An artist/illustrator with an architectural background, Dale Watson has tackled a diverse range of portraits and renderings throughout his career. His latest major endeavor involves the production of up to 30 paintings depicting scenes from the American Revolution in a project entitled the Liberty Trail Project, nine of which are currently on display at the Berkeley County Museum at Moncks Corner.
The 63-year-old Mount Pleasant resident is hired by the American Battlefield Trust, which works with the South Carolina Battlefield Preservation Trust to bring these historical depictions to life. A year into the process, Watson continues to consult with historians such as Douglas Bostick in his quest to achieve 100 percent accuracy in his drawings of the bygone era of our Founding Fathers.
Watson, whose earlier historical work can be seen at Charleston’s Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, takes no shortcuts in his pursuit of perfection. For his Liberty Trail project, the veteran artist first sent miniature sketches of his preliminary drawings to the American Battlefield Trust before they jointly signed off on what a battlefield scene or landscape should look like.
“Once we’ve finalized all the details, like what uniform and what soldiers would have been there, there’s a lot of back-and-forth with Doug and the team in Washington [D.C.]’ Watson described. “Once we have all that, I’ll refine my line sketches. When we get to the point where everyone likes them, that’s when I go into my color phase.”
Vibrant colors are indeed a hallmark of most of Watson’s historical framed paintings, such as his Fort Fair Lawn painting, on display during the old fort’s grand opening. on the weekend of September 24th
Another of his works, titled Battle of Kettle Creek, highlights the artist’s meticulous rigor in allowing a viewer to grasp the essence and urgency of the depicted soldiers in action.
Watson says his original commissioned oil painting, Battle of Kettle Creek, was presented to former University of Georgia head football coach Vince Dooley. If you look closely at the portrait, you might be able to spot the likeness of former Bulldog running back Herschel Walker dressed as one of the soldiers. It is believed that the one African American man in the actual standoff may actually have been related to the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner.
As for his other paintings and how they relate to the role played by Mocks Corner and Berkeley County in the fight against the British Redcoats, Watson mentioned the exploits of “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion in defeating the enemy. The military officer’s ability to prevent the British from navigating the backwoods after they captured Charleston, the sketch and color virtuoso noted, was paramount to the United States’ success.
“Having been here a long time, I think I’m uniquely suited to this,” said Watson. “I’ve been in a series of swamps. I’ve wandered around many of them. I appreciate Francis Marion sneaking through those swamps in mid-August to attack the British camp with the snakes and alligators. There’s always something stinging you or biting you or pulling you.
“I’ve often brought up the idea of being a 20-year-old Brit from Yorkshire [County], England, and landing over here would be the equivalent of landing a poor boy from Washington state or Wisconsin in Vietnam in the 1960s. I mean, landing in such a hostile, alien, hot and humid environment and then having an enemy who knows the land and sneaking up on you…”
The son of a minister in Upstate South Carolina and a former Army paratrooper, Watson is always looking for new adventures and opportunities to learn about history. He recently read David McCullough’s “1776” for more insight into the birth of our nation.
What many people may not realize, Watson said, is how many American residents remained loyal to the British regime when the revolution broke out. In fact, he estimated that in the late 17th century there were a fairly equal number of Loyalists and Patriots in South Carolina.
Painting battlefield portraits is not all Watson does, however, as he is still busy composing architectural renderings as an independent contractor.
When asked to give a few tips to illustrators like himself who want to venture into the wild side of painting and art, Watson recommends simply drawing every day.
“Just start with it. Don’t think about it too much, just get up and do it every day,” he continued, as that’s the only way any individual can become aware of their mistakes.
“You have to mess up a lot of paintings… just this struggle you have with this whole piece of it. I honestly haven’t painted a painting that I’m completely happy with,” said the self-confessed hardmarker.
Watson’s portfolio can be viewed at www.dalewatsonart.com.