By Jessica on October 12, 2012
Debra Valencia (DV): My grandmother was the most influential person in my life, not only inspiring me as an artist, but I shared her passions for cooking, sewing, traveling and fashion. She was an amateur fine artist, painting scenes and still life oils. She never sold a painting—as this was her hobby. My parents really did not support my desire to pursue art as a career because they just didn’t think it was practical or a real job—they only thought of it as a hobby.
So instead of heading off to fashion design school as I wanted, I entered my local community college with no particular major in mind. I took all the general academic courses and considered various career paths such as linguistics and biology but nothing got me excited.
In my second year, I took a drawing class just as a fun elective and my art teacher was surprised that I wasn’t majoring in art. She suggested I try the Visual Communications, department which I did. The next semester I took a class called Introduction to Advertising Design and from there I knew design was for me. I completed my two-year degree in Advertising Design and landed a job as a designer at an ad agency. I spent one year working full-time and it was great experience.
By then, my parents could see that it was possible to earn a living with my artistic talents, so I then pursued my BFA in Graphic Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I’m happy to say that my son is following in my footsteps and is an Illustration major at California College of Art in San Francisco.
DG: Your art is featured on a variety of products. Are there any particular types of products that you enjoy designing for, more than others? Are there any that are more challenging to design for than others?
DV: My favorite product to design is fabric for quilting. Quilting collections typically have 6 to 12 coordinating designs of different scales and colors. So it is fun to design because it’s somewhat like coming up with a collage of prints. There is a new generation of crafters who take the quilt fabrics and make creative projects such as messenger bags and aprons in addition to quilts. I sewed a lot as a young girl and teenager so I understand sewing. Although I don’t have time to sew any longer, I really enjoy seeing what people make with my fabrics. I love designing it all to be honest: dinnerware, jewelry, tech cases and more. I hope to someday have an entire home décor line including rugs, upholstery fabrics and wallpaper as well as personal accessories such as cosmetic bags, handbags and apparel.
DG: What media do you work in? Is there any medium that you prefer over others?
DV: My favorite medium is watercolor but I use it in a nontraditional way. I draw out my designs in pencil very accurately and figure out my repeat patterns. I paint the designs using a very strong intensity of liquid watercolors. So my style is not the loose, washy style that most people think of as watercolors. It’s my graphic design training that, forces me to work precisely. I also work a lot on the computer because it is faster and I like to work fast and furiously. I design many of my geometric and ethnic-inspired prints in vector art but coordinate some of these with my hand painted motifs, which I retouch in Photoshop
DG: What artist or artists do you feel have had the greatest influence on your style?
DV: My main influences are ethnic craftsman traditions from around the world including textile arts and architectural ornamentation. I’ve traveled a lot and spent many days shopping in markets in Morocco, Thailand, India, Japan, Italy, Mexico and more places than I can name here and shot a lot of photos of buildings, tiles and even doorknobs. I also love fashion so other influences also include designers like Pucci and specific eras like the hippie 60s, and even rock ‘n roll clothing.
DG: You are quite active in working with art students and various community organizations. What is the most satisfying aspect of being involved with these groups?
DV: I love teaching and working with art students and collaboration in general. I taught part-time for 13 years at Otis College of Art & Design in the graphic design department. I am currently a guest lecturer at Art Center College of Design. I am also teaching seminars on the Business of Art Licensing to other fine artists, illustrators, graphic designers and photographers.
DG: Your bio says that you “find solace” in yoga, walking on the beach, and hikes through the mountains. Do these activities provide you with ideas and inspiration, or do they serve more to clear your mind and help you focus on current projects?
DV: My main goal is to keep healthy and stay in shape. I think it is important to feel good both physically and mentally and to take care of the body. I’m a bit of a health nut—at least 80% of the time. It makes me feel strong and gives me a lot of energy. I really use the exercise time to clear my head and not think about work. It’s good to get out of the studio, get fresh air and move my limbs. Then when I do get back to work, I can really hit it hard, sometimes working for 12 hours straight.
DG: How did you get connected to DecalGirl? What skins do you currently have on your devices?
DV: My artwork is currently licensed with approximately 25 companies for products including fabric, greeting cards, stationery, ceramic gifts, back to school supplies, jewelry and more. I’m always looking to expand into new categories so I contacted Decal Girl via the artist submissions link on the website. Lucky for me, Linda Castillon, SVP of Licensing was already familiar with my work! She personally owns two Joolz Hayworth bracelets and was a fan of the jewelry line.
I currently have a Mia skin on my laptop, the Kyoto skin on my iPad and the Bombay skin on my iPhone.
DG: Suppose the DecalGirl staff decides to take a vacation at your home in Costa Rica. What should we be sure to do while we are there?
DV: Well, I hope you all do! Let’s go for a creative brainstorming retreat. For all first time visitors to Costa Rica, I highly recommend a visit to the Arenal Volcano which is in a pristine rainforest area with fabulous hot springs, zip lines and a beautiful lake. Then hit the beach where my house is. Must-do activities: a daily swim, surfing lessons, catamaran sailing/snorkeling trip, yoga at the beach, cocktails at sunset at any of many restaurants along the beach and of course, lots of R&R.