Q&A with an artist: Deborah Muller (Chubby Mermaid Art)
Recently, I had a huge brainwave about starting a movement where I bring the artists of the colouring world closer together.
I've decided to call this movement #ArtistsSupportingArtists, and the core premise is that I would reach out to incredible artists and interview them to dig a little deeper into the story behind their art, help colourists get to know them on a more personal level, and promote their online stores or colouring groups.
The first artist I thought to reach out to was Deborah Muller, as she was in fact the very first artist that offered me some generous words of wisdom 2 years ago when I was starting on my own artist journey.
I'm super excited to share her interview with you because she her personality shines through no end! There are a few giggles along the way too ;)
She's also generously gifted you 20% off in her Etsy store (more details at the bottom of the blog post), plus you can grab yourself some colouring goodies by heading to the freebie area on her website. Deborah does an amazing job of capturing childish innocence and happiness in her illustrations.
Q1. Who are you, and what do you do?
I am Deborah Muller aka the Chubby Mermaid. I am a full-time artist that creates coloring books, custom paintings, logos, clip art, you name it. I currently am living in New York. My husband is a native New Yorker and all his family are here.
We were originally living on our 52ft boat in the Florida Keys when hurricane Irma decided to rock our world a year and a half ago – we were living the dream, and then BAM!
We’re waiting on insurance to pay us, and then we’ll set off on another adventure. Maybe another boat or motor home living…who knows? Life is an adventure and we are gypsies!
Q2. How did you start making art? Did you ever study a creative discipline(s) or are you self-taught?
I have a BA degree in Fashion Design from Brooks College, and studied at Laguna Beach School of Art in California for a while. I was into the whole “becoming a fashion designer thing” when I graduated college, until I realized you had to be able to sew perfectly and there was a lot of math involved. I don’t do anything perfect and math is not my strong point, so I was always a designer in trouble so-to-speak. That dream was short lived, and I moved on to the next adventure.
I always knew I could draw, and I’ve always had a supportive group of friends and family who believed in me. That is important for an artist to be supported by the people closest to them no matter what strange things we might come up with. Try it all until something connects with you is my motto.
My first paying job as an artist was a mural in a neighbor’s nursery, I painted humpty dumpty. I was 14 and was paid $100.00 – and thought I was rich!
Q3. What does it mean to you to be an artist?
I love doing what I was born to do which is to create daily. I love the freedom I have as an artist. Someone asked me once “Are you a successful artist?” I thought about that and the answer was YES! I am a successful artist because I am doing what I love every day.
For me it has nothing to do with money because I would do it all for nothing and give it away for free as long as I can draw and paint every day. Money is just the bonus in life. If you are living a creative life, you are an artist. Writing, music, cooking, decorating, teaching etc.
Q4. How long did it take for you to develop your signature style as an artist?
I think my style is always changing and evolving. I love experimenting. I have so many styles, but they all have a bit of a doodle or a swirl or two in them because of my henna background. My cutesy girls, my inspirational sayings, and my chubby mermaids and fairies are all part of who I am. I didn’t really develop a style – it was just in me and came out.
I am working right now on some more realistic portrait style books because I get asked once in a while if I can do some realistic style art and I love drawing faces, the human body and fashion.
I do not draw what does not excite me. I do not like to draw or pant anything that has to be perfect with straight lines, landscapes or buildings, cars and machinery are out! I believe you have to find your niche and practice it, develop it. Be true to who you are and what you love to draw.
Q5. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a published artist? Have you ever done any other jobs before becoming an artist?
I have been a full-time artist most of my life. I have had other jobs and many businesses to pay the bills here and there. I was a tattoo artist, which was fun because there were not many women tattoo artists around in the 90’s. I also decided to paint murals for a living and traveled a lot. I became a shop owner, had a quilt business, a children’s clothing line for biker kids, a henna hair dye business, a henna tattoo business on the Los Vegas strip…the list goes on! It was when I was an interior decorator that I met my husband as he owned the company.
I settled into coloring books about 8 years ago and started selling on Etsy, and about 4 years ago I was approached through Etsy by 5 publishers in a matter of 4 months. I accepted 3 of their offers, turned one down, and I was rejected by the 5th one because they did not like my style of art as lines were not straight!
