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Artist Profile: Debra Birtwell

“I don’t ever use black. I use the white of the paper,” Debra offers. “If you study painting with me, you will learn about color. That’s my gift: I see colors in a way other people don’t.”

The former Martha’s Vineyard resident’s paintings capture a sense of island air and seasons. With images of robin’s egg blue skies fading into yellow-green horizons, rosa rugosa splashes against lapis water, stark purple shadows slanting across sunlit white sails—Debra’s landscapes evoke the tastes, sounds and smells of time spent near the ocean. 

“You don’t have the large buildings, you don’t have light pollution,” Debra says of Martha’s Vineyard, where she lived for many years. “The clarity is there. You see the colors. It’s a place where you see the landscape through color.”

Off to Edgartown Lighthouse • Watercolor • 4″ x 6″

Debra, who found her own way through the world of art, feels lucky to have made a career as an artist. For 26 years her work has been shown in The Christina Gallery in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Debra recalls walking into the gallery in 1996, “tail between my legs, a handful of snapshots in my hand.” Her work was taken on the spot.

Growing up in Melrose, Massachusetts, Debra spent summers with family on the Vineyard. As an adult, she wound up living there year-round. She ascribes her talent to her mother and great-grandmother. As a child, Debra’s mother taught her to paint with oils, and though accomplished in acrylic, oil, and pastels, Debra’s favorite is watercolor.  

“We were always doing something artistic when I was a child. I knew from the moment I got my first box of crayons I wanted to be an artist. I’m embarrassed to say it now, but when the time came, I didn’t want to go to school to study art,” she explains…



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