Artist Interview: Don Whitson

Posted by Jenni Kirby - February 17 2021


After 25 years of working in Illustration for the Department of the Army, Don Whitson is finally pursuing his dream of painting full-time. “Though I’ve been doing this my whole life, most of my training was actually on the job.”


A recent recipient of the Virginia Watercolor Society’s Award of Excellence, Don primarily works in watercolor and his style lends itself to realism. He recalls first being enamored by the work of Steve Hanks, which influenced further explorations into watercolors. “It’s hard to do realism with watercolors. I try to be better each time, with mastering the medium.”


When starting a new painting, Don says he will begin by sifting through photos and references until he finds something striking. He will typically only spend around 2-3 weeks per painting, preferring to work quickly through an idea. “I really only focus on one painting at a time, I have to finish it before moving on.” Ever searching for the perfect vignette for his next painting, Don says “I’m always trying to paint new things. If I can’t get excited about it I can’t paint it.”


Don finds inspiration in everyday moments, like his piece Busking on the Mall. “Before Covid-19, the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville was always busy and filled with people walking, dining and shopping. The many street musicians who were always busking on the mall added to the charm and ambiance of the downtown scene. Although they were scattered all over the mall, many of the musicians gathered around the dining areas near the Paramount Theatre.”


Don says he is currently thinking about his next series of work. We don’t expect he will remain there for long as he says, “if I reach a point where I have a blank drawing board, I can’t rest until I have something there.”