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Born and raised in Vancouver BC , Don Portelance spent his first year in hospital in a room full of cribs with no colour or visual stimulation. When he came out at the age of one he was overwhelmed by the yet to be experienced visual world.

Portelance had a passion for art at a young age but had no art in elementary and high schools. During this time he scoured the libraries for every book on art and copied many of them by hand. He taught himself drawing, gouache and oil painting.

Against a backdrop of psychological instability and restrictive religion of many around him, he began to develop an approach to art that explored not only the beauty of the world around him but also explored the meaning behind the images.

He began his formal art education at night classes in the Vancouver School of Art, and continued focusing on studio art during his bachelor degree at the University of British Columbia, and master degree at Western Washington University. In 1976 he completed a year of Post-Graduate studies in Lithography at the Vancouver School of Art, and in 1997 completed Simon Fraser University graduate field studies on Queen Charlotte Islands focusing on the Art and Culture of the Haida Indians.

From 1958 to the present Portelance has focused on teaching art, and has continued an active exhibition schedule. Presently he continues to be employed in the Education Department at the University of Victoria, and also teaches artistically gifted young adults for Place des Arts in Coquitlam.

In 1960 he married Marilyn Catterall, who had recently arrived from a six year residence in Brisbane Australia. In 1962 they moved to Coquitlam on the outskirts of Vancouver where they settled into a house they designed and built. They continue to live and work in Coquitlam, punctuated by travel to over 30 countries.