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Debbie Hughes

Debbie Hughes

     Artist

LibertyCon 4 Artist Guest of Honor (1990)
LibertyCon 15 Special Guest (2001)

Born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington Kentucky, I am not giving the year of my birth, since I have been age discriminated against in past. My father was a well-known photographer by the name of Harry Mack Hughes, my mom was a model by the name of Meldagonde Ryland. I was the their 3rd child, my brother Donald Hughes was 4 years older and my sister Diane was 6 years older.

At the age of 2 , my father passed away, an apparent drug overdose. He had already lost most of his business as well. My mother was in the process of moving us to Fort Lauderdale, when this occurred. Though I was too young to remember Mack, very well, the repercussions of his death reverberated in our lives years and years later. After his funeral, we permanently moved back to Fort Lauderdale.

The memories of Kentucky for me were sketchy since I was so young, however, the memories of Fort Lauderdale were bright and wonderful even though we were cramped into my grandmother’s small home on the Tuarpin River. This was when I started to love the smell of oil paint and the stories my grandmother told of her travels. Unfortunately, this extremely happy year passed and we had to move again.

On a sparse amount of money, my mom bought a car, packed us up and moved us to Atlanta Georgia, we lived in government subsidized housing, called Capitol Homes. My memories of this place are also very sparse. I remember we had cardboard boxes for furniture, we had aluminum plates to eat off of (the kind from tv dinners) which we actually washed to reuse, we also relied on government food - those huge hunks of cheese, powdered eggs and milk and huge loafs of mystery meat (spam) and white bread. My mother met a very nice man in Atlanta, a truck driver by the name of Henry Hughes. He came into our lives and became for me my real father, a compassionate, hard-working and reliable individual.

It was also during this time that I was hit by a car in our neighborhood, I was struck while running across the street - pretty much my fault but I was about 5 years old, not too wary then. I ended up in the hospital in traction for a month and then sent home in a body cast that came up to my chest - one fractured leg and some damage to my back. After the cast came off, it took a year for me to learn how to walk again.

As far back as age 6, I remember drawing, inspired by Hildegarde I wanted to paint, however, instruction for my early years was sparse.

My mother could draw with pastels and conte crayon, she taught me some early figure work. School instruction was rather boring and limited, so I drew on my own, mostly in pastels and watercolor. By High School, I was still lacking in instruction, however if I could find an outlet to show my skills I would, so any book report I was assigned was accompanied by large poster sized illustrations of the characters in the book. I did this mostly because I had this enormous fear of talking in front of a class, the illustrations provided a diversion for me, so that the class would not look at just me. By my junior year, I departed from Art and concentrated more on Math, something that I became quite good at and I was also encouraged by my sister to pursue. My mother was also enthused, since it meant a much more lucrative field of study then art. So by the time I hit college I was ensconced in the math profession, but by the end of my freshman year and with many disappointing C’s under my belt in this area, I changed my course of study

In the summer of 1977, after my freshman year, I saw the opening of Star Wars at a theater in Atlanta, Ga., on that day I was galvanized and inspired to pursue a career where I could get into the movie industry and paint matt paintings or story boards and I kept that dream in my head. However, upon returning to college after my summer break it was back to the usual curriculum, Furman did not offer classes in Science Fiction and Fantasy painting or even illustration for that matter. I worked one summer at the Greenville Museum of Art which had a huge collection of Andrew Wyeth paintings, I studied them, I Loved them, but my professors said to me: "Andrew Wyeth, he is nothing but a lowely Illustrator." My professors expressed a disdain for realism, so I studied on and kept hold of my visions. I discovered the Surrealists in my art history classes and fell in love with their ideas, so upon leaving Furman in 1981 my work was slowly evolving into a surrealist style, but I was having trouble finding galleries who would show some of the more bizarre images I was painting. In 1983, my then boyfriend Mark Maxwell encouraged me to attend a Science Fiction convention in Knoxville, TN, the convention was a southern regional with the guests: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Karl Wagner and many other notables including artists I had never had the opportunity to see works of. I also realized that I had been ill-equipped from my years at Furman to paint like any of these artists. The work I showed was very amateur in comparison to the high-tech, polished work I saw in the art show. Still, I was determined and I had found an outlet to show my work.

