Debra Van Poolen has been a plein air watercolor artist for 22 years, exhibiting her work in Washington D.C., Oregon, Montana and Michigan. In recent years Van Poolen's artistic projects have focused on social, environmental, and foreign policy matters which the US mainstream media neglects or misrepresents. In January 2015, Debra exhibited her watercolors from Palestine's occupied West Bank in Washington, DC at The Jerusalem Fund's Al Quds gallery in a one month show titled "Natural History of Palestine". (Natural History Watercolors by Debra Van Poolen and Natural History Under Siege) In 2013, Van Poolen made courtroom sketches each day of Chelsea Manning's summer-long court martial in Ft. Meade, Maryland. Debra's court drawings were utilized by several media outlets, including the The Guardian, Russia Today (rt.com), Long Island Press, Chelsea Manning Support Network (chelseamanning.org), and Popular Resistance (popularesistence.org). In 2014 Debra's Artprize entry of six drawings from the Chelsea Manning trial was chosen for the Juror's Shortlist of the top five entries from a field of 900 two-dimensional entries in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (artprize_2014_jurors_shortlist)
Debra has taught drawing and painting in various settings, including schools, summer camps and her home studio. Aside from her work as an artist, Debra has worked as a permaculturist and organic farmer. She worked as an educator regarding traditional cultures when she coordinated programs for the International Society of Ecology and Culture's Ladakh Project in northern India over a three-year span from 2009 to 2011.