As artists, some of us would be considered “late bloomers.” I was 45 years old before jewelry-making “chose me”. Spanish Village artist Danielle Deaton was in her early 50s before she picked up a watercolor brush. Her calling came in the form of a challenge.
A few years before she retired from teaching, Danielle took a “salary advancement” course. This particular teacher met on the first day of class and told them he would see them again on the last day. In between they must do something they never thought they could do. As a child, Danielle was never given high marks in art. She was convinced she had no artistic ability. So to answer the challenge posed by this teacher, she chose art…specifically, watercolors! She gathered the supplies, and simply started experimenting.
When the class met on the last day, the teacher did not critique their projects. Instead, he praised them for their accomplishments. At the time Danielle was thrilled with the watercolor she had painted. She was proud of herself…and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. If the teacher had criticized her work, Danielle is sure she never would have had the confidence to keep painting. Instead she began taking classes, reading books…and continued to experiment.
“Every time I paint, I learn something new!” Like how to splay her brush to paint palm fronds. Or saturate an area with water, drop different colors into it and watch them blend into something beautiful, something unique. “I call them happy accidents!”
Painting makes you learn to look…to be more aware and to appreciate the world around you. It makes you study light and shadows and how they move.”
“My favorite subjects are landscapes, historic buildings and boats. When I find something I want to paint, I shoot several pictures that give me a panoramic view of everything around it. I shoot them consecutively so the lighting is consistent. When I paint, I take areas from several of the shots…as well as personal memories…and combine them. It becomes my unique interpretation…my impression…of that subject.”
When Danielle retired, she knew she would be bored without something “productive” to do. Years before she had come to Spanish Village with her mother, who was particularly fond of work produced by one of the art guilds. Danielle decided the Village was the perfect place to work. She wanted to produce…to create…something lasting. “Watercolors are lasting” she said. Over the years she has also created lasting friendships with other artists in the Village.
Danielle loves the opportunity to share what inspires her. “With every painting I create, I want someone to feel peace when they first see it…and I want them to take it home and continue to experience that same peace every day of their life.” Danielle has shared her inspiration…that sense of peace…with people from all over the world.
Danielle’s acclaimed series of Watercolors featuring Missions of California was inspired when she moved to Tierrasanta at a time when Mission Alcala was the only Catholic Church in the area. Danielle, who attended mass there, loved the architecture… the history. She and her husband Phil planned a road trip to visit the seventeen out of twenty-one remaining California missions so Danielle could capture the essence of each. To paint her “impression” of the historic churches.
Danielle has received many awards throughout the years, but she is most proud of a commission she accepted in June 2001. A young man in uniform came into her studio and began “examining” her watercolors. Eventually, he asked her to do a painting of the San Diego based destroyer, The John Paul Jones. It was to be a gift for the retiring commander.
Danielle agreed and told him she would need a month to complete it. “Oh, no! We need it in a week. We are leaving for the Persian Gulf,” the young man said. She told him he would have to find a different artist…she needed a month. The soldier left. He returned a few hours later. He said her style was perfect for the painting they wanted. They would have it delivered by helicopter to the ship when she had it completed. Shortly after, it was HER ship, The John Paul Jones, which was first to retaliate for 9/11 in Afghanistan as part of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” When she saw the news, she thought about that young man in uniform that had come into her studio that day. “Those were MY boys!” she told me. Her voice revealed pride…and fear.
Danielle knows firsthand the fear of being in harm’s way…and the feeling of separation war brings. She was born in Paris, France and lived there as a young child. Her father had a successful furrier business and would take annual trips to Canada to buy pelts. His trips usually lasted 8 days, but during one trip he was left stranded…war had broken out in Europe. Danielle, her mother and her sister were alone as the Germans invaded Paris.
Danielle remembers as a young child, how she felt every time the air-raid signals sounded. She saw buildings right across the street destroyed by bombs. One day the planes bombing Paris were directly overhead before the signal sounded. Danielle, who was walking home…and alone… was in the open as the planes started firing. She ran across the street for safety. Machine gun fire blasted the ground around her. When she finally reached a safe place, she noticed a bullet hole in the skirt she was wearing!
As the war raged in Europe, Danielle’s dad, unable to return to his family, managed to immigrate into the US and finally settle in New York City. He was Greek, and managed to find a group of Greek furriers in New York that would help him get established. He worked hard to position himself to be ready when he could finally reunite with his family. Within a few years he was asked to manage a prestigious shop in Salt Lake City. As soon as he was able, he called Danielle’s mom and left the decision to her…he could come back to Paris…or she and the girls could join him in Salt Lake City, where he had a good paying job.
Her mother, who had been living in a battle zone for years, raising two girls on her own and running the family business, hung up the phone and said, “We’re going to America!” It would take at least another year to petition and file the proper paperwork. In the end, the family had been apart for nearly 8 years!
Danielle, who was 16 years old by then, came to the US kicking and screaming! She didn’t want to leave her friends, didn’t want to go to a strange country…and she didn’t speak the language!!!
Eventually, she settled into life in America and went on to attend the University of Utah. There she met the love of her life, Phil. They married and moved to San Diego when he was offered a job as psychologist for the San Diego school system.
Danielle, who had put her education on hold to care for their children, was eventually able to complete her degree. “When the kids went off to school, so did I!” She went on to teach elementary and middle school. Ironically, she taught English as a Second Language!! Just like “young Danielle”, those students she helped had found themselves in a strange country…unable to speak the language!
Although retired, Danielle continues to teach. These days it is French at San Diego’s Oasis Institution. Their mission is “to see that adults age 50 and older have opportunities to pursue productive and meaningful lives.”
Occasionally, she will share her watercolor techniques with someone she knows. One of those lucky students (a fellow Spanish Village artist) said of Danielle, “She inspires confidence and determination. Her warmth, kindness and encouragement keep me going. She is a talented, artistic and generous friend.”
Thanks for Listening!
Danielle’s work can be seen daily from 11am – 4pm in her studio…Studio 34B in Spanish Village Art Center, Balboa Park, San Diego
You can Meet the Artist, Danielle Deaton, in Studio 34B on Fridays from 11am – 4pm