BRAWLEY – After weeks of preparation, DS Arts Studios is now open for business at its new location in Brawley. “Created to Create” is the motto of the new facility, and art instructor and owner Debbie Smerdon, who has taught art in Brawley for 25 years, said it is meant to be a place where artists can be artists, kids can be kids, and all can be fearless with what they create.
With more space for artwork, the new studio offers classes the opportunity to use new and different mediums such as acrylic paints, ceramics, pottery, pastels, and even glass. Smerdon said a kiln will soon be added so students can fire clay works right there, instead of her taking them home every day for that part of the process. Having the kiln in-house also allows the creation of larger pieces.
From the age of six, Smerdon was instilled with a love for the arts by her parents and she grew up surrounded by artistic family members. She was always given a chance to do something artistic, whether she was with her mother, or her father, a mixed media artist and shipbuilder, she said.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve been blessed, because I’ve had access to art materials. And if it wasn’t painting, it was other things like wood or other media,” said Smerdon.
Smerdon moved from San Diego to Brawley with her husband Bill Smerdon and began teaching out of her home with just five or six students for 12 years. The classes worked with anything from paint to ceramics, and the children absorbed what they were being taught and held on to it.
“I think that the more lessons that the kids are taught, the more they can apply it to everything else,” said Smerdon.
She has also worked with students of the Imperial Valley Homeschool group, Sacred Heart school, and Brawley Christian Academy. Her program quickly grew in popularity to the point that she needed to seek out a new, larger space.
Her first studio opened in 2015, although the classes quickly outgrew the building. So in September, Smerdon moved into the building of what was formerly Scorpion Cycles with plans to make it her own. On Friday, DS Studios held a grand opening party and showcased the new studio alongside neighbors Divine Fitness.
“I wanted to increase what we are able to do and make people more aware of it,” said Smerdon about the move.
Students who are in the program for a month are given an art toolbox filled with good quality art supplies provided by Smerdon as a reminder that the class is an investment. They also have access to a locker where they keep their work and supplies. If they stick with the class, it’s upward and onward in what they can do, she said. Smerdon has called her young students “fearless” in what they can create with their art.
Art student Caitlynn Pedersen has worked with Smerdon for years.
“Art is a time to escape and show your creativity and what you think about life,” said Pedersen.
Sisters Marilu and Phoebe Panagiopoulos, a pair of Smerdon’s older students, said they like how their instructor works with them so they learn.
“My feeling for art is happiness, I feel happy a lot,” said Phoebe. “It’s not like other art classes where they are just like ‘Be quiet and do this.’ Where here, you can talk and do whatever you want.”
Many students who have been with Smerdon for years have continued creating art long after their lessons with her ended.
Madison Allen was one of Smerdon’s very first students, and she still paints to this day, according to her mother, Tina Allen.
“We’re real lucky to have Deb here in Brawley,” said Allen. “I think it’s important that the kids learn art. It’s not around in the schools and we’re real lucky to have her.”
Smerdon hopes with the increase in art interest and her studio, Brawley could become known for its artists.
“Why not Brawley?” stated Smerdon. “Why couldn’t we be a place where people got out of the city to come and do a work shop?”
Eventually, Smerdon would like to turn the shelves closest to the door into a sales display of creations by both her students and other local artists – some local art pieces fill the shelves already. She said she wishes to bring in well-known artists for special event and medium lessons.