Monday, October 22, 2007

Mtjoyschool Studios ... Pennsylvania, USA

Artist: Debra Greenleaf CampbellBusiness: Mtjoyschool Studios
Web site:
Location: Oxford, Pennsylvania

What do you create?
I create artwork in various media. I tend toward the mixture of paper and paint and I create a mess... every day.

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I have a small studio in my home and I work whenever I can. Early mornings and late nights are the best times for studio work.

The Mt. Joy School and by association, Mtjoyschool Studios are located on the outskirts of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in picturesque Oxford, Pennsylvania. A veritable hub of intellectualism and culture!

Do you have another "day job", or did you leave one to pursue your art?
I did leave a "day job" but not to pursue my art. I held a faculty position at an art college and I left it to be home with my children, specifically my son. In late 2004 my son Jackson was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. I left my academic career to manage his therapy schedule and to advocate for him. Initially, his Autism presented as being rather severe, it was absolutely necessary that a parent be with him at all times. I began creating again and listing my artwork for sale on Etsy during the summer of 2006.

Where and what did you study?
I have a Bachelors and Masters degrees from Penn State's College of Art and Architecture.

Where do you find inspiration?
I work on several different series simultaneously. My Paper Landscapes are obviously inspired by the land around me, which is quite lovely. My "Home" series was inspired by the great big new house that was built overnight in front of my little antique cottage, virtually destroying my view of the country that inspired the series previously discussed. That series has since evolved from a negative commentary on sprawl and consumerism to a nice little folk series glorifying the family home. I decided to be cheerful about it, basically. My past, my roots and origins are closely linked with Pennsylvania. Dutch Folk art. My grandmother was raised as a Mennonite and she was an oil painter in a naive, folk style. My series of florals, which I'm calling Mod/Pop/Folk was inspired by Pennsylvania. Dutch Folk art, my Grammy and my childhood in a conservative, agriculturally-based community in Southern Lancaster County. I am also inspired by my son. He loves geometric shapes, patterns and bright colors. Most of my pop pieces are for Jack. He will stare at length at a pattern of brightly colored circles. He loves shapes and he loves to count – all elements that find their way into my art. My sources for inspiration are all over the map!

What motivates you?
I am fortunate to have a great education in the fine arts and I don't want it go to waste. I have a lot of creative energy and ideas and I want to use them for good. I also want to make money!

When did you start doing this?
I joined Etsy to buy handmade goods at Christmas of 2005. I did not start listing my own work until July 31, 2006. I do exhibit on occasion, but I have never sold through another online venue, only Etsy.

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
As I mentioned my grandmother was a painter, she taught me her oil techniques and style beginning at age 12. I do remember excelling at art always and loving it. I also took classes in sewing and crafts through 4H. I remember being absolutely in love with crafts. I was a macramé whiz in the '80s!!

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
My son Jackson eventually entered a pre-school, in an Autism-support classroom and I had some time to kill. I began painting a bit – a few abstract and making a few landscape collages. While browsing Etsy I decided that my work was good enough, comparable and I decided to list a few pieces just to try it out. It mushroomed and now I have a business!

How did you choose the name for your business?
My house is a restored and "augmented" red brick, one-room schoolhouse dating to 1885. In our region of Pennsylvania, one room schools were often given really happy, Utopian names, usually somewhat biblically derived. My home is the Mt. Joy School, it's carved on the key-stone, over the front door of my house. When my parents were newly married and I was born, our first home was a schoolhouse too – the Mt. Eden School. My mother actually went to school in my home in the mid-1950s. This house is unique, it's funky, it's historic and it's where my studio and family are!

What do you love most about creating your work?
It's varied; unusual and always me. I don't subscribe to the antiquated notion that to be successful you have to have one signature style or stick to one media. Our personalities are not predictably consistent or one-dimensional, so our artwork shouldn't be either! I love to have ideas, to write them down in my journal – several a day, to work them to completion and to hang them upon a wall.

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I've traveled a fair amount, especially while in school. I'd have to say, though, that the most fascinating place that I've been was to dinner in an Amish household. I was one mile from my home, but I felt as though I was on a different planet.

A book you love:
Oh man! I'm not sure that I can name just one. I read at least two books at a time. I just finished Nobody Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and I really appreciated it. It was well written, thoughtful, sexy and sufficiently random.

What is the most interesting thing about you?
I'm not sure that it's interesting, but it is important: I'm a really excellent friend.

What achievement are you most proud of?
This may sound odd, but I'm most proud of leaving my teaching gig to be at home with Jackson. It was the most selfless thing I've ever done.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Be persistent and do not be afraid, or too proud, to ask for help. Women entrepreneurs are refreshingly supportive of their own.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
BURN OUT!!! I can always generate ideas, make working sketches and compose something cool. The actual labor though, the grunt work and the effort that is required is often difficult for me. My life is tiring: little kids with special needs, a home, therapy schedule, meetings, Etsy and my private students...from time to time I need a break. I care about myself enough to take a break when I need to.

What do you love to do in your free time?
Free time? When I carve for myself, a tiny niche of relative inactivity... I like to talk to my friends. I also read, watch movies and drink tea. I like to write too. I love having a blog, although I have trouble keeping up with it. My other "guilty pleasure" is painting in watercolor.

What are you working on right now?
A couple of larger abstracts, a pop art piece similar to things that I've done in the past, but in an palette of browns and Paper Landscapes in anticipation of Christmas.

What do you hope to achieve next?
This is a tough question for me. Right now, most of my goals are for my children and I am very content with what I've achieved this year professionally. I love painting illustrations in watercolor and pen and ink, sort of a more modern version of Tasha Tudor or Beatrix Potter. It's just so different from what I currently do, but I love it! Watercolor is relaxing and challenging. What I make is really good, and also totally unexpected by those that know my artwork. I would love to illustrate a children's book in that manner.


  1. I have the pleasure of owning one of her pieces!

    Great pick to feature.

  2. I love the way she uses the wavy, curving handwriting to express the fluidity of the roads.
    The musical note-mist rising in the farm's horizon: shades of Sound of Music?
    folk art and art glass