Interview with Debb Oliver - The Monkey Brush

Renae Failla

Skyrocketing to fame only months ago, Debb Oliver has become somewhat of a household name in the Australian digital illustration industry after one illustration, in particular, was brought to the attention of a very famous Family.


Debb modified the group photo of Chandler Powell, Bindi, mum Terri and brother Robert on Bindi’s wedding day by adding their dog Piggy, her father the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and his beloved dog Sui. Through social media and word of mouth, the family saw the heartwarming illustration in no time.


Originally from Brazil, Debb moved to Australia as a teenager and now resides in Sydney with her two boys and husband. Her personalised watercolour portraits are her speciality and almost every piece features nature, her second passion.


Now fully booked until 2021, we were lucky enough to snag an interview with the talented woman behind The Monkey Brush.


Tea or coffee?

Coffee before 11 am, and tea after 🙊


Dogs or cats?

Love cats, but, dogs


What is your perfect day?

Good food, family, good music and a pretty summer sunset 😍


Where does the name ‘The Monkey Brush’ come from?

I worked at a childcare centre teaching arts. There was this beautiful boy called Ethan, who was so sweet and curious. At the time I was also studying biology and we would spend a long time outside naming every bug and plant. I told him possums loved eating the flower “bottle brush” and he loved hearing about how I’d collect them fresh every night for my rescued orphan baby possums. Every time he was cheeky, I’d affectionately call him monkey. And one day when he saw me, he asked me if I had found some “monkey brush” flowers for my possums. I thought it was the sweetest thing. I often wonder where he is in life, and when it came time to choose a business name, I thought of that special little boy.


Tell us a bit more about the portrait of Bindi Irwin, her family and her late father Steve Irwin.

As I said, I have a diploma in Biology and I must say Steve and Terri were my biggest inspiration alongside Dr Jane Goodall. I cried for days when he passed, and I kept loving his family. I’m a huge animal lover, and the work they do is just unbelievable. When Bindi got married, I had this mix of emotions. I was so happy for her but so sad that Steve didn’t get to walk her down the aisle. I decided to draw the portrait of her family on her wedding day and include Steve and Sui. I posted on my social media, she saw it, thanked me, sent me gifts, made it her profile picture on Facebook, posted it on her social media and I flew to QLD to personally give it to her on her birthday. I met all the Irwins and they were more amazing then I could ever have imagined. The story was featured in 17 different papers and it’s been the highlight of my career. Can’t wait to draw them again when Bindi has her baby.


How did Bindi find out about the piece?

A lot of people tagged her on my posts.


What inspired you to paint this portrait?

My immense love for them and the wonderful work they do.


Describe your encounter with the Irwin Family.

It was unbelievable. Due to COVID, we couldn’t get too close to them, but Bindi kept saying she wished we could hug and I had to contain myself lol. I got to share that amazing experience with my two kids and they loved it as much as I did. It was incredibly special.


Describe 3 of your favourite pieces.

  1. The Irwin portrait.

  2. One called “to parish in paradise” where I illustrated how difficult but fulfilling motherhood is.

  3. And One called 'empty arms ‘ where I honour mothers who have lost babies or couldn’t conceive. I lost 4 babies and it’s a very important theme for me, and I’m glad I can use my art to bring some healing to others.

What is your artistic style?

Apparently, it’s called, “whimsical realism” 🤷🏻‍♀️


What mediums and materials do you use in your pieces?

I do watercolour and pencils too. But since going full time 13 months ago, I have basically just done digital. I draw using an app called Procreate on my iPad Pro, using an Apple Pencil


How long does it take to create a piece; commissioned artworks, digital prints etc? 

An average of 3-5 hours per person.


Where or who did you derive your inspiration for art from?

I’m an observer. I love nature, I love watching people and their expressions. I don’t get my inspiration from any particular artist but from situations. I love drawing “moments that never happened” where I draw people who are no longer here, with their loved ones.


What is your favourite part of the drawing process?

Definitely the reactions and feedback. But drawing the eyes is my favourite part of the drawing process

You can check out more of Debb's incredible work here