My first magazine cover came in 1989, when Science Fiction Chronicle bought secondary rights to a painting I had done a year prior, called Solid State. I was so excited to get in print finally that I started painting like mad.Also in 1989, I attended LunaCon in NY, there I showed a painting called, “Man of Shadows” in the art show. Jim Baen from Baen books liked the piece and commissioned me to do 3 covers. After Baen I started working for a company called MBI/Easton Press under the then director Pam Pia who also saw my work in the LunaCon art show. I still work with Easton Press today although the editors have changed. Other work that followed were interiors for Amazing Stories Magazine, Science Fiction Age Magazine and Realms of Fantasy Magazine.

In 1992, I started assignment work for a local company which became famous in the computer gaming world: Cyberflix - owned and operated by Bill Appleton. I started doing illustration for them when they were merely 4 people in the garage of Appleton’s home, the company later leased a large building in downtown Knoxville and became one of the most successful gaming companies in the world.

I started out doing illustration for all the characters in their game, “JumpRaven” - a futuristic shoot-em up arcade game. Later I went on to learn the macintosh and various programs like Photoshop and Macromedia - Director to animate the characters I had developed with paint on board. After JumpRaven, Cyberflix signed on with Paramount Pictures, so my next assignment was to paint characters from the tv show “Viper” and go on to animate them. This was followed by the game “Dust” - a western cd rom game, however, much to my disappointment, Appleton decided to go with real people on this game instead of painted characters. Nevertheless, I did get to do animation work on this game. I left Cyberflix in 1995, and went on to work for another local company called “The Bookworm” where I again returned to painting images on board that were later scanned in and used in the product. This was a wonderful year of illustrating works from the Classics. I not only got to paint my ideas for these wonderful stories but it renewed my enthusiasm for the works of Poe, Hawthorne, Cooleridge and Mary Shelley - much of which was still in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy

After The Bookworm, I delved into several years of doing CCG - Collectible Game Card work which included work for 8 different Game Card companies, the last of which was Last Unicorn Games and Five Rings Publishing who did DUNE. These companies offered a lot of work for struggling artists, unfortunately, the pay was sparse.

After the Game Card work, I eventually phased a lot of the work out, since the pay got less and less, I started exploring the internet and what it had to offer. I learned various programs in web design and put some of my experience in Macro-Media director to work. When I published my webpage I was awakened to new communities and possibilities. Most of my commission work these days comes from the Internet.

I also had a stint again at working in graphic design for the Knoxville News Sentinel for 5 years, I left in 2004.

Today, I still do book and magazine work - my latest was the frontispiece for Sheri Tepper's new novel The Margarets and a cover for PS Publishing for their Postscripts Magazine. However, more importantly, I have taken the past year to rediscover some of those ideas that have been sitting in my head for awhile but I have not had time to paint. Part of these ideas are the Grey Series - these are pieces about my life from childhood on: “On the Way to School One Day” is a piece that captures a very spooky moment of childhood, “The Flying Dutchman” is a bit of a metaphor for a change in my life at the age of 38, “The Unholy” - I feel is a metaphor for the political climate in the US now, and my newest piece “The Ascension” - I’m not sure yet what this piece is telling me but I’ll let everyone know when it’s finished.

Two other series I am also working on are “The Ruins” series and “The Ghosts of Edisto” - both of these series I hope to have completed by years end.

I am married to a very lovely man who I met in 1999 by the name of Dean Erickson - a very talented photographer and my true soulmate. He also helps me with much of my work now, whether it’s advise, inspiration or modeling (he’s modeled for 3 paintings thus far). We also have a tortoise shell cat by the name of Tokyo who actually loves to take showers and can stand like a Mir-Cat

The people who have influenced me greatly are as follows: Jim Burns who I befriended in 1986 at a World Con in Atlanta. His work not only inspired me but he himself has helped me through letters of encouragement and ideas about technique - he has been a true mentor to me through the years. Pat Morrissey - a good close friend and a talented Illustrator in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy, my wonderful husband and of course, Hildegarde Hamilton who gave me those art genes and who inspired me greatly as a child.

(From Ms. Hughes' Official page)