Debra Lewis paints a snowy scene at the Shamrock (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press).
Debra Lewis vividly remembers going into town as a girl with her parents and seeing the big Christmas paintings displayed, hand-painted in local storefront windows. She remembers being fascinated at the possibilities in front of her.
She went home, started painting her own windows, and from that point on, she wanted to be an artist. As she progressed more and more, her father, a pragmatist, pushed her to a more traditional money-making career.
While Lewis ultimately took her father’s advice, working much of her time in the marketing and real estate businesses, she’s always done art in some capacity, always needing to scratch her creative itch.
Recently that itch had been scratched at the Shamrock Beverage and Tobacco in Johnson City, where Lewis had done window paintings for the business. The snowy Christmas scenes were fun for her to put together and paint for the Johnson City Christmas Parade. She says she’s not such an outwardly social person, but was relishing her time working from the sidewalk, chatting with people who would pass.
One man on a bicycle stopped, chatted and stripped down to show her the tattoo he had designed, but the tattoo artist had messed up when putting the pen to skin. Another asked where the plasma center was, and was ultimately escorted by another person who was heading that way. She said she could hear different kinds of music bumping up the street and cherished it all, saying that it felt special, to be doing her art in the middle of a bustling neighborhood.
“It was like a hub, like the hub of a neighborhood,” Lewis said.
The situation brought her peace, she said, and that she had been brought on to paint because the owner of the Shamrock, Jack Cox, had seen her work displayed on the windows of an eatery one town over — Pizza Plus Jonesborough.
Owner Mike Orzechowski brought Lewis on to help display items from the menu that passersby might not know they serve. With that, Lewis sketched out her drawings and went to work. Lewis’ big displays are colorful, tasty, detailed menu items for all to see. She’s told a lot her work, because of the details, often get mistaken for decals.
“She did a fantastic job,” Orzechowski said. “She did exactly what we wanted.”
Lewis holds herself to a high standard with how she creates her paintings. She takes the extra time to sketch and put a layer of white paint — in a practice called ghosting — all before going to work on painting. Her thoroughness pays off in the life span of her work. Even though the paint is on the outside of the windows, fighting against the elements since she completed the job in the spring, Lewis said her work on the Pizza Plus windows are as vibrant as ever.
By day, Lewis is the owner of the One Way Realty Tri-Cities Group. She works long hours and is often showing properties on the weekend, but she thinks painting once a week would suffice. Word of mouth is how she gets her gigs, which have also included making murals for children’s bedrooms and painting prices on car windshields.
Painting on windows helped her earn money through college, after which she went into the marketing and design business. She has designed logos and brochures for countless clients, a task that helped her make money and combine some of her artistic ways.
Her 7-year-old son Sawyer has recently awakened his artistic side, getting the most joy out of an emphasis on the small details of his drawings. Lewis said it’s the details that really make her paintings pop, too.
When she’s traveling about, even locally, she’ll see a huge, blank window front that’s begging for some kind of painting to help the business really stand out to potential customers.
“Some places just scream for it, and some don’t,” Lewis said.
She hasn’t seen that many people paint on windows, and that it takes a lot of time and that special attention to detail.
It’s cartoony, in-your-face paintings that really grab the attention of potential customers, said Lewis, who sees marketing opportunities where ever she looks.
She’s constantly coming up with ideas, and has a portfolio with some of her work to show to potential customers. People contact will her about doing work for them, but they often think her work might be too pricey for their budgets. Because it’s such a therapeutic and fun activity for her, she said she often surprises customers by how cheaply she can operate.
Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.