By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — Debra Simsek breaths and lives in her art. She is a visual artist who, for a long time, conducted art therapy classes for hospital patients, having finished advance studies in Art and Art Therapy. “But I love to create and to embellish more than anything,” she quipped.
Today, Debra thrives on the business of caricatures, face painting, and puppetry. She is also an entrepreneur for healthy beauty and food products on Parsons Avenue in Queens.
Debra has recently patented Hallelujah Hattie which is a collection of greeting cards and coloring books featuring women of faith with a variety of designer hats.
If one artist had such a mega-doze of drive as Debra has, art would not merely be considered a hobby but as a delightful profession that brings in sunshine and bucks in the pocket.
Excerpts of our interview:
1. How did the artist in you evolve?
I developed my skill from my early years in elementary school. I remember drawing trees. My art teacher was so proud of me. She always hung up my pictures in the lobby of the school. I was seven years old as I remember.
My mother was supportive and gave me art lessons. My grandmother was also supportive. Every Saturday my parents would drop us off at grandma’s house. This was in Brooklyn in the early 60s. She bought me crayons and pens. She told me to sit in the backyard and draw the flowers, stray cats, etcetera.
We went walking to the stores and she bought me comic books. I drew and copied all the comic figures, especially Popeye.
2. So how did you become a professional artist? Was this something you chose as you grew older?
My little life took a big turn when we moved to Valley Stream, in Long Island. Our neighbor was one of the original Popeye artists. I remember he used to draw me flip books of Popeye walking as I flipped the little pages.
I went to school to be an art teacher. I also went for another degree as an art therapist. I recall my first art teacher position was in a parochial school in Long Island. The pay was terrible. To support my income I needed some sort of instant art to make money.
I saw a man drawing caricatures at a local shopping mall. He was making money and the people delighted in his cartoon portraits. So I decided this would be a good idea! At that time I said to myself, I am prettier than him. I can do this!
So, I practiced drawing people in bars, parks, beaches for fun. I got a talent agent to get booked for all social events as a caricature artist. I learned face painting, fortunetelling and puppetry.
3. Who were your mentors, the very influential artists that had an impact on you?
I was mentored by the famous Shlock artist named Morris Katz. He was a Polish refuge that painted instantly in Jewish hotels and raffling off his pictures. Morris taught me how to be a show woman entertainer artist.
Also there was the late Leonard Gladstone, mentalist, ballroom dancer and agent from the Catskills and Franklin Square, New York. I worked with different bands, party planners and booked myself.
My first caricatures took an hour. Now I can draw a caricature in less than 5 minutes.
4. How has this passion been helpful to you and to others?
Art is my life, my soul. It is my therapy and my healing. It is my social life. I have fund raised using my art for many good causes over the years.
5. Do you as an artist make art to be famous or is it mainly for self-expression?
Developing as a caricature artist took time and drive. This passion for me as an artist took me to so many interesting places and met a lot of interesting people.
Fame does come with the territory at times. I was a guest artist at the famous Kutchers Hotel in the Jewish Borst Belt in the Catskills, upstate New York. Yes, I have enjoyed some fame, and have enjoyed my journey as an artist extraordinaire. Right now, I use my art professionally.
Check out Debra Simsek’s Hallelujah Hattie on http://www.hallelujahhattie.com/