles that compliment a body of work and kind of stick to that.
DA: Well I think you do have a go-to frame that you kind of look at first to see, because you’re used to that one and you like the way it looks and everything but I think you have to choose a frame that works with your artwork and not just to match the other frames you have.
DA: I think you guys have a really good selection.
LJ: Thank you! We really work hard to do that. We don’t carry anything that’s composite. The woods are solid woods.
DA: Oh I know, I love that! You don’t get something that’s going to chip and fall apart on you. If you don’t get a good frame when you’re doing outdoor shows and stuff and you’re lugging it from place to place, it’s not going to stand up to moving it around.
LJ: That’s true. And a framed piece of art completes the presentation of the work; it’s part of the work.
DA: And you know what I like too? You have a bunch of different price lines too. I think if I’m doing a lot of shows I can pick out something that is in a more affordable line because sometimes people will buy your artwork and will immediately just put it in another frame because that’s their preference. But that way, as an artist, I can afford to buy good frames and not have to worry if someone is going to buy it and then change out the frame. You enable me to keep my prices at a good spot too.
LJ: Thank you! Especially now that you’ve won the contest, you get a nice discount too!
DA: Oh, yeah, I took the framing, I definitely took the framing.
LJ: Good! That’s what most people do. Do you have any questions for us before we let you go?
DA: I don’t know! –laughs- I was surprised, I think I read somewhere how much framing you do for big companies and stuff like that. I didn’t realize how big an operation you guys are out there.
LJ: Oh yeah and we’re expanding too. We have a whole fine art printing capability and we print on canvas and different papers.
DA: I know! I’ve had some giclee prints done from you guys. The first time I had it done, I got the proofs and everything. But since then I don’t even order the proofs anymore because I just follow the directions of what color space to use and all that and I’ve never had a problem. They’ve all been gorgeous. The giclee prints are stunning. You’d be hard pressed to tell they’re not the originals. The color is amazing.
LJ: Well you must have a good capture photo as well then?
DA: I think so. I think I do pretty well with that.
LJ: Do you do your own photography?
DA: Yes, I do.
LJ: So you do your own color matching in Photoshop and all that?
DA: Yeah, I’ve been real happy. The giclee prints are amazing. I don’t carry too many of them but I’ve told people if there’s something that they really, really like but they don’t want to buy the original, we can talk about a print.
DA: But you guys are great!
LJ: Thank you!
DA: I was toying around with the idea of printing on Plexiglas and aluminum. Those are very interesting. They are very intriguing. I may at some point try that just to see what they look like.
LJ: Yeah, try a small piece. For your landscapes you could really do either way. The Plexiglas is more of a modern look and the aluminum is more of an edgy, commercial look.
DA: It might be fun this winter to do something really crazy and go back to my acrylics and try some abstracts or something.
LJ: Yeah and then print them on Plexiglas, that’d be beautiful.
DA: Yeah, try to do something a little different for a change; shake it up a little bit. But it’s amazing you’ve got so many different options. You’re a great company.
LJ: Thank you! It keeps us busy.
DA: I’m sure!
LJ: I have to tell you, it was a complete pleasure to talk to you today.
DA: Thank you!
LJ: The one question I forgot to ask you was about the work that you submitted. Can you talk to me a little bit about that piece?
DA: Well, that one I was very happy with how I captured the feel of the air and the water and the way the colors all came out. I feel like I didn’t muddy it or anything. It was a good representative piece for up in the Adirondacks because that’s where it came from, Putnam Creek, out that way. It’s one of the pieces that I’ve done, that I actually liked a lot.
LJ: Have you sold it yet or do you still have it?
DA: I do still have it.
LJ: Thank you again and best of luck to you with your wedding.
DA: Thank you!