By Gina Malone
Filled with “happy mistakes and imperfections.” That’s how Phyllis Vaughn describes her work. “Though I do have formal art training,” she says, “when I get a canvas in front of me, I create in free form from objects that exist in my imagination.” And it’s not just paint on canvas for her. She employs a variety of surfaces, mediums and techniques to achieve her whimsical, imagination-embracing creations.
Vaughn’s move from Georgia to full-time residency in a “dream home” in Hendersonville happened to coincide with the pandemic. “During the first six months of the COVID period, I was busy creating a home and a creative environment for us to live in,” Vaughn says, “but it was also the longest break from art I have ever taken in my adult life.” It was right before the holidays, she adds, when she began to feel settled and ready to create again. “I found myself finding inspiration and comfort in my new workspace with mountain views and the abundance of sunlight that streams into my tiny studio,” she says. “I look forward to what North Carolina brings out creatively in me—as well as our newfound freedom and new beginnings for all of us creative souls.”
Vaughn knew she was creative in her young years, but it wasn’t until she left her northeast home to attend college in eastern Pennsylvania that she took her first formal art classes. “I realized that I could be good at something I had a passion for,” she says. “From that point on, I focused on the creative arts.”
She spent those early years in exploration—learning processes for bronze casting, figure drawing, kiln building and papermaking, among other things. “After moving to the south, it took a while for me to find how I wanted to turn my love of the creative arts into a career,” Vaughn says. She began by taking elements that she had collected with an artist’s eye—vintage fabrics, quilts, beads, lace and flea market treasures—and turning them into art pieces she sold at local shows in the Atlanta area. She called her business Vintage Originals, later changing it to V. Originals. Things really took off for her when she began making art dolls—“girlfriends, dearies, spirit women,” some of the names she called them. Shops and galleries from around the country began placing orders. “In the mid-‘90s, I expanded my business, bringing on some very dear artist friends,” she says. “We began setting up twice a year at the Atlanta Gift Market in the Handmade Design section to take orders for our handcrafted creations.” Over the next 20 years, she continued this venture, opening her first retail shop in the Atlanta area and setting up at local art shows.
Eventually, she branched off into mixed media painting. “For many years, I was a part of the Slotin Folk Fest, which was, at one time, the largest show of American folk artists in the country,” Vaughn says. “That show gave me inspiration for my true form of natural expression.”
Her process begins with choosing a surface: canvas, wood, tar paper and fabric being some of her favorites. “Texture comes next,” she says, “followed by color, then more color using acrylic paint, charcoal or pastel crayons—or all of the above. I then continue my process by scratching, sanding, stenciling, collaging, doodling and aging—some of the different steps I take until I get the images I’m pleased with. I usually end up with more paint on me than I do on my canvas. A final coat of varnish to make the colors pop and my quirky ‘masterpiece’ is complete.”
Carrie Keith, owner of Twigs and Leaves Gallery in Waynesville, was drawn immediately to Vaughn’s work when she came upon it. “Her bright colors and fun subjects were the perfect unique addition to the gallery,” Keith says, “especially as we transition out of the pandemic.” Vaughn’s work is also displayed at Art MoB Studios & Marketplace in Hendersonville, where owner Michele Sparks calls her pieces “the perfect, make-you-smile” creations
Through it all, Vaughn says, “I like to think I have kept my sense of humor and found joy in expressing it through my paintings. I hope I do make a few people smile.”
To learn more, visit VOriginals.com. Phyllis Vaughn’s work is available at Twigs & Leaves Gallery (TwigsandLeaves.com) in Waynesville and Art MoB Studios & Marketplace (ArtMoBStudios.com) in Hendersonville.