Architect exchanges drafting for watercolor, holds first show in Del Mar


By Claire Harlin

In his more than 40 years of working as an architect, Del Mar resident Don Coordt excelled by virtue of being precise and detail-oriented, because any architect knows problems can arise if specifications aren’t spelled out to a tee.

“You have to get it close to 100 percent before it goes out the door,” said Coordt, who operated a small firm in Sorrento Valley for 20 years.

But Coordt has scaled down his work load to focus on a passion that doesn’t require him to carry errors and omissions insurance — watercolor painting — and his first exhibition is on display through the end of October at the Del Mar Art Center Gallery of Fine Art, located at 1555 Camino Del Mar in the Del Mar Plaza.

Coordt was introduced to watercolor as somewhat of a technical skill in architecture school at Berkeley. Now he’s trying to “become more loose” in his application and approach, turning the skill into an art that’s open-ended, spanning far beyond the parameters of architectural renderings.

He’s painting vibrant landscapes of sentimental places he’s visited, as well as a number of special local landmarks — Powerhouse Park, Del Mar Dog Beach and Carmel Valley’s I-56 country-like bike path, to name a few. His local renditions are available for sale at the Del Mar Art Center gallery, and his work is also on display at the San Diego Watercolor Society gallery in Point Loma’s Liberty Station. Not to mention, he serves on the board of the local Coastal Artists group, a nonprofit that showcases its members calls for exhibition space at the website The group will be having upcoming shows at both the Encinitas Library and the La Vida Del Mar retirement community in Solana Beach.

“I’ve really got my plate full,” Coordt said.

It’s not the first time Coordt has dove full force into an art he’s passionate about, and a proof of that is a five-tier shelf in his home filled with dozens of his colorful, handmade ceramic pots. He picked up that skill, as well as stoneware, by taking night classes at San Dieguito High School, and he said he has made so many pieces that he donates them or gives them away to friends.

Coordt doesn’t consider his shift into the visual arts a retirement — actually, he doesn’t even like the word “retirement” at all. He said he is simply making a transition, and he continues to serve the needs of past clients when necessary.

In his years as an architect, Coordt’s clients included Dixieline ProBuild, formerly known as Dixieline Lumber Co., Frost Hardwood Lumber Company and Jack in the Box. He also completed a $2.5 million construction project at Solana Beach’s St. James Parish about a decade ago.

Coordt has been a member of the Del Mar Art Center since 2007, excluding a sabbatical of about two years. The center has 35 members and operates like a cooperative, with each member paying dues and hanging fees to hep pay for the space. Each member volunteers in the shop twice a month and helps at various openings in exchange for gallery space. Members are diverse in their different artistic mediums, ranging from paint to sculpture to jewelry. Coordt said he sells about a painting a month there, in addition to greeting cards featuring his local watercolor scenes on them. Coordt said he often gets requests for commission work such as painting someone’s house or recreating an original he has already done, but he usually turns down such requests.

“I have to be inspired by [what I paint],” he said, adding that he doesn’t like to paint the same thing twice.

Coordt said it’s the vibrancy of colors that fascinates him about watercolor, and he often gets into “the zone” and doesn’t come out for hours.

“When I get into that state, and I can’t be interrupted, my wife Susie always says, ‘The crab is in,’” he said. “In writing you can take a break and come back to that same paragraph, but it’s not like that in painting.”

For more information about the Del Mar Art Center, visit To see some of Coordt’s artwork, visit