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Artist of Water: Don Waters

Artist of Water: Don Waters

It is difficult not to be infatuated by boats and the sea, especially if you grew up with your home being the change rooms of the Middle Harbour Yacht Club at The Spit in Sydney.

Don Waters, one of Australia’s prolific abstract expressionist artists, says, “I love the water. Most of my paintings are of water. It’s a life blood and energy.”

Now living in an unpretentious part of the Gold Coast, Don continues his life of art and love of water in Jacobs Well.


Don lived through a sunburnt youth that unfolded across the Australian coastline. Don’s father was an entrepreneur who bought and sold many businesses, mostly liquor venues, which led Don to a life in a yacht club. As a young tacker, he was privy to sailing an array of small sailing boats and then became a well-rounded sailor.

Don expresses with humour and excitement the creative frustration that his father lived with. “You see, my father once told me that he always wanted to be a window dresser. Instead, he managed liquor venues; he would fight, drink and smoke most of his days.”

It was through his mother that he had his first brush with painting, so to speak. “My mum bought me my first colour paints, for just $1.99 for the set. I spent the next few days, painting nude women all over my bedroom walls. I was fascinated with colour. When my father saw what I had done, all he could manage was, ‘Good on ‘ya son!’”

Don’s passion for art did not immediately turn into his career. “I absolutely loved to draw, and I knew early on that I wanted to be an artist, except it wasn’t something that you aspired to be 60 years ago. So I became an accountant, the world’s worst accountant, I must confess.” Nonetheless, he eventually became a painter in his own right, and a prolific one at that.

“Unlike many artists, I am not a recluse, I actually love people, but I need time alone to create,” explains Don. “Painting is everything to me – that and my family. I am always painting, always drawing. If I am out in a restaurant, I will be drawing on the tablecloth. I sketch to escape. Any art must always remain an adventure.”

Don has an eclectic style. Most recognised are his works that centre on an evolving waterscape, using bold colours, dark strokes, and a cast of interesting characters that tell a story of people living by the sea. His illustrations of this perfect life are a corrupted exaggeration of his memories with childlike simplicity.

It’s hard to define Don’s work. He has several unique styles with the underlying themes being escapism, the environmental scapes, and in some artwork, even a statement of man’s destruction of the environment.

He tries not to be too commercial, but his colourful images are attractive to many sectors of our society. “When somebody hangs one of my paintings in their home, it’s a constant reminder of a perfect environment.” He can be categorised as an environmental artist, being always interested in the wellbeing of the waterways, his work demonstrating an idealism of unspoiled surroundings that we all should aspire to nurture. “A fantasy of an ideal image on your wall, subconsciously understanding the beauty that’s out there. It’s a propaganda for wellbeing, encouraging respect and love of the environment and waterways.”

For two years, Don took his art and his celebrity on cruise ships promoting Australian art. In that time, Don joined fourteen cruises operated by P&O and Royal Caribbean cruises , painting, talking, lecturing, and at the end of each trip, auctioning his artwork on-board.

Don currently conducts live onstage painting sessions, usually as a backdrop to a professional public speaker. The painting evolves, decided by his likes and dislikes of what he sees. He describes this process as magic realism, a real spiritual performance. As he forms the painting, he rotates the canvas, in front of 300-400 watching eyes, not sure himself what will eventuate. “You need deep belief in yourself to do this type of painting that connects with your audience. There is an element of channelling, and then a need to shut off from the crowd to absorb what’s in front of you, and work towards a final creation.”

Don himself is still amazed by the outcomes of these sessions. His most awakening story was while at a political fundraiser. Don was on stage doing what he does, when the painting began to appear as a Jesus image. Once completed, there was a hush and many whispers. Later, he learned that the purchasers of the artwork, who occupied the entire two back rows of the seminar, were members of a church group. Don puts this down to feeling subconsciously.


With such an illustrious career, Don can even boast that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has his work in her personal art collection. But even then, he has chosen to continue living his eclectic lifestyle in the unassuming and quite sleepy town of Jacobs Well, where he remains involved with the environment and the local community.

In 1979, Don moved to Beenleigh, and a few years later settled in Jacobs Well, where for the last 37 years, he has worked from his eclectic home studio with his very own tropical forest. “It’s a laid back atmosphere. My paintings take inspirations from the town and the places. I converged on the water in these tidelands. My work takes in the energy of the local people.”

Don is an active member of his community. Not only has he been part of the local area’s historical societies, he has also worked with Jacobs Well Progress Association. He is most proud of his efforts with the Environmental Education Centre, where he teaches young people with difficult personal lives to express themselves through art. “Through painting classes, these kids, who must endure many problems, are taught to use the environment for healing. They are given basic painting skills, and a common understanding of the importance of ‘me’. When art is the third party, they can express themselves through whatever form and not be judged. This method involves writing on the canvas, just scribbling their fears and anything they want to leave behind, and then paint over them. With a powerful psychology of the mind, the painting evolves to something beautiful, and possibly some of their problems are left behind.”

While he doesn’t have too much time these days to go out boating, occasionally Don joins the Jacob’s Well Fishing Club members, or he fishes from a jetty. “My wife and I recently spent a lot of time at sea; now we are sticking to the land.”

In 2010, he was awarded Gold Coast Citizen of the Year, and in 2016 he was awarded the Order of Australia medal, for fine arts and the community. “I am proud of this area, it’s beautiful. However, the fishing village it once was is evolving, with a new vibe of young families and people commuting daily to the big cities.”

If you have visited the area, you will notice that Don has almost painted the entire town, from shop buildings, to the Welcome to Jacobs Well sign, and the sign for Cabbage Tree Point.


Don really cares about his environment and encourages others to do so. “What really surprises me is the need for us, the local community, to go out and pick up rubbish off the beach, when it should be the responsibility of every person to dispose of their rubbish correctly. Also, with a mounting number of live-aboard boats, Don is concerned that the waters may be contaminated by boat waste outflow released too close to the town. He also takes this opportunity to remind jet ski riders to obey the speed limits in the area, and reminds all boaters that the mangroves are a pristine breeding ground for much marine life.

“There are very few rules we need to respect. It shouldn’t be too hard for everybody. I hope that my artwork encourage a connection to the land that we call our home, and that future generations will be reminded to respect those rules rather than deal with the consequence.”

Don represents humility despite his power to create meaningful messages through his art. His prolific artistry shows that his art is where his heart is, and his heart is where his art is. From the walls of the Queen’s home to the walls of shop buildings of Jacobs Well, one can find Don’s actual experiences and passions – art, waterways, environment, fishing, community – translated into images through his artwork.

By Andy Kancachian



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