The Studio and the Sea | Open Studio

On the South Shore of Massachusetts, watercolorist Danielle Driscoll’s creative reinvention has become a family affair.

By Annie Graves

Jan 20 2023


Driscoll with her son John in the sunroom/studio of their Scituate Harbor home. An artist in his own right, John prefers to use a tablet to create his illustrations, while his mother makes this reclaimed table the main workspace for her sketching and painting.

Photo Credit : Joseph Keller
Driscoll with her son John in the sunroom/studio of their Scituate Harbor home. An artist in his own right, John prefers to use a tablet to create his illustrations, while his mother makes this reclaimed table the main workspace for her sketching and painting.

As a little kid, she went rummaging through antiques stores with her mom, getting a taste for the treasure hunt and the potential lurking in old things. Later, growing up, she would help out at her parents’ restaurant in Woburn, Massachusetts, set in an aging mansion—further enhancing her aesthetic and an eye for possibilities. Flash-forward a few decades to married life in England, a career in film and television production, and a subsequent return to the U.S.

“Why are we living in London, so far from the ocean?” Danielle Driscoll remembers her husband, Luke, asking one day. They remedied that oversight in 2013, buying a century-old gray-shingled gambrel, rugged as a nut, just a few blocks up from Scituate Harbor, a small seaside town on Boston’s South Shore. In the movies, it’s called foreshadowing. In other words, there is every reason why the crisp Atlantic would feature so prominently in Driscoll’s future artistic life.

A classic New England beach tote filled with a bouquet of hydrangeas is the star of one of Driscoll’s greeting cards, playfully captioned “Thanks a bunch!”
Photo Credit : Joseph Keller

This is where Driscoll, 45, polished a lifestyle blog she calls “Finding Silver Pennies,” named for a vintage children’s book her mother had given her. “You must have a silver penny to get into Fairyland,” she reads to me, from the title page. It seems like code for entering the world of imagination; the blog, she says, unlocked her creativity. While it initially focused on home life—more of a journal—it quickly changed direction a few months later, when she discovered the wonders of milk paint, and its transformative effects on kicked-to-the-curb furniture. Driscoll’s experiences with brushes and paints, and the skills she acquired and subsequently shared in her online DIY and home decor videos, would lead her to try her hand at watercolors.

Specifically, to capture the charms in and around Scituate Harbor, where she and her husband were rehabbing their home. In fact, the impressions captured in Driscoll’s calendars, note cards, and paintings seem blown onto the paper by a sea breeze, barely holding on. A suggestion of seashells, a characterful whale, a fleeting lighthouse, a whiff of mojito caught in a saucy glass. The kind of airy seaside pick-me-up that some of us crave mid-January.

“I love painting the ocean,” she says, simply. “Water, shells, natural things. I struggle with structure, buildings, and straight lines.”

Danielle Driscoll recalls painting “Breaking Wave” in spring 2020 partly as a way “to feel calm in a time that felt very uncertain.” The beach, she says, “is my happy place.”
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Danielle Driscoll

The same airy feeling echoes through Driscoll’s sun-washed studio that juts off the side of the main house. The floor is painted white, with a pale blue ceiling. Sketch pads and watercolors are scattered over a round work­table, and a jar of brushes sits handy; the water holder is a small French yogurt pot. Hydrangeas lounge in a dangling wall basket; beach stones sit on the windowsills, soaking up the sun. It’s like a painting spa. “Watching the watery paint on the paper is mesmerizing,” says Driscoll. “Like a meditation.” She’ll use both wet and dry watercolor techniques to create her ocean seascapes, lighthouses, seashells, sometimes adding swipes of acrylic after.

But the other inspiration for Driscoll resides not down the street, where masts bob in the harbor and seagulls hunker on salt-soaked piers—it’s right here, at home. “Family plays such a big role in my creativity,” she says. She collaborates in an online shop with her 16-year-old son, John, who is “super-artistic,” and prefers to draw on a tablet and paint with acrylics to create his own beachy graphics under the moniker Ink Harbour Illustrations. Her younger son, Conor, 13, helps pack cards (although Driscoll oversees all shipments—her “type A personality,” she says). And Luke, a software engineer who loves woodworking, just finished making a fleet of wooden stands to accompany the 2023 calendars.

A sampling of Driscoll’s work, including some of her newest offerings, stickers. “I’m so glad they’ve made a comeback!” she says.
Photo Credit : Joseph Keller
Driscoll’s love of the ocean is echoed but expressed in an entirely different way in John’s Ink Harbour Illustrations designs.
Photo Credit : Joseph Keller

We’re thumbing through a rack of greeting cards—a mix of hers and John’s—in the “packing” area, upstairs. Stacks of 2023 calendars have just arrived. Mother and son donate a portion of every sale to the World Wildlife Fund. On the horizon, Driscoll is planning a line of fabrics and wallpaper. “I don’t know why at a certain point people are taught not to be creative,” she muses, as we’re looking at the note cards. “But that’s why I share the tutorials.”

And it occurs to me that quite possibly the renaissance women of the present day must have wide expertise in a range of skills. Where blogging leads to DIY, which leads to light-filled watercolors, and then comes full circle, with tutorials where she passes along everything she’s learned. “The first watercolor class I ever took, I wanted to cry,” says Driscoll. And she smiles. “Then I got better.”