You’ve probably seen artist Don Lavelle painting life on High Street, in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral or in a tucked-away corner of the city. That’s because he spends six days a week in Winchester, working in all weathers, and has done for many years, always finding something new to capture on canvas.
“Before I retired I was a chemist,” he says, “and that scientific part of me lends itself well to making sure the paintings are spot-on architecturally and that everything is in proportion. But it’s always the people in them that bring them to life. I regularly ask someone interesting-looking to pose for me for a few minutes so I can add them in.”
Don, who buses in from Romsey each day, never tires of city views. “There are so many lovely spots in Winchester to gather inspiration from,” he says. “I generally have six paintings in progress and alternate between them according to how the mood takes me.”
It takes between 80 and 100 hours of painting time for each masterpiece to be completed, with the detail in Don’s paintings making them stand apart. From individual paving stones to recognisable faces of locals, his paintings perfectly portray day-to-day city life.
During the winter, when the weather is too wet or cold to keep the paint on the canvas, Don comes inside. Hanging on the wall at Greens Bar & Kitchen is a painting of the interior, complete with staff and customers. It was snapped up by Greens’ owner, Peter, as was another painting, Winchester High Street Reflections, inspired by a rainy day and full of coloured umbrellas.
“Like a lot of my buyers, Peter saw me painting it on the street and said that he wanted it even before it was finished,” says Don. “I love it when that happens.”
Paintings average around £500, and Don also takes commissions for specific landmarks. “Winchester has so many locations that really resonate with people,” he says. “Often a painting will evoke special memories for the buyer and sometimes I work in their family too. My wife has appeared in several. I’m forever looking for interesting faces.”
Entirely self-taught, Don says that every painting brings him closer to the perfection that he strives for. “I’m a terrible self-critic,” he says. “Knowing when to add that final brush stroke is always a challenge, so the best feedback I get is from my wife and often from passers-by too. I’m also blessed that local businesses are very kind to me when I’m painting outside their premises: they sometimes bring a cup of coffee and have a chat about what I’m doing.
“A few years ago a little boy of about six or seven stopped by and said, ‘That’s the best painting I’ve seen in my entire life. If I had £20 I’d buy it from you right now.’
“I paint for myself, because it allows me to really appreciate life around me in all its detail and creatively interpret it on canvas. But it’s bringing people pleasure through my paintings that I really love.”
Artist photograph courtesy of Su Pan