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3 minutes with Deborah McKellar


Growing up, were you always interested in art?

Yes, as a child I always wanted to ‘make things’ in my free time. My childhood fabric painting projects developed into oil painting by the time I reached high school.

What were some of the earliest influences and motivations, which inspired you to become an artist?

My aunt, in South Africa, is a well-known landscape artist. She very kindly invited me to spend a two month holiday with her where she gave me one-on-one painting classes. I spent two very inspiring months in her wooden house, which is in the middle of a forest on the side of a beautiful mountain. This special time with her helped me develop a deep love for creating artworks.

Your art works engage such a distinct aesthetic, often inspired by urban landscapes viewed through a unique filter through the use of mixed media, could you tell us a bit about your process and the environment you like to work in? Do you begin through sketches/drawings or is the journey more fluid?

My creative process normally starts by going out taking photographs. At times this can be a planned trip such as the series I created on Black & Whites. For this series of artworks I spent about two weeks photographing these homes all over the island. At other times I may just be going out for lunch and an everday scene may jump out at me that I manage to quickly capture.

Once I have these photographs I decide which images I feel would translate well into an artwork. These form the main subject matter which I then add other motifs to such as a tiger beer logo or a kopitiam cup … motifs that I feel will enhance the story, that I’ve already managed to capture with the initial photograph.

The next vital step is deciding on a colour palette, colour has always been one of the most important elements in my artworks. Selecting the right combination of colours is what created the mood of a piece and takes the story to the next level.

Deborah McKellar 4_RGB

Once I’ve mapped out this basic concept the fun can begin where the artwork itself is able to develop and take on it’s own life as I work. I’ve developed a style where I combine hand painting together with screen prints, fabric appliqué and finally stitch work. The studio environment is very important to me. I’ve been blessed with a space, which is filled with natural light and looks onto beautiful plants. When I’m painting in this space ideas for artworks grow into more ideas simply through the act of doing.

What do you consider the most indispensable item in your creative process from imagination to creation?

Allowing the mind to run free and dream is defiantly an indispensable component. I need to be in a calm space (often with a cup of tea) where I can let my imagination link different ideas together. After these ideas are sparked I need to then start writing them down in order to translate them into a workable concept.

 Deborah McKellar 5_RGB


Is there another medium, which you would like to work with?

I love working with different textures, I’ve printed & painted on canvas, wood & acrylic, I think it would be interesting to work on other surfaces such as metal sheets or paper.

Which was the first artwork you ever created, and which you ever sold?

As a high school student living in South Africa I created a mixed media piece, which was an image of one of the squatter camps. Many of these poorer living spaces can be found all over the country. The people who live there have very hard lives however there is still beauty that can be found and this was what I wanted to capture in my artwork. As a 16 year old I was very excited to sell this work.

 Which living artist do you find most inspiring? Why?

That’s an interesting question; I’d say I find a lot of designers more inspiring then artists. I think this must be because I am normally drawn mostly to colour combinations and patterns. To name a few I’d say Timorous Beasties, a textile design house, for their amazing use of colour and beautiful patterns.

Vivienne Tam the fashion designer, who is famous for her “East –Meets-West” style. I love the beautiful textures in her clothing as well as her reinterpretation of traditional Chinese subject matter. I recently brought one of her dresses just so I could stare at the fabric whenever I wanted.

Are you working on any new projects?

Yes, I have just completed a commission for and interior design company called Aedas who had an American Bank as their client. I was asked to create 4 giant artworks, each measuring 3m x 2m for their corporate space. It was a challenging project but fully rewarding when I got to see the artworks installed.

If you could choose any other profession or life calling, what would it be?

I used to think I’d love to run a spa, simply because I thought I’d love to create a beautiful environment and to constantly be in this relaxing space, but I soon realized that this was not quite the right thing for me and that I was better off going for personal massages then choosing this as a profession.

How do you see your path as an artist developing?

At the end of last year I had a booth at the Affordable Art Fair here in Singapore. It was a really great way of meeting more clients and turned out to be a very successful event. So my future plan is to be involved with more of these fairs that take place all around the world.

In regards to the artworks themselves they are a visual dairy of where I find myself so they will always be an extension of myself and a reflection of my surroundings. In order to create fresh new ideas I find I must develop on that which I have already discovered, they only way to do this is to continue creating.

Living or dead, which artists will you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Mmm … there are a lot of artists from the past who’s work I really admire, such as Gustav Klimt. I fell in love with the way he combined patterns into his paintings as well as his famous use of gold leaf. However I heard that he was a bit of a womanizer so I’m not too sure how much fun he would be at a dinner party. So I’d have to go with a living artist, Donna McKellar my aunt. Seeing as we live in two different parts of the world meeting up with family always creates the most meaningful memories.

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss”


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