I have worked with 3 publishers, and I’m currently still working with one putting out Zen Doodle books for St. Martin’s Press. I am on my 24th book for them. I also work with Posh studios online occasionally.
I’m so humbled by the whole coloring book experience. I count my blessings every day. I was told a long time ago by an artist friend to get your work seen by the right people you need to put it everywhere…so I try to get my art out there! I don’t worry much about theft because that is going to happen no matter what you do.
Being discovered or found by publishers is simply getting your work out there in the right places. Publishers are looking on Etsy, Pinterest, DeviantArt.
Q6. What inspired your business name?
I prefer to live by the sea. I have always had a passion for mermaids so one day my granddaughter called me a chubby mermaid and it stuck! I thought it described me perfectly, so I became the Chubby Mermaid in about 2008.
Q7. Have you learned any lessons along the road to becoming a full-time artist? Is there anything you regret, or things you wished you'd done sooner?
Life is a journey, not a destination. I try to live by that. Enjoy the ride, never give up, never stop growing and learning.
About 4 years ago I was going to give up my coloring books and go into pottery. I had been doing coloring books for a while before they were popular like today, and I was going to move on and try something new. I had no idea coloring books were just about to explode on the market!
I had ordered all my pottery equipment, set up a studio in my basement, and a few days before everything arrived, I got a call from a publisher who had seen my work on Etsy and the rest is history!
As artists we need to just keep going, keep creating and keep waiting to see what is around the corner. Just keep swimming!
Q8. What does your creative process look like? Where do you draw your inspiration from and what excites you most about the creative process?
My mind collects ideas constantly. A pattern on a bedspread, a painting in the Doctor’s office, a song on the car radio they have all inspired me to make coloring books and pages. I am always writing down ideas in a journal and on little pieces of paper I have everywhere. I dream a lot and wake up with ideas all the time and write them down.
My hymnspirations (Church hymns to color) book for Posh / Andrews McMeel came to me in a dream, and so I told my publisher about it and they bought it. It is the second-best seller of my Posh series.
However, I also have coloring books I started years ago and have not finished because I have not been moved creatively by them. When I wake up in the morning, I know exactly which coloring books I am going to work on that day – I can feel them calling to me, luring me in.
Q9. Have you every suffered from creative block or burnout?
Yes, of course! When I get overwhelmed, or just down mentally, I’ll either go to the beach with my dog and we just sit quietly until all is good again, or I paint.
Painting is my first love, so when I paint, I will forget about time and space and even food! Painting refuels me. I think doing anything you love refuels your creative flow.
I also like to look at beautiful art from all the famous art masters. They inspire me. I love all types of art, even graffiti, and this Spring I am planning a trip to the Guggenheim – I love art museums!
Myself and my friend Tiffany who runs my FB group went on an adventure last year to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. I was overwhelmed by the amazing art.
Q10. Have you ever suffered with any struggles as an artist?
Yes, we all struggle because we are real people and artists are sensitive people. For me I struggle every day. I know I am a good artist but there is always someone better, more popular, more Instagram followers, more Pinterest pins, more FB likes, better web site etc. I have learned I have to shut it all out and focus on me – my art, my business and my tribe. I have to stay focused or I will get all melancholy looking at everyone else’s art, opinions, successes and problems.
I limit my time on Facebook, and don’t get involved in all the coloring drama. I stay focused and positive, and that gives me a happy creative life!
Q11. Are there any tools in your studio that you simply can't live without?
My coffee cups. I love my collection of mermaid coffee cups. Can you tell I love coffee?
Tools wise, I draw old school on paper. My black pens I use daily are my Sakuras, Copics, Lepens and Sharpies. I buy huge amounts from a company called Jetpens.com and I have tried about every pen they sell and love this company and their selection.
Q12. What does your work space look like?
I have a small creative space right now, but it is cozy and works fine for me. I had an even smaller space when I lived on my boat, and a giant studio on a hill in Oregon where I lived, so I have learned that my environment is only a small part of who I am as an artist. I can create anywhere. I love color and pretty things around me when I create.
Q13. Describe your typical day as an artist…
I’m up at 5am and spend 2-4 hours every morning to answer emails, message people, go over orders, check Amazon and Etsy and Facebook. I also check my Facebook coloring group daily – I love looking at all the colored pictures people post as it starts my day on a pleasant note. I’ll then walk the dog, have lots of coffee and planning, and then the creative process starts.
