Today's Inspiration: 19th Century Spirit Photography

The leaves are turning and it is getting colder. It is time to start thinking of one of my favorite times of the year. Halloween! In honor of my favorite holiday, I have chosen some of my most inspiring Victorian Spirit Photographs finds, as well as my most own 19th Century inspired haunted illustration.


Anonymous - c1870s spirit photograph of two ghostly figures, one of which is a young nun.

Although, most of this Victorian Spirit photography is known to be the artists trickery. I still love the results. And maybe just for a moment, having a photo where the sitter believed their loved one was still with them was helpful, maybe even healing, I hope anyway.

The Spiritualism Movement still fascinates me, even though I am too much of a skeptic to believe it to be real...But sometimes, especially at this time of year, I allow my mind to wander and let myself believe a bit more.

I mean who doesn't love a good ghost story?


Ghost photograph #1.png William Hope.png

William Hope, Family Group with Two Spirits, c.1920

From The National Media Museum

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Wylie, Mrs. Bentley and the Spirit of her Deceased Sister, c.1920

National Media Museum

Edward Wyllie Spirit Photograph c. 1900

Edward Wyllie Spirit Photograph c. 1900


William Mumler, Mrs. French with a Child "Ghost", 1868

As promised, here is my illustrated ode to Victorian Spirit Photography. The Ghosts in the photos, were they tricks of the camera or memories of things not to be explained?

This is the sad tale of Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Lewis and their son, Fredrick separated by the cruel curse of Cholera. Their love (and sadness) lingers in the air all around them. One must wonder, will they be reunited on All Souls Eve?

Debra Styer, "And Her Soul Lingers", 2017


The Victorian Spirit.jpg
Victorian Spirit FRAMED.jpg
The Victorian Spirit Cropped 2.jpg

Available here in the shop!

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

The Pre-Vinylette Society Art Show


I am so excited to be part of the upcoming art show dedicated to women in sign painting, "The Pre-Vinylette Society" at the Chicago Art Department opening on September 8th.

As someone who is married to a sign painter, (Damon Styer of New Bohemia Signs) I have been watching in awe as he creates such beautiful signs and lettering. Everything created in our shop is hand painted, and I jumped at the chance to be part of it all. Although, my job doesn't include much painting myself, (I am the assistant manager for the shop). I try to do as many little projects as I can.

With a few butterflies in my stomach, I decided to challenge myself and do a sign for the show.

Here's how it went...

Here's the initial sketch for the painting.

The optimists optometrist Sketch.jpg

I made a few changes, fought with my brushes a bit, and go plenty of advice (and a little help) from my husband but finally came up with something I was proud of.

As someone that has been painting most of my life, the biggest challenge of sign painting is getting used to the tools of the trade. We use 1-Shot enamel paints for 99% of all we do, and i must say it is very different from my usual watercolor paints. But I am still learning and will eventually figure out the "Muscle Memory" of using the brushes.

Optomists Optometrist painting.jpg

Debra Styer, The Optomists Optometrist, 2017

18"x24" 1-shot enamel on wood

If you happen to be in Chicago in September, stop by and see the show!

The Pre-Vinylette Society
Sept 8th – Sept 28th, 2017
Opening Reception Friday September 8th, 6-10pm
Pre-Vinylette panel discussion: Saturday September 9th, 2-4pm

Chicago Art Department – 1932 South Halsted
Gallery Hours: Saturday September 9th, 16th, 23rd, 12-5pm or by appointment

Although I won't be able to make it to the show myself, I honored to have my work shown among such amazing and talented women.

I also want to thank Meredith Kasabian of Best Dressed Signs and Shelby Rodeffer of Finer Signs

I would love to see the art of sign painting continue to grow. I will happily watch as more and more women get inspired to take up the brush. Here's to us all and good luck with the show!

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Update: Here's a super cool post on the show from Hyperallergic.

Literature Love: Roald Dahl and Shirley Jackson Literary Portraits

As you know, I have always loved a dark tale or two. Here are portraits of the two of the best writers of the macabre, Roald Dahl and Shirley Jackson.

First off, the fabulous Roald Dahl (1916 -1990)!

roald dahl portrait cropped

I grew up with the stories of Roald Dahl, waiting all year for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (AKA Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to come on tv,  I watched as more and more of his children's stories became films, such as "James and the Giant Peach", "Matlida",  "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "The Witches" and "The BFD". His stories were dark and unexpected, he had such a incredible way of looking through innocent eyes of children into strange and sometimes scary worlds.

In college, I discovered his short stories for adults. Dahl's twisted brain came up with the even darker tales. I devoured them. I am always surprised that his more mature work isn't better known. My favorite books are "Switch Bitch" and "Tales of the Unexpected".

I've illustrated Mr. Dahl's portrait against a backdrop of his famously delicious lickable wallpaper from Charlie and Chocolate Factory. I hope you like him.

Roald Dahl Portrait Unframed
Roald Dahl
A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.
— Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl Portrait Unexpected Tales

Debra Styer, Fabulous Mr. Dahl, 2017

Available here in my shop!

Now, Ms. Shirley Jackson(1916- 1965)

Shirley Jackson Illustration

My illustrated ode to Gothic novel writer, Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson is best known for her short story "The Lottery" (1948), which reveals a secret, sinister side to an all American town, and for "The Haunting of Hill House" (1959), which is considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written. And my personal favorite, "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" (1962) a tragic story of a young girl and her family who is isolated from the world and what they do to survive.

I am currently reading, "Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life" by Ruth Franklin. I highly recommend reading this book for which highlights all the struggles Shirley had in her tough, short life.

She is a master storyteller and I hope to get more eyes on her books.

