4 December 1998

Skills of clever sisters

Artistic creativity does not always go hand in hand with

commercialism but as the Harris sisters have found,

together they can make a profitable combination.

Tessa Gates reports from Dorset

SISTERS, sisters, never were there such devoted sisters… goes the song and despite a little spiky banter, it could be the theme tune for Signatures, a company created to make the most of the combined talents of Debbie and Pippa Harris.

The sisters, both in their 20s, live and work in a lovely old family farmhouse at Hurn, near Christchurch, Dorset. Debbie is an artist, Pippa has a talent for words and a flair for marketing and they have been working together since the beginning of the year.

"I have always been Debbies number one fan, she is a wonderful artist and completely self-taught," says Pippa, whose own creative skills include poetry and basketry. "Even as children, I would always write while she would paint and draw endlessly. As we grew up I thought that she should be more commercial to make a living from it."

&#42 Horses specialty

Debbie paints in many media and several styles, but she specialises in horses. "I grew up with them and try not to do twee pictures, I try to capture movement," says Debbie, who also enjoys portraiture and painting seascapes. Like all artists, she never feels anything is quite good enough and until recently, lacked confidence to sell her work. "I thought I was too young to be called an artist," she admits.

She also had a tendency to put too little value on her paintings, much to the exasperation of Pippa. "She would just charge a pound or two or give them away!," she says.

At Christmas time Debbie would often do special pictures for the family but last year she thought she would surprise them with something different.

"Debbie made us cut outs for presents; dogs and caricatures, oil paintings on wood. They were so real," says Pippa, who found her own boyfriend, a pilot, immortalised in oils on MDF.

"Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. They were so commercial and such a brilliant idea I was imagining how people would like these as a present in the house," says Pippa, the excitement of it all still in her voice. Somehow she persuaded Debbie that this could be the idea that would make them both money, with Debbie doing the artwork and Pippa the marketing

Now they take orders for waiters – freestanding cut outs for decoration – as firescreens or to advertise a business. They can be made holding blackboards to stand inside or outside pubs, shops and cafes, or made to hang on the wall. Caricatures of pets, family, even the boss, pose no problems. "We can translate anything on to wood – the possibilities are endless," says Pippa, enthusiastically.

Fortunately Debbie is a quick worker. She doesnt use templates and paints each commission individually, outlining it on the MDF freehand before cutting it out with a jigsaw. "I will try anything up to 8ft tall," says Debbie, who has created a 6ft Jack Russell in cap and plus-fours for a pub in the New Forest and a brilliant Lord Nelson with labrador at foot, as well as lobsters, an air hostess, a penguin, a fox waiter, a well-dressed hare and many many more. Most are delivered personally by Pippa and come complete with adoption certificate and ribbon.

"If they are for a business, often all the staff know and come out to meet it. They are thrilled and it is all very exciting but Debbie doesnt get to see that," says Pippa, who comes up with ideas and commissions as fast as Debbie can execute them.

"I am enjoying it and it is giving me confidence in my other work," says Debbie, who is gaining success with her more conventional art and recently sold a painting within half an hour of it being hung in a London gallery. Her paintings are now priced from £250. Her cut outs are individually priced too. A greyhound, for example, will cost from £60, the sartorially elegant hare costs from £150.

But the Signatures range doesnt stop there. Debbie turns basic wooden rocking horses into lovable ponies, creates personalised scenes on chests and boxes, draws caricatures of people and places. "Our brochure is just an outline of what we can provide," says Pippa.

The pair work well together. "We cant function without each other," says Debbie, "but we dont encroach on each others space."

Inquiries: 01202-471530 or 01202-471336.

Above: Artist Debbie with a

self-caricature – this more commercial side to her work has increased her confidence to sell her traditional painting.

Right: Debbie (left) and Pippa make a good team. Debbie is a versatile artist as the picture shows and Pippa is great at marketing and PR.