Music gets turned on (usually classic rock) and my phone goes on vibrate, and I’m in the zone! I’m always working on about 5-10 personal coloring books at the same time. I get bored easily, shiny things distract me, so I find having a variety to work on helps keep me focused.
I switch over to my publisher’s books after lunch and all the custom work I have going. Then it’s dinner and back to working on a coloring book drawing, but sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband and dog Marley.
I turn off my phone and computer after dinner to escape the world and have some peace and alone time with my family – but always drawing of course, because I can not watch TV without having something in my hands!
I work 7 days a week basically, but the beauty is I can take off when I need to and can make my own schedule. I am a confessed workaholic! I just love what I do and have gone days working in my pajamas not leaving the house. My husband cleans and I cook. It’s heavenly!
Q14. Do you have a morning / evening routine in place to encourage self-care or productivity?
I walk my dog Marley, she is my assistant and makes everything better just being with her. She is a 5-year-old labradoodle and the happiest dog on earth which makes me happy!
I do yoga when I can and meditate every day, times vary according to my stress load.
Meditation for me is just 15 minutes of quiet, clearing my mind, giving thanks and letting go.
Q15. What things do you do in your day-to-day life to encourage personal growth as either an artist or an individual?
I watch a lot of YouTube videos from other artists. All kinds of artists. I love trying different things – acrylic pouring was fun but messy, alcohol inks were fun, I have a passion for pottery so tend to watch a lot of pottery videos! I read articles on blogs, I read articles on art sites, I try to read on marketing, but I admit it is not my thing.
Q16. Are there any themes you try to capture in your art?
If it’s not fun to draw, color or create I won’t do it. Life is tough enough and I try to create a world where people can escape and relax and giggle a little! I love to laugh! Laughing is healing and good for the soul.
Q17. What is your dream project? Have you got anything exciting in the pipeline you can tell us about?
I have had so many dream projects over the years. I went to India to paint a prayer temple back in 2006, and it took 3 weeks of non-stop painting and was a surreal experience that changed my life.
I have a line of purses from a company that bought one of my mermaid pictures coming out this spring.
I’m also working on a few “how-to” books with a publisher, but not sure how or when that will be available.
My dream project for the future is just to be excited each day to see what is around the corner. I try not to plan my life too much because planning can get in the way of my serendipitous life.
I do want to retire in a few years, maybe Hawaii just painting mermaids all day and selling my work at the local market. It’s a dream but we all need dreams to keep us going.
Q18. Have there been any milestone moments in your life that you've channeled / used as inspiration in your art?
One thing that happened to me changed me forever in the way I view art. I thought everyone loved me and my art (I have painted a lot of murals in my life – from California to Key West), but one mural gave me some insight I needed.
I was hired to paint a mural in a church back in 2001, and they wanted an angel over the stage entrance. I drew it up (an angel holding fire in her hands in front of her, and kind of blowing on the fire) and the pastor approved the sketch. She was large, about 15 feet tall, and her wings were huge! She took about a month to paint, all done on ladders and scaffolding.
However, it turned out she was not well accepted by this church. One little old lady about 80 years old started a petition to remove my angel. They said she was pornographic; her breasts were on fire and her lack of clothes were just wrong – I was labeled a heretic of the church! I thought the whole thing was funny but to them it was serious stuff.
I was a little tortured over their reaction as I like to please my customers. What I learned from this experience is that you cannot please other people all the time, you need to please yourself. If you are happy with your work that is all that counts. You always do your best, give it your all and then let the chips fall where they may. Not everyone will love your work and that is OK! Art is subjective, art makes you think, art should shake your world a little.
In the end, the church left my angel (flaming boobs angel is what she was known as) up on the wall and people came from other churches to see her and judge her. She became kind of famous in that area, and yes, she had clothes on, and no, her boobs were not on fire!
Everything we do as artists shapes us and moulds us, so I try to always learn from my experiences and accept that they all happen for a reason. Because of this mural, a Pastor from India came to see my flaming boobs angel one Sunday at this church. He loved her and my work, and I was hired to paint his prayer temple in India.
I never defended myself over my angel or caused more drama, I simply kept quiet about it all and a few years later got a trip to India so it all worked out in the end. It’s still funny to me.
