How a watercolour shared on Facebook launched a whole new career for Daisy Dawson

Chip Thief by Daisy Dawson

Chip Thief by Daisy Dawson - Credit: Archant

Five years ago a gift for a friend’s child launched a whole new career for Shoreham mother-of-two Daisy Dawson when she shared a watercolour she had painted on Facebook. She tells Duncan Hall about juggling art and family as well as her plans for the future

Twilight Stroll by Daisy Dawson

Twilight Stroll by Daisy Dawson - Credit: Archant

AS a child Daisy Dawson always knew she wanted to be an artist. But when she graduated from the Herefordshire College of Art and Design she found herself taking jobs in call centres and working for other people.

“I couldn’t see any way to make a living,” she says from her family home in Church Green, Shoreham, where she and her husband Mark moved to from Brighton in 2008. “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up!”

It was five years ago this September that she was inspired to pick up her paints once more. “I always had my painting kit with me,” she says. “Whenever we moved house it was never packed away in the loft. But it was always more of a hobby.” Inspiration came when her daughter Alina’s friend Lucy’s family moved from the south coast to London. “For about four or five weeks before they moved this image of a seagull standing on a south coast beach with his feet hooked around the pebbles kept popping up in my head,” says Daisy. She painted it in watercolours and ink as a gift for Lucy. And then she put a photo of the picture on her Facebook page. “Within half an hour I had four commissions.”

Since then the requests for Daisy’s watercolours have not stopped. Beginning as gifts for young people – ranging from racing cars and mermaids to footballers – she now does a profitable sideline in Albion seagulls for older art lovers. Her paintings have been bought in California, Jamaica, Germany, Scotland and across the south coast.

While at art school Daisy kept coming back to watercolours. “The watercolours never looked finished until I added the ink,” she says. The result is a very graphic painting, with light ink lines, which wouldn’t look out of place in a picture book or graphic novel. Subjects range from Sussex beach landscapes to images of animals and birds.

Daisy is very prolific – generally finishing a watercolour canvas in three hours. “When I’m working I have three boards on the go,” she says. “One board is for myself. When someone asks for a commission it’s like a test. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it, but I haven’t failed yet. I have to keep testing myself at the same time.”

Family Amble by Shoreham artist Daisy Dawson

Family Amble by Shoreham artist Daisy Dawson - Credit: Archant

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She finds inspiration from all around her – taking her phone out on walks to capture photos of the light playing on water. Her two children, Alina, six, and Ottilie, three, are also inspirational. “They will draw anything they see, or will ask me to draw something like an old boot,” she says. “When I was studying illustration I remember I spent a lot of time drawing a bulb of garlic, turning it over and over and painting it in different ways.”

Ever since Daisy launched her art career she has had to work around her children, setting up on the kitchen table and even going as far as painting with her three-month-old daughter in a sling around her. It means time can be precious.

“I would love a shed at the bottom of the garden where I could leave all my work where it was and step away to come back to it later as I left it,” she says. “There’s always a stage in every painting where I want to rip it up and throw it away. If I get to that point and have to stop it takes me a while to get back to it. I have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck and stop myself from procrastinating.”

In the past her children have added their own touches to her works, from porridge to a sticker of Frozen’s Olaf. “When my eldest was two-and-a- half I was halfway through a commission when she decided to make additions to it,” says Daisy. “It was a picture of an Albion shirt hanging up in the corner of a room, with football boots and folded towels and shorts below it. And then at the top was an amorphous orange splodge Alina had added. Yesterday I nearly put my brush down on a heavily buttered half-eaten oatcake.”

She is encouraging her daughters to paint and draw. Alina is already showing some skill. “She isn’t just drawing what she thinks something is,” says Daisy. “She has started studying things like the ellipse of a glass as she draws it.”

Daisy’s father Ian Neish was also a keen artist while Daisy’s mother was best known as actress Sally Adcock, who took a starring role in the soap Crossroads for nine years. She is now a published author and is encouraging Daisy to create her own illustrated story. “The dream is to be an illustrator, but it’s a bit difficult to work in the timeframes and deadlines with little children,” says Daisy. “I would like to exhibit more – I think that’s my next stage.”

Daisy’s work can be seen at Shoreham Art Gallery, in Brunswick Road. Between commissions she has been exploring new methods – drawing birds in pencils and creating cushion covers and lampshades with some of her designs. She has already started working on Christmas cards and is considering a range of adult stickers. Although the commissions can feel like a test – particularly when she has to tackle the Brighton bandstand for the fourth time – they can also be incredibly emotional.

“I was asked to paint a dog by a family,” says Daisy. “They told me its life story and I started falling in love with the animal I was painting.” It was only when Daisy finished that she got an email from the family saying the dog had recently fallen ill and had to be put down – something which still moves her. “When I got that email I was a mess, because the painting meant so much to them,” she says. “If I can make people happy from my work it makes me doubly happy.”

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