Debra Reid Jenkins Art
Michigan Scenes on Canvas
Standing on one of the deer trails in the dunes at Lake Michigan, between storms the sun will
break through the dark skies, enormous waves crashing on the shore are suddenly illuminated,
seagulls are hunkered down and the wind is blowing so hard the sand stings as it hits my face!
On another day, the water is nearly flat and the sunlight dances on the sandy bottom with the
sound of gentle lapping as the water hits the shore. On the drive home at the end of the day, long
shadows across the farmer’s fields echo the stratus clouds that grow more purple and pink as the
evening rolls in.
For a week or so every year the cherry orchards come into bloom. I relive the magic I felt growing
up with the cherry flowers all around me on my parent’s property. They shimmer in the light and
just as quickly they are gone too soon, fluttering to the ground like faeries returning to the earth.
My challenge is, how do I put this on canvas?
As a painter my goal is to capture with paint specific moments in time on canvas.
Ideally that canvas will behave more like a doorway than simply an object on the wall.
My original training was in portraiture with a strong emphasis on traditional skills and techniques
sometimes referred to as academic training. The portrait work led to children’s book and
magazine illustration which I did for several years. During this time I was also learning to paint “en
plein air” taking my easel and paints out on location in all kinds of weather. I found I loved the
challenge! I think my background in figurative work really helped my approach to the landscape,
which has always been a kind of “portrait” of place and time. Having learned what makes a
person’s face uniquely theirs, I use those same observational skills in the landscape.
The water in Michigan is another passion of mine. I’ve canoed and kayaked rivers and the “big
lake” as long as I can remember. I love reflections in the water and looking through waves. I’m
amazed how different it can look from one day to the next.
Patterns in water movement are something I find myself continually drawn to. Because of the
complexity of pattern and light, I am constantly discovering new ways of seeing and painting.
When I was in college I also worked as a hand decorator and gilder (gold leafer). My great aunt,
Rose Kozak, owned a furniture manufacturing company that specialized in hand decorated French
floral and chinoiserie (stylized Chinese scenery) furniture. I grew up around a lot of different styles
of art and one of my first art books was a collection of Hokusai’s views of Mt Fuji. I find that the
pictorial space in woodblock prints and chinoiserie inform the “bones” of my water paintings.
I’ve been asked how I can work in so many different styles. I think that in the way some people can
speak in different languages, I speak in different visual languages. Ultimately I’m always seeking
to communicate what I see and feel. Sometimes this requires different vocabularies.
I was born in Michigan and have lived here my entire life. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to
other states and countries, but I’m always happiest to come back home to , what to me is one of
the most beautiful and amazing places on the planet.
In the end, if I’ve achieved some truth, you will share in the experience too.
Debra Reid Jenkins
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