"CREATING ART IS LIKE TAKING A JOURNEY INTO AN UNKNOWN WORLD. YOU WON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WILL FIND UNTIL YOU OPEN THE DOOR OF YOUR IMAGINATION. WHAT IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT DOOR IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN YOUR IMAGINED."
Deborah Nell is a prolific intuitive acrylic painter who was born in 1959. She grew up in a small town called Eagle Rock in Southern California. She is the oldest of five children. She has three sisters and one brother. Her favorite memories of her childhood were painting with her father, Herman Sillas. He would paint at his easel and she would paint at hers. He instructed her how to paint portraits in oil from photographs. She cherished those times because she could learn about painting while she spent one on one time with her father. She loved hearing the music of the Beatles and the Jackson Five and others on her brother’s stereo. She admired her brother who was musically gifted and would sing and play his guitar at a very young age. There was always music in the home and to this day she always paints while listening to music. Being of Mexican decent, extended family gatherings were very important. There were always birthdays or holidays to celebrate. Every party or gathering included a “show” by her cousins where songs were sung and dances were danced.
Deborah has a Bachelor’s Degree in Design from the Fine Art Department at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles). She has had three solo exhibitions at local churches Living Word Church, York, PA; Praise Community Church, York, PA; Liberti Church, Camp Hill, PA. Her work has been exhibited at Hanover Area Arts Guild, Hanover, PA; York Art Association, York, PA; The Parliament, York, PA; Orange County Creatives Art Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA; Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, PA and Hillside Medical Center, Hanover, PA. Her work has been published in various Christian magazines and bulletins such as Horizons Magazine for Presbyterian Women, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC; Maryknoll Lay Missioners Christmas Card and Holistic Health Networker Publication, Central Pennsylvania. Deborah also paints live during church worship services. She recently was interviewed by Matt Tommey on the podcast “Thriving Christian Artists."
Standing before Deborah's works of art, a sense of peace, tranquility and being at ease suddenly overcomes your senses. A necessary recollection of what it feels like to be at peace with one's self naturally falls into place...and it is a place of reflection, a place of acceptance and a place of all things possible. And just like that, you are offered an intimate moment with what is deep within you...or what is manifested in your deepest belief. All in all, you feel as if your glorious expectations have been fulfilled, and nothing is left and nothing more is needed. Through her art, Deborah transmits that purity we somehow seek, yet forget it's all within.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. I always knew I wanted to be an artist. It was something I loved to do and could do well.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. The first painting I remember doing was in Kindergarten. I was five years old and it was the first time we got to paint. I painted a sailboat with a white sail on it sailing on the blue ocean. There was a big yellow sun in the sky. I can remember the smell of the paint and how good it felt to dip my brush into the thick paint and create this painting.
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
A. I became serious in art when I would paint with my father. I felt that if he was taking the time to teach me… there must be something good he sees in my work. I also really enjoyed painting. It came naturally to me. The more I painted, the more I wanted to paint.
Q. Tell us about your beginnings, how were your first steps in the art world?
A. A big highlight was being accepted into the Design Department at UCLA. However, after graduating, I realized that I didn’t have the courage or the confidence to paint what I wanted to paint. I knew I didn’t want to be a graphic designer and create what others wanted me to create. I put my painting career on the shelf for several years and just painted as a hobby. It wasn’t until 2007 when God gave me a very vivid dream where I was told I could fly. I did fly in the dream and there was no ceiling in that dream. I knew God was telling me I could fly with my art. I sensed He was telling me that He wanted me to paint for Him. Then it wasn’t a matter of courage or confidence. It was a matter of obedience. I said, “Yes! I will paint for you God." I’ve been painting ever since. My confidence grew as I was obedient to do what God was asking me to do.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. I have many good childhood memories. Other than painting with my father, was spending time at my grandmother Kika’s house with my siblings and cousins. She let us use our imagination. We had fun playing dress up, playing restaurant where she was the cook and the girls were the waitresses. She made delicious pancakes! We camped in the backyard, listened to her stories from her life and just enjoyed being children.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. My greatest strength and greatest weakness is my sensitivity. My sensitivity enables me to feel and paint but sometimes I take things too personally and I just need to let things go.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Not that I chose to sacrifice my relationship with my extended family, but twenty years ago my husband and daughter moved across the country to East Berlin, Pennsylvania. We felt the Lord was leading us to move here. The way I paint today would never have evolved if I had stayed in California. It was here, away from all that was familiar to me that I was able to dig deep and find a way of expressing myself that was new and unique to me. The work I do now looks nothing like the work I did painting next to my father. Today I co-labor with God and bring Him into the process of creating. I never know what I’m going to “see” in the paint. I trust that even if it first looks like a mess, something good will come out of it…eventually.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. Unlike the initial way I used to paint with my father which was realism, I now paint the images I “see” in the paint. I’m either pouring paint onto the canvas or applying paint by various techniques on Yupo paper when I “discover” images in the paint. I then give more detail to those images after the poured paint has dried or while the paint is still wet on Yupo paper.
My style was birthed by taking a Yupo paper painting class by an abstract artist after I had my pivotal dream in 2007. I was fascinated by the way he blew acrylic ink onto the Yupo paper with an atomizer and how he then used various techniques to create texture and mystery. I couldn’t help but see images in the paint. I then began to bring out those images. Many of the images were people. If I saw the features of the face in the people, I would put them in. If I didn’t see features, I didn’t put them in. A faceless style of mostly women began to emerge. This style is also seen in my embellished acrylic pour paintings.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. My biggest influences were initially my father. I’m now inspired by my relationship with my Heavenly Father as I see my painting process as a way to communicate with Him and co-labor with Him. I just enjoy discovering what images will be seen in the paint. They always seem to speak to others about spiritual things. My favorite artist is Vincent VanGogh.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. My art aims to express my heart and my relationship to God. I trust that the images I see come from Him and through me. When people connect with my art they seem to connect with joy, peace and compassion. I see those qualities as coming from the Lord. Ultimately I want my art to draw others closer to God and experience His love for them.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. Besides painting, I like to cook whole food, plant based meals. I enjoy trying new things and surprising my husband who appreciates my cooking. I like to learn about nutrition and health. I really enjoy spending time with my grandchildren who are so full of fun and adventure.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Art has the ability to connect us to a reality that is beyond our physical senses. Art is spiritual and very personal. The same painting will evoke different memories and feelings in different people. I love that about art.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. Success to me is continuing to grow in discovering all that God has called me to do through my art. Success means doing what I believe God is asking me to do with my art; nothing more and nothing less.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. I’ve learned that we can have money, fame and influence but if we don’t know we are loved and how to love, we have nothing.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. Two pieces of advice stick out to me. My father used to say, “It’s only money." And abstract artist Linda McClowskey would always say, “it’s only paint.” Both remind me not to be fearful or worried.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. I would tell the next generation to listen to your heart and express it as only you can. Don’t let others tell you who you are. Look to God for that, He is the Master Artist who made you.