Title: "The Haunting of Shirley"

Shirley Jackson Literary Portrait Cropped
I delight in what I fear.
— Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson Art

Debra Styer, The Haunting of Shirley, 2017

Now available in the shop!

Enjoy Some Literature Love...George Orwell, Rumi and Charlotte Bronte Portraits

Well, I must say it has been forever since I last posted and I apologize. I am still getting used to the crazy new world and president. But I think I am back to it and back to a illustration schedule. Here are the latest portraits I've illustrated:

George Orwell Literary Portrait

My first portrait is of the incredible George Orwell (1903-1950). I read his books, Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm in high school but have recently started to reread them. Although they are works of fiction, there is so much truth there. His Dystopian world scares the hell out of me, and I hope that we aren't going down anything close to the world he speaks of in his writing.

Debra Styer, The Road to Orwellian, 2017

Hand painted in watercolor and gouache paints over a graphite drawing.

George Orwell Art Print
In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
George Orwell
George Orwell's Press photo 1943

George Orwell's Press photo 1943

My Illustrated Ode to George Orwell is available here in my shop.

Rumi Literary Portrait

My Literary Portrait of 13th Century Poet, Writer, Theologian and Sufi Mystic, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (aka Rumi).

Rumi (1207-1273) is one of the worlds most beloved poets and writers. His work is timeless. Although his work was written over 800 years ago. It seems to fit in perfectly in todays world. It's as if he wrote his words to go straight to my heart.

Debra Styer, "It Is Rumi It Is", 2017

Hand painted in watercolor and gouache paints over a graphite drawing.

The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.

I have always loved Rumi's poetry. His work is heartfealt and contemporary. Although it was written in the 13th Century, it seems like it is written today. Don't you think?

My Illustrated Ode to Rumi is available here in my shop.

Rumi art print


Charlotte Bronte Literary Portrait

Debra Styer, "Charlotte on the Moors", 2017

Hand painted in watercolor and gouache paints over a graphite drawing.

Charlotte Bronte (1816- 1855) tells her "Tale of Woe" in her writing. Her work is dark and deep and feminist. I love it. Best known for her book, Jane Eyre, she tells tales of unrequited love, lost love and bad timing.

"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will."

                                                                                                                                   Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte is best known for writing the romantic, yet heartbreakingly tragic story, Jane Eyre. This classic Victorian Gothic of literature is one of my favorite stories. As readers, we read about the bad luck and the woes of love and between Jane and Mr. Rochester.

Charlotte is some of the most beloved writers in English literature. I love the dark twists in her tales as well as the the feminist characters. Her Heroines are strong women always trying to do the right thing, even if it means, almost, giving up on love.

Charlotte Bronte Portrait Framed
Charlotte Bronte by George Richard 1850

Charlotte Bronte by George Richard 1850

There is much controversy of what the Bronte sisters actually looked like. My portrait tries to find a happy place between all the different portraits.

My portrait of Charlotte is available here in the shop!

I hope you all like these new portraits!

Is there any of your literary heroes I have missed? Leave me a comment with your favorite historical writer!

Fall 2016 Literary Portraits, Part 1... Colette, Anais Nin & Marcel Proust

Ahhh, France...I spent a week in Paris this August and was inspired to create some portraits of my favorite French writers. Here are my latest watercolor paintings...French Literary Portraits!

First off was the incredible Marcel Proust.

Marcel Proust Literary Portrait

Debra Styer, "In Search of Proust", 2016

Here's my sketch of Marcel. Just look at those eyes...

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is best know for his 7 volume literary work, "In Search of Lost Time" aka " A Remembrance of Things Past". He is known to be one of the greatest writers of all time and one of my favorites.

"If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time."
Marcel Proust
Young Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust c. 1895

Next up, my portrait of French writer Colette!

Debra Styer, "La Vagabond Colette", 2016

Debra Styer, "La Vagabond Colette", 2016

My illustrated ode to French Novelist, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette AKA Colette (1873-1954). Best known for writing about the underbelly of the french art and literary worlds. Some of her most famous books were "Cheri", "Gigi," the "Caroline" series and "L'ingenue libertine."

Her stories spoke of the problems of love, of passion, and sex. She was no shrinking violet in her writing or her life and I love her for that. She is one of my literary heroes. A true feminist.

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."
Colette for her Moulin Rouge pantomime,  Rêve d’Égypte -  Photography by Leopold Reutlinger c. 1907

Colette for her Moulin Rouge pantomime, Rêve d’Égypte - Photography by Leopold Reutlinger c. 1907

Isn't she awesome?

Finally, my portrait of the fabulous Anais Nin!

Debra Styer, Winter of Anais, 2016

Debra Styer, Winter of Anais, 2016

The incredible Anais Nin has always been one of my favorite writers! I poured through her diaries in my younger years and her thoughts always echoed my own. She is artistic, feminist and a writer who shared all of her darkness and her triumphs with her readers as if she was speaking with a friend.

Nin is most known for her diaries (which she wrote throughout her life), erotica, and love affairs with famous men. She was both loved and hated by the literary establishment, and struggled to be taken seriously as a writer. But to me, she became a icon of literature.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”― Anaïs Nin
Portrait of Anaïs Nin in the 1970s by  Elsa Dorfman

Portrait of Anaïs Nin in the 1970s by Elsa Dorfman

I hope you like all my new portraits, they are currently available in the shop.

Who's your favorite french writer?

It has been a crazy few months, (sorry about the lack of log post) I've had the luck of spending a month visiting Europe, which was incredible. My head is still spinning. I hope to write a nice long post about it but for now, it will all just have to sit in my memories. I have been drawing and painting a lot, and hope to share the second set of literary portraits in the next week or two.