Artist Daphne Vaughan and her seasonal watercolours of Winchester
PUBLISHED: 12:20 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:20 19 December 2017
Still not bought those Christmas cards yet? Then look no further. Daphne Vaughan's vivid seasonal watercolours of Winchester are just the ticket and proceeds go to charity too
If ever there was an artist capable of summoning up child-like enthusiasm for Christmas, whose images encapsulate the magic of the festive season and who, by combining simplicity and detail, creates watercolours which rouse the unique excitement at the heart of Noël, that artist is Daphne Vaughan.
Never mind your age. Christmas is about kindness and goodwill to everyone, qualities which infuse not only each brightly coloured scene but their creator, too.
“I design my Christmas cards for charities and they’re sold in charity shops. They are always Winchester-themed and big sellers. It’s a lovely thing to do and gives me pleasure.”
Daphne is as cheerful as her images. A self confessed people person with a natural inclination towards quirkiness, her ability to capture characters originated during her childhood in the Far East.
“I was born in Singapore and lived in Malaya where my dad served in the colonial police. I’m imaginative and, with my brother away at boarding school, I was always drawing. I loved the markets, anything to do with people, Malayan life. I didn’t go around photographing like you would these days but I still have some of the pictures I did of markets, weddings, jungle scenes.”
After the family relocated to the UK Daphne was persuaded to choose the more reliable career of teaching rather than art. The decision culminated in a four year course at Goldsmiths followed several years later by a spell at the University of Winchester. “When my son was three I did a two year Diploma at King Alfred’s College which was wonderful, with inspiring teachers.”
I soon learn that the combination of teaching and pursuit of her own art lies at the heart of this 68 year old’s career. “I straddle both camps,” she smiles. “Teaching is rewarding. Children’s work is so simple and fresh; they have no preconceptions, they don’t fuss, they just do it.”
Preoccupied for a while talking about the classes she runs in her generously sized studio which comfortably accommodates 12 children, I’m soon keen to discover how her art career developed. Where did she first exhibit? How did she go about selling her work?
“I’m not best at marketing myself. It all started when a girlfriend came to see me. She suggested holding an exhibition in her house. We invited all her friends and everything sold so I felt enormously confident. Then I had an offer from a friend at Winchester’s Theatre Royal and exhibited there.”
Since those early days a number of galleries around the county have displayed the vibrant watercolours whose superficial innocence easily sidetrack the viewer from layers of detail. Her buildings, you see, are beautifully constructed and architecturally true while figures radiate the sort of character that gives them familiarity. Body shapes, posture, gait are natural and real. There’s no posing. The scenes are more like a captured glimpse so that, even when the faces aren’t detailed, personality is entrenched in the bearing of every individual.
Daphne explains the process. “I start by drawing in pencil, very lightly. I may do many drawings because you want a nice light, easy product, not something laboured. In order to get that whimsical look you have to draw it, work on it, lots of times so that drawing becomes a bit of a shorthand. Then I draw onto watercolour paper (the sketches are on paper of less quality). You do these light, loose little figures. Then I paint. This is always very scary. After mixing colours I start with light tones and very softly, blocking in light colours and holding my breath! Then I move into deeper colours and the beauty of watercolour is if you make a mistake you can blot it, take it out with a tissue. I build up into darker colours. For darker shades I overdraw with a paint brush very loosely. I don’t know if I use watercolour like I should but the colours are so beautiful and if I’m doing figurative work I can work in the detail. Sometimes I get fed up so it’s nice to use other mediums such as chalks or collage.”
Daphne favours sable brushes as well as prolene varieties for their shape holding qualities. Buyers might want a painting completed with a “proper brush” though this does not prevent the artist from occasionally making marks with her fingers, sticks or toothbrush.
What is it, I wonder, about a tableau that attracts you so much you want to reproduce it?
“Ideas are all around, perhaps the station platform and the people waiting there or the Winchester marathon. My subjects are all about people. I sketch or take photographs then come back and work from them. They are so instant; you can delete any you don’t want and put others on the computer. I like humour, quirkiness, fun, something amusing in its way or a poignancy about it, maybe. My bag ladies - invariably overweight with bags of shopping and chunky feet – sold and sold. I also love exotic things such as mosques and Byzantium stone. I’m very much a visual person.”
The Christmas card range began when Medecroft Opportunity Centre asked Daphne to design a card. They “sold like hot cakes” and for the next decade she created a new design each year before a similar arrangement developed with Naomi House. Not that this talented artist is defined by the forthcoming season. She has done illustration work for a number of high profile companies, sold her images through London galleries and also creates woodcuts.
“People like buying smallish pictures,” she responds when we discuss the commercial aspect of her work. “For pricing you’ve really got to look at galleries and other artists. It is jolly difficult. Because I’ve done art over a span of time, I now charge £300-500 or more for a commission. If a painting goes in a gallery you can double that. Even when doing something illustrative and fun, you’ve got to spend hours on the drawings then it looks as if you tossed them off in an hour or two. It’s a funny old business.”
We discuss favourite artists (Matisse, Bonnard, Lowry’s figurative work) then move on to the subject of ongoing ambitions. Daphne may have clocked up numerous achievements but I sense there is more to accomplish. She doesn’t disappoint.
“I had an exotic and interesting childhood and there’s a family saga there I’ve long thought I would like to write about. I have been on a writing course but afterwards sat down and thought what a lot of emotional baggage, do I want to go there? So I’ve put it aside. Also, something that uses my love of children, teaching and painting is children’s books. There’s no money in it but I have three or four stories half finished which I would love to complete. They are aimed at 6-8 year olds, full of pictures and fun.”
As a woman, Daphne Vaughan has a gentle, no nonsense approach to life. As an artist she is receptive and perceptive. This combination results in paintings which are refreshingly individual and can’t fail to raise a smile, whether at Christmas or any other time of year.
• Craig Revel Horwood and other Hampshire pantomime stars of 2017 - As much a part of Christmas as presents under the tree, mince pies, turkey and sprouts, Emma Caulton asks what makes the traditional panto so special