Today we’d like to introduce you to Debbie Clapper.
Debbie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Well, first off, I’d like to say that I am a recovering graphic designer. For 18 years I ran my business (gneural – the “g” is silent) as a design studio that did a little bit of everything in the realm of print design, with a dash of illustration/pattern work. Come 2019, I made a hard pivot to change the focus of gneural to be all about my true passion – painting murals that make this world a little more interesting and creating crazy op art patterns that will melt your mind.
But hold on. Let me take you back to 1989. I was nine years old, and I had just discovered M.C. Escher. I started drawing. Every day. Emulating Escher’s op art patterns as best I could. I became obsessed. The lines. The angles. It blew my mind that 3D illusions could be created via 2D line work. Drawing abstract art very quickly became my “thing.”
Fast forward to 1993. My dad bought me my first airbrush. I started making t-shirts for myself and for my friends. Bubble letters adorned all of my notebooks. Then… it happened. I stumbled upon graffiti art. My life was forever changed! Letters abstracted into crazy, bold, wild art pieces. On buildings. Done illegally. With spray paint. I fell in love with. The immediacy of the art. The unknown factors (Will this get buffed? Will the artist get caught? Will the piece even get finished?), it was the most magnificent thing. I loved the idea that the work was here one day, then gone the next. I loved the boldness of it, the juxtaposition of crazy colors and graphic lines cast upon the urban landscape. I dove deep into the world of illegal art. I had to discover everything I could about it.
Now we are present day, and though my work continues to evolve and grow every day, the influence of M.C. Escher and graffiti is very much a steady line that carries through what I create. Making the hard pivot to live my life as an artist, full of passion and a desire to cultivate creativity, has been the best decision I’ve made in the last couple of years. It was time for this change. My whole being was ready for it.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s definitely not been a smooth road. I don’t think it ever is, at least for most people. There have been many curves, dips, stumbles and trips into the weeds and overgrown areas, but struggles and all, it has been a great journey thus far. I’m convinced that I will continue to learn to navigate it all, the best I can. I’ve come to believe that the struggle is a vital part of the whole process.
Practically, I would say figuring out pricing has always been super tough, however, I feel like I finally have a decent grasp on that. Two things have tremendously helped me in this area. The first: working with a great creative director last year who helped me understand the value in what I do, and began teaching me how to start pricing more appropriately on projects. The second: I hired a creative business coach and joined his private masterminds group. This has hands-down been the best investment I have ever made for gneural. I highly recommend hiring a business coach for anyone who is a solopreneur and feels like they have hit a plateau.
In addition to the practical struggles of figuring out how to manage a business, there have been the personal/emotional struggles. To get down and dirty with these struggles, I have to tell you, I almost closed the doors completely a few years ago. There was an individual in my life who I had given a pretty significant voice of authority. This person dismissed what I did as a creative and pushed me towards leaving everything I loved about art and design to join their idea of how life was supposed to be lived. I went through a very dark period where I didn’t make any art for about a year (which was something I had never gone through before). I was depressed. I didn’t feel like myself. Anxiety was all I knew and felt. I finally realized that I missed drawing and I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I started drawing again. I started praying about it (I’m a Christian), and freedom started to be birthed in this area of my life again. I came out on the other side feeling more inspired, excited about art, and more confident in who I truly am. It was a part of the journey I’ve been on, and it has helped me to learn to be kinder to myself, to appreciate the uniqueness in how I’m made, and, with all of that, know that art is not the only thing that comprises my identity.. I learned that gneural gets to share and express creativity in others, and gets to bring creativity out in others.
That naysayer was just one of many I’ve come across in my life. That person wasn’t the first, and most definitely won’t be the last. Great lessons were learned through that experience, and I am thankful for it despite how challenging it was. I wish no ill will on that individual, and I hope that they can find more freedom in their life. I think we all come across people like this in our lives. We need to remember that everyone is human, and we all have some level of brokenness in us. Partner with people who will encourage you and help you grow. Let go of the ones who are unwilling to come alongside you in a healthy manner.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
My current quick description of what I do is: “Painting murals that make this world a little more interesting and creating patterns that will melt your mind.”, but I’ll say that my positioning is still a work in progress. I keep changing and developing it, and it does continue to get closer and closer to what I believe it should be.
Being highly influenced by M.C. Escher and graffiti art, my work strives to inspire and ignite the imagination in all who interact with it. And, since I have been drawing nearly every day since I was nine years old, I have mastered the art of freehand drawing and painting without the aid of a ruler or straight edge. Yep. Freehand is how I roll. That’s one of my main differentiators. I also desire to collaborate with my clients as a partner, so I listen and factor in their goals in a project. I aim to make the process of working with a creative very easy, fun and enjoyable. I’ve learned from many mistakes in my past on how not to work with others, and my design background has helped me tremendously in learning how to navigate difficult situations and to be an ally with whomever I work with.
As gneural, I am most proud of my tenacity to keep this thing running. I’ve been transparent regarding some of the ups and downs of running this business over the years. The beauty is that I have learned that gneural inspires imagination in others and breathes life into brands via art. How lucky am I that I get to do this?! Talk about “#blessed” people! 😉
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I do feel like Boulder / Denver is a good place for businesses such as mine. I’ve been an active part of the art and design community for about 15-16 years, and I absolutely love how approachable it is. People are willing to help each other out. The community has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10+ years, and it has been exciting to watch. The community is chockfull of amazing creators, with great knowledge and experience to share with others. Culture continues to drive the area, particularly in Denver (but it is seeping into Boulder). I think it is a great place to get started, to get connected, and to grow as a creative person.
- Website: http://www.gneural.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gneural/
- Other: http://www.debbieclapper.com
gneural-debbie-clapper-headshot-voyage-denver.jpg: Michael Ash Smith (@ashimagery)
debbie-clapper-gneural-workstation-the-studio-boulder-sakura.jpg: Michael Ash Smith (@ashimagery)
debbie-clapper-gneural-drawing-the-studio-boulder-sakura-zoom2.jpg: Michael Ash Smith (@ashimagery)
gneural-debbie-clapper-BCC-mural-painting.jpg: Ladd Forde (@forde_photo)