Debbie Milner might not be a household name in Kamloops, but there's a good chance people have seen her work.
A couple of weeks back, her portrait of hockey icon Scott Niedermayer was unveiled at the Interior Savings Centre when the Kamloops Blazers retired the former player's No. 28 jersey.
His number now hangs alongside Greg Hawgood's No. 4, Mark Recchi's No. 8, Dean Evason's No. 20, Greg Evtushevski's No. 26 and Rob Brown's No. 44.
While an emotional moment for WHL and NHL fans alike, it was also a big one for Milner and, in a way, a culmination of her 16 years as a painter.
Her work has been featured at Hampton Gallery, the Lloyd Gallery in Penticton and Jenkins Showler Gallery in White Rock. She said her portrait work is what's gotten her noticed, especially in Kamloops.
"I love painting people," she said. "And I love painting stories within my paintings."
Those painted stories, like the one she did of Niedermayer, are what drives her creatively. Sure, she can paint someone's picture, and she has many times, but the paintings within a painting are the ones she enjoys doing the most.
She's been commissioned to do them before, often by parents wanting a portrait of a son or daughter. The process begins with Milner asking a series of questions.
What do they do? Do they play soccer or the violin?
"Then I say, 'let's build a painting around your children.' So it's not just a portrait. It's the essence of the people within the portrait," said Milner.
She's done this for people's pets, too.
Milner teaches painting through the City. One day early last month, she received an email from her co-ordinator saying the Blazers wanted a portrait painted of Niedermayer.
She decided to put her name forward, and phoned the team's office. Then, she met Dave Chyzowski, the team's director of sales and marketing. The job was hers.
The Blazers were very specific about what Niedermayer's portrait should look like. In the background they wanted an image of the Memorial Arena, where Niedermayer once played. So she had a picture of that to work from. Plus there's the Memorial Cup, which he won in 1992.
Then there's the portrait itself, which required a bit of finessing. The picture Milner was provided with had Niedermayer, but not the No. 28 jersey he proudly wore for the team. So she borrowed a jersey, had her son wear it for a photograph, and worked from there.
"It became what they wanted to portray about him," she said.
Milner had little more than three weeks to complete the painting, but she did it. And she said it was a proud moment seeing her painting unveiled on the ice before a sold-out crowd at the centre.
She met Niedermayer privately before hand, and he appreciated her work very much.
"I met with him in one of the rooms and he was very pleased with it," said Milner. "I actually had a photograph taken with him and the painting."
She will now carefully package the painting so Niedermayer can have it in his home. Milner said he wasn't comfortable travelling with it at the time, and didn't want it wrecked.
As for Milner, she's going to keep on painting. There are more classes to teach and portraits to be painted. She considers herself fortunate to make a living doing what she loves to do.
"It's a passion. I can't hide it. I have to do it," she said.
To learn more about Milner's work, or to commission a painting, visit www.tnsc.ca/debbiemilner.
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