Q19. What do you love / you dislike most about your job?
LOVE: I love creating and releasing ideas from my mind, just sitting down and spilling out onto paper or canvas what is in my head. I do not need a therapist this way. I also love making people smile, giggle or laugh when they color one of my books. How can you not giggle a little coloring chubby mermaids?
DISLIKE: Not enough hours in the day. I have so much I want to do, and so little time each day.
Q20. What tips would you give to other artists that are looking to start making an income from their passion?
Get your work seen! Post it on Pinterest, Etsy, Redbubble, Art America, Zazzle, Café Press, DeviantArt – everywhere you can. Important people in the industry go to these places to discover you! These are places where I have been discovered, and where my clients have found me over the years for custom work. Publishers are not looking on Facebook and or your website. They cannot find you there as they don’t know you, instead they look on these sales platforms for new talent.
Find a few successful artists you admire and look up to and emulate them. They are successful for a reason! I don’t mean copy their work, I mean look at their websites, pages, work, blog, Etsy store, etc.
Treat your art like a business. Be professional. Being professional means no homemade business cards or signs, having a relevant website, taking great pictures, learning to use Photoshop or Picmonkey! I am working on switching all my pictures on Etsy over to a new format just to stay relevant to what the market calls for now.
Find a couple of other artists to run ideas by and take advice from. Find your tribe! Find one or two people you trust to critique your work and business. They have to be brutally honest and 100% in your corner. I made some changes this year to my website that my husband suggested and they have already paid off. And of course, when I originally asked for his advice, I had to think hard about it for months before I accepted it to be true – but he was right. He is very artsy, and a musician, so I trust his opinions and ideas but sometimes it takes me a while to admit my way is not always the best. I love Kim’s website and new name and look. Don’t be afraid to change!
Watch what you post and say on Facebook or your business pages. Words can be taken the wrong way, twisted and exploited. You are an artist running a business, so say whatever you like on your personal page, but keep your business page strictly business.
Quick fire round 🔥
My most embarrassing EVER moment is...
I have 5 children 4 girls one boy, so their teen years were one big embarrassing moment for all of us, but we survived. We laugh a lot about those years!
One thing that scares me is...
Not doing all the things on my second bucket list! I made a bucket list about 15 years ago and did everything on it. So, I created a second bucket list and I am working on it. The one I fear not getting a chance to do on my second bucket list is visiting Paris and going to the Louvre and Jim Morrison’s grave. But who knows?
If I could eat one meal for the rest of my life it would be...
Pizza. Plain cheese pizza. And a coke. I love NY pizza!
The artist that most inspires me is...
Michelangelo. He never gave up no matter how much he was ridiculed and criticized. How could you criticize the creation of the world on the Sistine chapel? Really?
If I had to describe myself in 3 words, I would say I am...
Fun, colorful and at peace.
My biggest accomplishment is...
Being a published coloring book author was a cherry on top of my art career so to speak. My marriage and kids would be the thing I am most proud of. I have a wonderful husband and 5 amazing children and 2 granddaughters, I am blessed.
If I could travel to anywhere in the world, it would be...
I have traveled quite a bit and I have been to almost every state in the USA. I think parts of Europe are calling my name. Portugal, Spain, Italy!
My favorite book is...
I don’t have time to read. One day, I want to sit down and read all the classics. To kill a mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the flies, Call of The Wild, Moby Dick etc…or at least watch the movies!
My favorite band / solo artist / music genre is...
Classic rock, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Bob Marley, the Doors. 60’s and 70’s classic rock. I do like Lady Gaga, Adele and other chick music depending on my mood. I sing all day and that helps keep people out of my studio because I can’t carry a tune.
One thing people assume about me is...
I am chubby, because of my business name!
My guilty pleasure in life is...
Chocolate and movies. I love the walking dead, supernatural, game of thrones, anything fantasy or sci-fi. My husband prefers love stories and westerns so we create a balance somehow. It all works out.
Discover more of Deborah’s art 🎨
If you loved this interview, and of course, Deborah’s absolutely adorable illustration style, you can find her using any of the links below. She’s also generously gifted us 20% off in her Etsy store!
Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/ChubbyMermaid (Use promo code CHUBBYMERMAID20 at checkout to receive 20% off!)
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ChubbyMermaidAr
Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/ChubbyMermaidArt