Debbie Dickinson uses tile and stone in the way that others might use paint and ink. By carefully cutting and arranging her mediums to form new shapes, she creates installations that push the boundaries of conventional tile work– and every piece is as functional as it is gorgeous. Dickinson also takes on projects for businesses and public spaces, but the majority of her work is custom-made for private homeowners.
Dickinson’s fascination with tile began while working at a construction site under the guidance of a family friend. She still remembers the tile itself– late-’80s pink marbled with gold veins– and how easy it was to cut.
“It was like this lightning bolt. I thought, if I could cut a straight line that easily, then I could cut anything,” Dickinson says. “So that’s what I’ve just been proving, I guess– I can cut anything out of tile.”
Dickinson is an advocate for creativity in all its forms, and her excitement is contagious. She has an innate ability to negotiate even the subtlest of lines; this skill is essential when working with difficult-to-cut materials such as tile, and it also translates to other disciplines (namely drawing and painting). However, her professional life centers around tile and its duality as a medium: Beyond their beauty, each of her creations serve a purpose.
The day I met with Dickinson, she showed me a fireplace that was recently completed for a residential client. Their main request was that the piece feature a madrona tree. Making sure to account for the clients’ interior and color scheme, Dickinson sketched several designs before dreaming up the one they fell in love with.
The final result is stunning: A one-of-a-kind fireplace that evokes a landscape scene through graphic, intersecting lines. The material juts out ever-so-slightly from the wall, giving the impressions of mountains, shadows, sky, and the tree itself. Though it perfectly complements the client’s living room, the work is still signature Dickinson. It’s one example among many intricate and personalized pieces she has created over the years.[Text Wrapping Break] “It’s this combination of falling in love with [the design] myself, but I’m creating something for the homeowners to fall in love with too,” Dickinson says. “It’s not easy, but it comes very naturally to me to look for those components for them– and the designs come to mind faster than I can get them on paper.”
In addition to clients’ tastes, it’s necessary to work with the parameters of every installation space. Dickinson also frequently collaborates with local interior designers. Trees are a frequent motif in her pieces, and although she frequently draws inspiration from nature, her work can also be abstract. Above all, Dickinson ensures that every creation is one-of-a-kind.
“I love doing trees, but for me it’s an exploration,” she says. “How’s this gonna look? How about now? What about if we do this? Part of my nature is that I resist doing the same process twice.”
Whether it’s a backsplash, fireplace, or large-scale mural, everything Dickinson creates is imbued with her innovative spirit. More work is visible online, and she plans to offer workshops at her Bellingham studio in 2022. 932 N. State St., Bellingham, debbiedickinson.com