by Jo Watson
Deb Hudson welcomed me into her home for a cup of tea at her rustic kitchen table, which doubles as an art table. Her pencils, organized in tins by colour, are spread out at one end of the table. The room is flooded with natural light. Sometimes, it’s a case of too much of a good thing and Deb has to draw under a brimmed hat, tilted askew to shade the midday sun. Her border collie chases sun shadows about the room and her canary chirrups in the background. Today, her seven-year old son, home from school sick, adds to the menagerie. Deb’s bright, intricate illustrations and daily posting have attracted thirteen thousand followers on Instagram. But as she explains, it took her a while to find her groove.
No, I want to do art
In high school, everyone said, “Don’t do art. You’ll never make any money.” So I studied teaching. Then I travelled. I lived in Japan. I taught English at an all-girls school and at an English conversation school. When I was approaching thirty, I was living in the Solomon Islands. I was doing office work. I wasn’t using my teaching degree, and I’d never even really liked teaching. The part I liked most was organising craft activities! I’m not sure—maybe it’s because I thought I hadn’t done anything with my life—but I realized, no, I want to do art.
A degree interrupted
I enrolled in fine art at Queensland College of Art. I knew right away I wanted to specialize in illustration. Two years into the three-year degree, I deferred to go overseas again. I had children and, when I wanted to go back to university to finish my degree, I was told I would have to start from the beginning. I didn’t want to do that.
What got me started again was seeing people sell their artwork on eBay. My sister said, “You could do that.” I created a series of three paintings: a bee, a butterfly, and a beetle. I called it The Three Bs. I put them up on eBay. I had tracings of the designs and a stack of blank canvasses. When a set would sell, I’d go out to my workroom and paint them. It was a lot of work: executing, packing, and shipping the paintings. But it was exciting to see my work sell. Then I had my third child and the artwork sort of petered out.
A reboot, by way of adversity
I have rheumatoid arthritis. There was a period where I was unwell, and I was really unfit. I couldn’t close my fist for six months. When I got better, I was so happy to be able to hold a pencil that I couldn’t stop drawing. I like drawing birds because they’re a symbol of freedom. Also, you can decorate them however you like. I used to use Gerald, my canary, as a model. Now I’m inspired by folk art.
Last Christmas, I did a series of cards in red and blue. That was good because I only had two tins of colours to pull out and pack up! Sometimes the drawing gets waxy and the white pencil won’t lay down. I spray it with fixative and that helps give it some tooth so the white will stick. People often ask what materials I use: Prismacolour (premier) pencils and plain old Kraft paper.
I first saw the 100 Day Project [#100dayproject] three years ago, and decided to try it. Now I’m addicted; I have to do a drawing every day. I also do [Lilla Rogers’s] Make Art That Sells Assignment Bootcamp, which is a five-month online program. I’ve made great friends through those online communities. I use Redbubble to sell my work on a variety of merchandise. I don’t do heaps of marketing. People don’t like it when you use Instagram for advertising. When the Redbubble site features me on their home page, I see an increase in activity. I recently created artwork for the swing tags on a friend’s clothing line. Next, I’d like to execute on the advice I was given by an agent: to design a new collection of greeting cards and refresh my website. With three kids, the challenge is finding the time. But I love it.
Jo Watson is a Melbourne-based screenwriter and artist. Visit her on Instagram (@diary_of_a_picture_book_maker).