finding courage

317Deborah Uman Sures 1dreams & desires, by deborah uman-sures

With one eye on the road and another on the sky I begin my day. There are looming grey clouds just to the right, hanging over Lake Ontario. I wonder if this was a bad idea. I am driving to Cobourg, to meet with a former teacher of mine – a teacher who taught me to be brave. When I reach Port Hope a dusting of snow has already coated the ground.

I have not seen deborah uman-sures since I graduated from The Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in 1998. She was a tough teacher but my favourite teachers have always been

the ones who pushed me the hardest. Her bold way of working along with her bold personality was a great inspiration to me and as I walk up to her front door I wonder if she has changed.

323Martin by Deborah Uman-Suresmartin (39"x53", acrylic, charcoal, gesso and collage on linen canvas by deborah uman-sures –image from

The second the door is opened I know that this is the same woman who taught me 13 years ago and we instantly launch into easy banter. Inside the front door are 3 huge paintings. The largest one is 8 feet tall. Deborah is not a tall woman and I ask her how she works at such a large scale. She opens the closet to hang my coat and shows me the wonderful old wooden ladder that is covered in splotches of paint. She painted the huge canvas in a rented studio that didn’t have air conditioning. In the heat of the summer she would throw on a pair of overalls and climb up the ladder to paint and sweat. She laughs when she tells me to think twice about working on a canvas that large. Not because it is difficult but because they don’t fit into cars. They are a logistical nightmare and a pain to move.

318deborah uman-sures 2star journey (48"x96", acrylic and charcoal on linen canvas), by deborah uman-sures –image from

We wander into the back room that is full of natural light. Her walls are covered in her paintings and for that she apologizes. “I love blank walls,” she explains, but since she started participating in the Northumberland Hills Studio Tour she had to cover her walls in her work. The weekend-long studio tour will bring in a hundred people a day, many of whom buy her work, but she still prefers her walls to be bare. “Blank walls are a place to dream on.”

319Uman-Sures 3

behind the lines (30"x30", acrylic Collage on CottonCanvas), by deborah uman-sures –image taken from

Her dreaming started when she looked at the works of master painters, painters such as Egon Schiele and Ivan Eyre. If you look at their details and see how they see and then go for a walk, you start to see these things in ways that you never would have seen them before. “These painters,” deborah reflected, “taught me to see the landscape.”

Over a hot cup of green tea I ask what her thoughts are on being an artist. She paused for only a moment and said that an artist needs to be relaxed and not impose their will. An artist needs to be responsible to the medium and the subject. “You need to fall in love with the teapot before you are able to paint it well. You need to love the act, be passionate about everything and have an open heart. You need to be alive.”

321Uman-Sures sketchcues & quietude – pieces of ideas for an intimate installation in the Heritage room Coborne Art Gallery opening March 12th, 2 pm.

Her media use is varied and her works can combine collage, charcoal, pencil and acrylic paint. She prefers linen canvas that is raw, not gessoed, as it retains its tooth and natural colour. She will sometimes leave large patches of the natural canvas exposed which is unexpected and lovely.

Charcoal has always scared me personally because it is so unstable and will smudge and look messy if not used properly. Deborah expresses her love for charcoal as it is a medium that fights back – when you get it right the quality of the line is exquisite. She told me that her works are about line and minimalism because she supposes “I now know when to stop.”

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tough.tender.true by deborah uman-sures

Her work does not look laboured. It is airy and expansive. In contrast to this her figures are thick with solid necks, broad shoulders and ample wrists yet they retain a lightness and beauty about them. The colour is laid down in what looks like washes. She holds back on the colour saturation and uses it sparingly and with great care.

We have been chatting for close to 2 hours and the snow is now collecting on the ground. I must leave or I may not make it home.

A few minutes later I am driving through a white blur of snow. Like a layer of acrylic blurring the landscape the muted colours, washes of saturation appear and disappear as the snow blows across the road. It reminds me of the work I have just left behind and of the woman who taught me all those years ago. If I can be brave in my art then I can be brave in this storm and drive home.

324Jane by Uman-Sures
jane (24" x 30", acrylic and gesso on cotton canvas) by deborah uman-sures –image taken from