Noted painter reflects on the palette of his life

By Judith Richards
Contributing Writer
Gulf Coast Newspapers
Posted 4/19/07

FAIRHOPE — Don Andrews stepped outside Julwin’s restaurant in Fairhope, stretched his arms wide to embrace the warm spring day and grinned at his wife, Martha.

“We’re living in paradise!” he exclaimed.

Internationally renowned …

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Noted painter reflects on the palette of his life


FAIRHOPE — Don Andrews stepped outside Julwin’s restaurant in Fairhope, stretched his arms wide to embrace the warm spring day and grinned at his wife, Martha.

“We’re living in paradise!” he exclaimed.

Internationally renowned watercolor artist and winner of three national awards from the American Watercolor Society, Andrews is in demand as a painter, author and instructor throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, Europe, China and South Africa.

Andrews was born in Mobile. His mother was a schoolteacher who raised two boys after her husband died when Don was only 4 years old. She recognized her youngest son’s talent for drawing when he was in the first grade and placed him in the hands of Jane Shaw, who taught art to children after school.

“I grew up going to Ms. Shaw every Thursday until I graduated from high school,” Andrews recalled. “She suggested that I attend the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Fla. I knew they had an excellent clown program there, but art?”

Ringling is actually a very traditional art school. “Which was good,” Andrews said. “I’m glad to have that experience. But you automatically became an oil painter the day you walked into school. I liked what other people did, but oil painting was not for me. My last year there they opened up the curriculum and I tried watercolor. It was more immediate and more portable. I haven’t touched any other medium since.”

He said he wasn’t interested in becoming a commercial artist.

“I was young and idealistic. I got a job working at J.C. Penney at night, and I painted all day for 13 years.”

Andrews enrolled in a watercolor workshop taught by artist Robert E. Wood, who was part of what is known as the California school of watercolor.

“It isn’t a school,” Andrews said. “It’s a direction of painting that began back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Millard Sheets was the daddy of it all. And there was Rex Brandt and later, Robert E. Wood.”

There was a big divide in art between the East Coast and West Coast of America, Andrews explained.

“It was New York and L.A. The Eastern side of the country was rooted in realism, tonalism and value painting. Very skilled and very powerful, but not really involved in color and light. The Californians painted their lifestyle. They were outdoorsmen. They painted on location. Their work was more vivid, more fun, less involved in technical expertise. I don’t want to say whimsical, but there was a lighter feeling to it.”

Andrews remembers Wood’s class fondly.

“I knew that was the way I wanted to go. Robert E. was a great painter. He taught me how to teach as well as how to paint In teaching my own classes today, I use a lot of what I learned from Robert E. Wood.”

When asked about the most important element in a great painting, Andrews says, “Design. It’s what makes a painting work or not work.” He quotes Robert E. Wood, “But the best paintings just happen.”

Andrew’s future as a fine artist took a positive turn on what looked like a small event. He was teaching in Fairhope once a week. The president of the Southern Watercolor Society attended one of his classes. The society was having an annual meeting in Asheville, N.C., and Andrews was invited to do a demonstration.

“They offered to pay me $100,” Andrews laughed. “And I remember thinking, How dumb am I? I’m going to drive 1,200 miles round trip for a hundred bucks. But a hundred dollars meant a lot to me in those days and I agreed to go.”

In the North Carolina audience were two men, Steve McCrea and Guy Lipscomb, who were just starting Springmaid Beach, which has become the biggest watercolor workshop in the country.

“They were looking for new talent, and there I was.” Andrews said.

It was the beginning of his teaching career.

“I’ve been doing 20 workshops a year since,” he said. “If I hadn’t gone for that first $100, I might still be working at J.C. Penney’s.”

When he isn’t painting or teaching, Andrews is writing. His first book, Interpreting the Figure in Watercolor, quickly sold out and went back to press. He then wrote a humorous book titled Rough Sketches, about the adventures of an artist teaching workshops around the world. Andrews’ video, “Making Watercolor Glow,” was a bestseller and is now available on DVD. His third book, Interpreting the Landscape in Watercolor, has just been released.

Andrews teaches a workshop in Fairhope every other year. For more information on workshop schedules, to purchase books, DVDs, or to view a gallery of his work, visit