By RICK WATSON
Don Stewart’s mother died unexpectedly when he was five years old, and it was then he knew he would become a doctor. But it wasn’t until the Homewood resident had completed medical school and was training as a surgeon that he realized practicing medicine did not make him happy—drawing did. So he walked out in the middle of his rounds.
That was 25 years ago, and he’s never regretted walking away. He had no idea how he would support himself drawing pictures with a ballpoint pen, but he knew he loved the work and believed he’d find a way. And he did.
Trying to categorize Stewart’s art is difficult. “I draw funny pictures that are made of puns that make people smile,” he said. “My job is to increase the endorphin levels of everyone that sees my pictures.”
An example is a golf bag made up of a set of clubs (playing cards that are all clubs), shooting iron (a pistol), trap (rat trap), driver (a hammer) and it’s all carried by a caddie (a Cadillac). The longer you look at the drawings, the more puns you see.
It took Stewart 15 years of drawing pictures to pay off his student loans, but he doesn’t feel bad. He spoke with a retired pediatrician recently who said it took him 17 years working as a physician to pay off his student loans.
Stewart was interested in all things creative when he was younger. At Birmingham-Southern College, he talked to his counselor about taking a drawing class. The counselor balked because he feared it would hurt Stewart’s chances of getting into medical school.
But Stewart persisted and did so well in Drawing 101 that they allowed him to take two more classes. For the final project in his last class, he had to make a big picture out of smaller pictures.
“For the first time in my life, both sides of my brain woke up at the same time,” he said.
During medical school at UAB, Stewart quickly learned there was not a lot of time for art. “Ideas kept dancing around in my head, but they weren’t welcomed,” he said. “The OR (operating room) is a tough room to play.”
Through med school and his residency, what kept Stewart alive was drawing at home, and despite his father’s advice, he quit by the end of his first year of residency.
He said he used the same organization and research skills he’d learned in medical school on the pictures he draws. Stewart’s wife, Sue Ellen, jokes that he has a masters degree in every piece he does.
Stewart gets his ideas for his work from things he’s read or learned in school. The challenge is putting those things down in new and interesting ways.
One of Stewart’s most famous prints is the history of the Marine Corps entitled Uncommon Valor, which took a year and a half to research and draw. Each of 375 small images depicts a piece of Marine Corps history from 1775 through present day. When all these smaller images put together, the print looks like the iconic WWII photograph of Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima.
Half of the profits from the sale of Uncommon Valor prints go to benefit the Marine Corps Wounded Warriors fund.
The artist also creates Christmas ornaments for Homewood. The design is usually a historic building or some other point of interest in the city. The 2011 ornament is available at DS Art Studio.
Stewart sells his art at DS Art Studio on Crescent Avenue in Homewood, at art shows and online at www.DSArt.com.