Artist Debra Paysinger paints whimsical wildlife portraits


Artists need to be different, don’t they?

They need to be able to convey the full range of human emotion into singular images, something a non-artist would surely have trouble accomplishing. Passion, playfulness, innocence, happiness, melancholy— these are the things we look for when we seek art.

Consider the full range of emotions brought to life in Debra Paysinger’s creations. She has made a profession of painting rabbits and birds, portraits, fishing lures and a series of abstracts inspired by the work of artist Cy Twombly. She paints and sells what she loves—and nothing could make her happier.

“I love hearing from people who’ve bought my art,” Paysinger says. “One of my favorite things is getting messages or photos from buyers, telling me how a painting has made them feel or showing me where they’ve hung one of my paintings in their home. It’s great.”

Chances are, if she’s getting a message from a buyer, it’s about one of her favorite things to paint: rabbits and birds. In fact, apart from the rare side project, rabbits and birds are her primary focus.

But that’s a good thing. Her ongoing studies of whimsical rabbits—or “raddits” as she calls them—and expressive birds are special. Each is a striking portrait of an animal that stands alone yet has a grounded familiarity with the others. It’s as if Paysinger knows the personality of every raddit and bird and finds a way to let that personality shine through.

Every raddit has a number and each bird has a name, never to be reused. This guarantees that each creation is unique. Paysinger also has created a versatile signature that looks the same upside down as it does right-side up. This, a result of giving buyers hanging options for her abstract paintings, has become her trademark.

Paysinger has an effervescent personality and a lifelong love for art that bleeds into every one of her paintings. As a young girl she doodled in the margins of her homework, creating rogue “The Man From U.N.C.L.E“ comic strips. As an adult, Paysinger worked in oils until six years ago, when she discovered the ease of acrylics.

Today, Paysinger’s remarkable raddits are very popular. She has created 104 of the bunnies and sold nearly all of them. She’s fond of painting wildlife— that’s her degree in biology shining through—and the amusing name comes from a drawing by her youngest daughter.

Paysinger says her first bunny, titled Funny Bunny, sold as soon as the paint was dry. She wanted to do more but couldn’t think of a name. Then she remembered a drawing her daughter made titled Raddit, with the letter “b” reversed. The childlike title and script, Paysinger decided, were perfect for her own rabbits.

She recently completed her 100th raddit, complete with a celebratory hat and a floppy ear. (She actually completed numbers 101 and 102 before bringing herself to complete the important milestone.)

“I was so nervous about how 100 was supposed to look,” Paysinger says. “I kept putting it off, then I told myself I had to do it. Luckily, that was a good painting day (you never know!) and he came together rather quickly. I love him.”

Her birds are also important to her. She says she can complete a set of them in just a few weeks. The birds are just as evocative as the raddits, and she has sold several hundred of the portraits.

From her home studio outside of Columbia, Paysinger continues to turn out her wonderful creations. She works with a gallery in Charleston, and she’s excited to add another location later this summer in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

M. Luke Yoder is a freelance writer based in Charleston. Learn more at mlukeyoder.com.

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