FUN AND LEARNING: Deb Gilmartin, left, with a student at a past McGregor Summer Arts Retreat, which she says is
FUN AND LEARNING: Deb Gilmartin, left, with a student at a past McGregor Summer Arts Retreat, which she says is "a great community”.

Deb draws on passion to celebrate milestone at Retreat

ARTIST Deb Gilmartin has seen the McGregor Summer School from both sides - as student and teacher - and delights in both roles.

As the school marks its 50th Summer Arts Retreat this January 7 to 13, Deb is back for her seventh year as a drawing tutor.

But teaching hasn't stopped her taking classes herself over the school's various seasons and years, in printmaking, oils, and even drawing, being inspired by the ideas and techniques of others.

"It's a great community," Deb said. "There's a sense that we're all in it together. Sometimes people do get disappointed with what they've done, but everyone rallies around; it's a real team.

"I'd say, it's fun with a good solid learning base."

Extra-curricular events add to the community feeling, from concerts at night to other tutors and artists giving talks, so participants get to meet "a lot of artists from all walks of life".

"Being able to be creative, it's a good 'me time' exercise," Deb said.

She's also full of fresh ideas and enthusiasm after three-weeks as a student at a summer school at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London, where participants complete one week of tuition and two weeks one-on-one in the studio with an artist.

Teaching regularly at Murray's Art & Framing in Toowoomba, Deb said spending time as a student kept you grounded as a professional artist, and there was always more to learn.

Generally teaching beginners' drawing at the McGregor schools, helping students to "learn how to see", Deb said as a trained biologist and entomologist, form and detail were well ingrained in her, but she's now experimenting in more abstract work, including finding a passion for patterns and ceramics.

And she's taking her students with her, this year teaching an intermediate class called 'Taking a Line for a Hop, Skip and a Jump' and pushing participants to use their artistic sense to see beyond the strict realism of a photo, for instance, and instead, distort it or tear it up and see the image as something new.

Students will also work together on a giant portrait, do life drawing, experiment with textures and discover how different materials can be used, from sticks to charcoal and fingers, to pen and wash.

Basically, she said, her passion was for drawing, and for drawing as an art in itself.

Deb said students were primarily 40-plus, many rediscovering their art after years on the sidelines when work and family took priority, while others were painters who had recognised their drawing needed work. Essentially, they come in all levels of experience.

Some students may be "newbies", but many participants return to the schools again and again, some to revisit a tutor they love, others to experience different techniques within the same genre, and still others trying their hand at something new.

While there is a huge range of classes on offer at this year's McGregor Summer Arts Retreat, from basketmaking to advanced oil painting, and calligraphy to jewellery and boot-making, many are already booked up.

For details, go to or call Artsworx on 46311111.

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