CREATIVE SPACE #8 OF 2020 – “That’s why I do portraits…everybody has a story.”

CREATIVE SPACE #8  of 2021 (uploaded April 14th 2021)

CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It continues to expand across other media platforms (which can be viewed on AntiguanWriter on YouTube). CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean authorjournalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.

Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on April 14th 2021  in the Daily Observer:  CREATIVE SPACE Debbie Eckert

Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.

If you would like to be featured or to sponsor (i.e. advertise with) a future installment of the online edition of CREATIVE SPACE and/or CREATIVE SPACE on YouTube, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.

CREATIVE SPACE: “That’s why I do portraits…everybody has a story.”


We don’t have a national art gallery but we do have the #artistchallenge which has been bringing such beauty to my facebook timeline of late – even with there being so much trouble in our region and in the world.

Auntie Debbie

One of the participating artists is Debbie Eckert (Observer listeners know her as Auntie Debbie), whose portraiture I’ve long admired, especially so the way she captures the essence of children. That she is a visual artist – she is also a music teacher (Montessori), choir leader (Expression), and more (check her youtube channel ‘Reflections with Auntie Debbie’) – is perhaps lesser known. “It’s not surprising to me because I’ve never been strong at marketing, I’ve never been confident as an artist,” Debbie said. “My life has been busy with lots of passion projects, and art is only one of them.”

“Thanks to the challenges,” she is emerging from a years-long creative hibernation. It has, she said, given her a breath of life as an artist and prompted her to revisit, finish, and gift to the recipient a long overdue commission.

“Your portraits feel so intimate,” one fan wrote in the comments of one of her shared images. “Makes you imagine the heart and personality of the subject. So beautiful.”

Debbie is known for her nature imagery as well, but my focus will be her portraits, and especially her portraits of children which are an organic extension of her teaching life. “With the children, it’s easy,” Debbie said. “They are so amazing and unique.” Her goal is to draw attention to their beauty and the fact that “we don’t own them”. Her images capture their outer beauty and inner lives.

She recalls one little girl who was really keen on her friend’s picture being taken (Debbie takes pictures prior to painting) even more than her own. “The sweetness of spirit, that’s what grabs me,” Debbie said.

As for the rest, though, “it’s all mysterious to me; I feel like I’m a spectator in the whole process.”Three Kings and a Shepherd

Three Kings and a Shepherd

Whether it’s capturing a tiff between a king and a shepherd in a nativity scene or the intense concentration of a child trying to get it right in rehearsals, Debbie said, “I draw from the heart; I don’t draw from the eyes.” Speaking of the child in the panting that became ‘Angel Practice’, Debbie said, “she was chosen to be one of the angels and she was so dedicated to getting her part right” – the artist captured the earnestness in the child’s eyes, her clasped hands, her lips tucked in concentration.

‘Angel Practice’ is one of Debbie’s favourites. It was inspired by the Montessori Pre-School annual Christmas nativity play.

Debbie doesn’t do it for profit. The framing alone – which she deems necessary because pastels, her favourite medium due to its   ethereal, almost mystical, quality, needs to be behind glass in order to last – sees to that. She’s not a fan of commissions; preferring to paint what she’s drawn to painting. There’s been resistance – people don’t want pictures of other people on their walls, she was told early on; an idea she rebelled against.

Debbie has also had to fight the feeling of not quite belonging but she has lived here nearly 40 years. It is, she said, where she was born as an artist, an artist who visibly loves not just the place but the people.girl with the yellow flower

Girl with the yellow flower. “I find yellow a hopeful colour and…symbol,” Debbie said.

“I painted children because I love them and for me it’s all about love,” Debbie said.






As seen above, Debbie doesn’t only paint children. One of her favourite reactions between subject and painting (not the painting above) came from an 80 something year old mother of 12 and shop owner, who when she saw Debbie’s painting of her “there was a little tiny uptick of the lip” but then she remarked “me ugly fu true”. There is, as I told Debbie, so much to unpack there, in the beauty the artist captures that we may not see in ourselves and, at the same time, the way the small part of us that wants to receive it can’t stop the smallest of smiles from sneaking through.


Debbie, also, doesn’t only paint people. She’s also known for nature imagery. see edisons noteCan’t you just feel the wind blowing through the grass in this one?



Teaser… I’ve begun gathering favourites from the #artistchallenge that I plan to feature in the next CREATIVE SPACE and you’ll get to hear from the artists as well. Watch this space.


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