Donald Watson was born at Cranleigh in Surrey on 28 June 1918 of a Scots father and an English mother. He first began to draw birds before he was five years old and copied illustrations by Archibald Thorburn, the great wildlife artist of late Victorian and Edwardian times.
Indeed in 1930, Thorburn, a near neighbour and by then in his late 60s, invited young Donald to tea and encouraged his early interest, leaving an impression on him that was to remain throughout his life. However, painting was already in his blood. His father’s sister (Margaret Stephens) won a scholarship from Aberdeen to attend the Slade School of Art in London and on his mother’s side his uncle was H.John Pearson, an architect who had paintings exhibited in the Royal Academy. His older brother Eric too became a most accomplished artist.