Artist Studio | Debra Huse

Text by Wolf SchneiderA visit with plein-air painter debra Huse at her studio in Newport Beach, CA; Photos by Michael Darter

Your studio is at a marina, that’s cool.

It’s at Basin Marine. It’s one of 30 garages made for the fishermen at the marina—it’s just about 14 by 20 feet. Getting one is almost impossible. I got it six months ago because my boat’s been in the marina for 20 years.

Does the studio have an architectural style?

No style. [Laughs] But once I got it, my husband went in and dry-walled it for me, put in track lighting, and built me a bench. The docks are right there. Most people use these garages for their fishing gear and a refrigerator full of beer. I mean, they are fishermen, after all! [Laughs]

So while they’re chugging, you’re painting.

Yeah. I like to work on four or five paintings at a time, so I use the wall. I use flat panels and a screw gun and wood screws. I tape the panels on the wall, then I use the screws to hold them in place. That way my whole wall is set up as though it were five different easels.

And you take your boat out on painting expeditions, too?

Yes, it’s a 43-foot sport fishing boat.

I hear you cruise to Catalina Island, San Clemente Island, and Cabo San Lucas—which is your favorite?

Catalina, definitely. You can go all the way around the island, and every cove has something different. Avalon is like the south of France. Emerald Cove has bright emerald-green water.

Doesn’t painting at sea have obvious risks?

Not risks—challenges. But I love it. The only time I have trouble is when I’m using my rigger brush to add details. I have to hold my breath and get used to the rocking motion, then I go for it.

Your dog Clyde goes to sea with you?

Yes, he’s a big black standard poodle. He lies on his blanket. He doesn’t like the open ocean; he’d prefer to be on my lap. But once we pull in and moor, he loves it.

You also have an art gallery on Balboa Island that specializes in plein-air work?

I show my work and that of five other artists, including Kenn Backhaus. For a while I painted in the gallery, but then the gallery took over, and there was no room for Debbie anymore!

You’re known for your rich paint, energetic strokes, and impressionistic style—are you still donating fishing paintings to big marlin tournaments?

The tournaments are exciting. It’s like 4 o’clock in the morning, and the boats all have their bright lights on, and then they all take off at once. They have them in Catalina in September. I also show my plein-air work there, because a lot of their wives like to buy paintings that aren’t of fishing. Imagine that!

So your home on land is …

… in Costa Mesa, near Newport Beach.

Where’d you grow up?

Indianapolis, Indiana.

Are you a Larry Bird fan?

And Bobby Knight, too. Oh yeah, I went to IU. As a matter of fact, I studied with [painter] C.W. Mundy, and he and I did sports illustrations of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

Beach scenes and boats are your favorite subjects now, though.


Isn’t Balboa Island something of an artists’ enclave, like Laguna Beach?

Well, we have five galleries, and every May I put together a show that has 100 artists—the Balboa Island Art Walk. Balboa is more nautical than Laguna.

What’s your sign, and how much do you relate to it?

Sagittarius—fun is my middle name!

On what occasion do you fudge the truth?

[Laughs] Oh, when I tell my husband how little gear I’m going to bring on board the boat for painting.

What’s the range that your work sells for?

From $800 to $12,000.

When you reach the end of this incarnation, what sentence would probably sum it up for you?

“She worked hard, painted hard, played hard, and cruised fast.”

Huse is represented by Debra Huse Gallery, Balboa Island, CA.

Featured in “My World” October 2006