Myakka City's Deb Herbert specializes in equine and cowboy culture themes.
The hands of Myakka City's Deb Herbert launched into a rapid-fire, mini-clap, right in front of her smiling face, as a visitor noticed the "sculptural" quality of the subject horse in one of her paintings.
Herbert beamed as she explained what went into that particular work, its 3D quality and why it is so special to her. Upstairs in the log cabin she shares with her husband Bill, she is surrounded by what could best be compared to a museum storage room's worth of artwork.
Her paintings are everywhere, but not positioned well enough to be on display. They are tucked away behind each other, although slivers of the subject matter allow her to identify each particular work without too much of a search.
Three years into retirement from her career as a Sarasota County Schools fine arts teacher, this was supposed to be a big summer for Herbert and her new career as an entrepreneur. She was going to travel to several equine events in order to show her artwork and to make connections that would hopefully lead to commissions for her Hearthstone Studio. Then came COVID-19.
The events were cancelled, and Herbert's inventory kept growing ... and growing.
"If nobody buys these, I will need to buy a storage unit," Herbert said with a laugh.
If Herbert lacks storage space on her 5.25-acre ranch, well, it's her own fault. Her passions are divided between her love of painting, cowboy culture, and horses and other animals. The current count on the ranch is three horses, one mini horse, four dogs, one indoor cat and a fluctuating amount of chickens and barn cats.
The log cabin itself is more filled than cluttered. Her passions are displayed on the walls, as each piece has been meticulously placed. Bucking that organization is a television parked in front of the living room fireplace, but she quickly explains that one.
"That's Bill's thing," she said with a laugh.
A retired school teacher himself, Bill Herbert no longer adds to the art inventory since he has his own passions, such as watching documentaries and the motorcycles he has in the barn. Deb Herbert shares that passion with him, too, as she has had her own legion of motorcycles, but now toys mostly with an off-road vehicle that looks more like a snowmobile than the usual ATV.
But when Bill Herbert turns on the TV, his wife retreats to the upstairs studio or a second studio in the barn area that doubles as a tack room. In that second studio are saddles and other tools of the cowboy trade, whether in real life or on canvas.
What becomes evident is that Deb Herbert doesn't have enough hours in the day to pursue her interests.
"I don't watch TV," she said.
The pandemic has robbed her of cherished time to connect with those at horse shows who share her appreciation for art, horses and the cowboy way of life. She is antsy to get back on the trail to make those connections.
Her love of art, and horses, began during her childhood in Boca Raton. Although her father, Ray Backes, sold his paintings in retirement, he didn't light young Deb's fire in terms of art. In fact, she never knew her dad was an artist or that a painting of horses that hung in their home was created by her dad until she was older.
Instead, the seeds for her appreciation for horses and art were planted when her grandmother would take her just outside of Palm Beach to polo fields in an area now known as Wellington.
"I was amazed by the athleticism of the horses," she said. "And in between chukkas I would see paintings of artists like Edgar Degas."
As she began to pursue art, Degas, a French artist who specialized in painting horses, jockeys and ballerinas, became her idol along with the Dutch painter, Rembrandt, who was known at least partially for his brilliance in painting animal scenes and landscapes.
She said both masters made every stroke important, and she now enjoys such a challenge herself.
"I try to convey emotion and mood, and I do it through colors," she said. "I've been told I can render the spirit of a horse."
Her own spirit burns as bright as her paintings. Her work can lean toward impressionism, and while she often paints from reference photos, whether taken by herself or someone requesting a commissioned work, her finished product isn't an attempt to produce a carbon copy in oil. While the subject often has that "sculptural" quality, strokes are used to blur the surrounding reality. It allows the viewer to use his or her imagination to complete the scene.
When she explains her intentions with a painting, her school teacher enthusiasm, combined with her artist passion, bubbles over.
Ultimately, it produces more clapping.
Her passion is fueled not only by the artistry, but the history of her subjects. She talked about her love of the cowboy culture and wild mustangs, how explorer Ponce de León brought horses and cattle to Florida and then left them behind (now cracker cattle and horses), how Florida landscapes have 1,000s of greens, and how morning is misty sunrise time.
"There is an ethereal beauty to the cowboy culture," she said. "And we have an insanely green setting."
She thought she was "the richest person in the world" when she sold a landscape painting at age 18, but she never thought of herself as an entrepreneur until a year ago. Now she has to deal with the not-so-fun side of a business, in dealing with a depleted market due to the pandemic. She had lined up several show horse events at Fox Lea Farms in Venice along with other events in Ocala and Tampa, that never happened.
But the smile and passion remains.
"When you are an artist, it's part of your personality," she said. "It comes out of you."
Now that's something to clap about.