Walter Anderson

A major American artist and naturalist

Walter Anderson spent most of his life exploring the wonders of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, absorbed in the haunting ambiance of the water, marshes, and woods. His "oneness with nature" and his expression of that unity have made Anderson a legendary figure on the Gulf Coast.

Walter Anderson was born in 1903 in New Orleans and died in 1965. He studied at the Parson's School of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he won several awards, including the prestigious Cresson Award for travel in Europe. He traveled extensively in Europe and Asia before adopting a reclusive existence, spending much of his time on his beloved Horn Island.

Anderson's output was staggering. He worked in oil, watercolor, pen, and ink, and pencil. He sculpted in wood, crafted furniture, carved and decorated pottery, and cut large linoleum blocks for printmaking. He also produced stained glass and hooked rugs. For Anderson, art was not a product but a process, a means of experiencing the world. His drawing, prints, and watercolors celebrated the natural rhythms of the weather, the seasons, the sea, and the cycles of plants, flowers, and animals. His abiding interest in nature combined with his strong sense of design and color, his avid intellectual curiosity, and his bold imagination have made his works distinctive and timeless. 

Walter Anderson - self portrait 

Lesson 1 --Who was Walter Anderson? 

Step 1:  Watch the documentaries below to learn about the life and art of Walter Anderson. 

Click On Image Above for Documentary Website.

The Islanders 

(29m 59s)

A 1977 film on acclaimed watercolor artist Walter Anderson from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 

Walter Anderson: The Extraordinary Life and Art of the Islander

(56m 46s)

The fascinating life and work of Mississippi Gulf Coast watercolorist Walter Inglis Anderson is explored in this intimate and revealing new film. Through poignant family interviews, never-before-seen artwork, and breathtaking images from Anderson’s beloved Horn Island, discover the genius who has been called "the South's greatest artist." From filmmakers Anthony Thaxton and Robert St. John

Lesson 2--The Seven Motifs 


In 1941, after several years of intermittent hospitalization, Walter Anderson joined his family at Oldfields, his wife’s family home in Gautier, MS. The thin, pale artist with shaking hands began to re-teach himself how to draw, exercising his skill with daily practice. He would often warm up his fingers by drawing a series of motifs in the upper right-hand corner of the paper: wavy line, zig zag, straight line, circle, spiral, half circle, and S-curve. Slowly and painstakingly his line developed, grew in confidence, then danced along the page recording movement and grace of the animals around him. 

In his illustrations of cats from the Oldfield’s period, Anderson’s line demonstrates the connection from the artist’s eye to the hand to the pen as he drew the cats living around him. Every line included by Anderson serves a purpose – outlining form, creating motion, and depicting the personality of the creatures with every stroke. 

Materials you will need:

Step 1:  Go through the PowerPoint below to learn about the Seven Motifs.  Next click on the buttons below for a handout about the Seven Motifs and complete the Activity Sheet using the Seven Motifs. 

Two Kittens and the Seven Motifs

Walter Inglis Anderson

C. 1945

Pen and Ink

Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson

This line drawing, although damaged in Hurricane Katrina, demonstrates Walter Adnerson’s use of the seven motifs during his Oldfields period. The seven motifs were written about in Mexican theorist Adolfo Best-Maugard’s book, A Method for Creative Design. According to Best-Maugard, everything in nature could be depicted using the seven motifs. 

Ducks and Motifs; circa 1945

From the Walter Anderson Museum of Art Permanent Collection. An original pen and ink drawing by Walter Inglis Anderson.

Stokesias; circa 1945

From the Walter Anderson Museum of Art Permanent Collection. An original pen and ink drawing by Walter Inglis Anderson.

Androcles and the Lion

Walter Inglis Anderson

C. 1945

Block Print

Image Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson 

Lesson 3--Roll-A- Walter Anderson

Step 1:  Use a random number generator (dice, spinner, app) to roll five times. Each roll will tell you what to draw. First roll will be the animal in your creation. Roll two will be a background element. The third roll will determine the plants you draw. Roll four will show you the geometric designs you will add to your drawing. Finally, the fifth roll will provide extra elements to add to your drawing to fill in negative space and add interest. The game sheet is the prompt, but you can make creative choices. You can always add more than the five rolled elements but not less.   

Step 2: Use markers for adding color to your artwork. 

Step 3: Black markers make everything pop! When you are finished adding color, trace ALL of your drawing lines with a black marker. Sharpies work best for this. 


Example of Drawing 


Example of Completed Project

Lesson 4--Alphabet Letter

Materials you will need: 


Step 1: Draw a  1-inch border around the edge of your paper using a ruler

Step 2: Choose an animal that begins with the same letter as one of your initials. (Ex. Kelly-Kio; Best-Bush Baby; Young-Yak)

Step 3: Draw an alphabet block design for the animal in the style of Walter Anderson.  Be sure to include all 7 motifs in your design, and include a contour of your subject! First, draw your entire design in pencil—then go over it with sharpie/pen, and color your page neatly using colored pencils. Incorporate shading into your design (fading from light to dark).