Will grew up on the east side of Indianapolis with four sisters. He was the only boy until his six year old brother was born. Although his parents weren’t together, both were involved in his life as much as they could be. He confided that he was mostly raised by his grandparents and had a unique way of keeping to himself. “I just did my own thing,” Will told me. Will found his interest for art as an adolescent; drawing and illustrating his thoughts as a form of therapeutic self-expression. He got involved in his craft by participating in school contests and doing projects for his church. His struggle of the past and his faith in the future have manifested an artistic present. I guess you could say Will’s talent is a gift.
Will and I caught up for lunch on his way to the studio. We rehashed about how we randomly met in DC a few months ago. I happened to see his lanyard and I threw him a code word. We embraced and swapped info and have stayed connected ever since. Who knew I’d be featuring him on the site a few months later? But why wouldn’t I? Will’s work is Dope! In college, he studied Fine Arts and minored in Art History. His skills range from photorealism to portraits to abstract to drawing and more. He’s been recognized by multiple publications, has proudly sold many of his best pieces, and he does live Art Shows all over Washington DC. When you finish the interview, checkout his Instagram for a closer look. But in the meantime, please enjoy this week’s #ShineHard conversation.
What is your passion and when did you know?
Will: Well, when I realized it? Probably around 2012. But art… has been my thing for as long as I can remember. But also, working with people, talking, connecting, mentoring. Inspiring people to be better. That’s always been my thing too. Throughout college I worked as a peer mentor for student support services. I did a lot of mentoring with freshmen, sophomores.
As a kid, I did a lot of drawing and crazy art projects. But I didn’t really start painting until college. Until then it was all like illustrations and drawing. In high school I used to do photo-realistic type stuff. I got bored with it. I kinda just started adding different stylized characters and stuff. It’s something I’ve always been doing. The opportunity to inspire people visually is my passion.
Who did you look up to growing up?
Will: Definitely my grandparents. Being the only boy, and with pops being in and out of jail. I would look for positive male figures to look up to. So I would look up to my uncle. He’s a police officer. My mom’s ex husband was, and I’m sure still is a positive influence. Growing up I was into sports, but I wasn’t really like in sports. But of course Jordan was the man. I remember Sports Illustrated for Kids, this was many many years ago. I actually drew the Jordan Fusion shoe before Nike or Jordan even decided to do that. I took the 11’s and the 12’s and I fused them together. And then I drew this cartoon picture of Jordan near the moon and I tried to send it to Sports Illustrated for Kids. I never heard back, so I guess it got lost in the mail… haha you’re welcome Nike.
Johnny: I will say Thank You on behalf lol.
So what is your goal with Art?
Will: My goal is to live off art, and to get paid helping other people live off art.
Are there any artists you look to now or that inspire you?
Will: Back then I didn’t really know of any artists. But now, after learning so much about art history I definitely look up to some of the prominent black figures. Artists that aren’t mentioned as much, Henry O. Tanner, Frank Morrison, Kehinde Wiley. Of course, Jean-Michel Basquiat, The ideas and the concepts that he was dealing with. What he was actually saying within those pieces is what really just made those pieces what they were. He put a lot of thought and emotion into every piece, and he did hundreds, maybe even thousands. That was his life, that’s all he did. That just made him the artist that he was. The content of his work was nuts.
What does the word “Muse” mean to you? And what is your muse?
Will: A muse to me is that inspiration. Those things that inspire you or what you look at for beauty. A lot of times for me, my muse is music, poetry, other artists, people, situations, ideas, religious things, definitely my spirituality. Muse is all of those things fused together to get a complete Will Watson piece. A lot of the content of my artwork has to do with those things.
What type of art do you enjoy the most?
Will: Well, it’s starting to change a bit. I have a friend that’s been following my work for a long time, and mentioned the evolution of my work. Like really sat and broke it down to me. In high school I was doing the photorealism. Then college I started to explore some of the other realms of art, and you know, really tried to search for myself. I started finding myself in abstract art. Then once I started moving from abstract art I moved on to portraits. My portraits went from a lot of color, to now, I really like to use a limited color pallet. Where I just use the same colors throughout the entire painting. It’s definitely important to evolve and what’s kinda cool is when, through the evolution, people still recognize that this is something Will did. They say, “I can tell that this is something Will did.”
What type of things motivate you to succeed?
Will: Never really thought going into it that I would have so many people that would have my back on something as crazy as following a dream. Because essentially, that’s what it is. I’m following a dream. It’s something that I said I wanted to do. Sat down and said, “Yo I’m just gonna make it happen.” End up quitting my job where I was making decent money. But even there, my supervisor was like, “You’re bigger than this. You’re bigger than this job. Your passion is not this. It’s something else.” At the time I was fighting it because I had a different experience in art school. Where I didn’t know if I wanted to continue to do art after I graduated. It was just those moments where, because art was all I knew, I would miss it.
After I graduated I didn’t paint, I didn’t draw, I didn’t do any art for almost a year. Until I got a commission to paint a food truck and after I did that I was like, “Oh man, I miss this. I miss this like crazy!” So I started painting and drawing more. I ended up getting involved with this thing called Raw Artists. Which is basically a platform for emerging artists to exhibit their work. When I did that, the response to my work versus the response I would get in undergrad critiques were completely different. In undergrad I would get, “Oh I like the colors” or “I don’t really have anything to say about it.” Versus, “OMG I really like that and how you did this!” I was, for lack of better words, getting my ego stroked as an artist. I started to actually feel good about the work I was creating [Me: Man, and sometimes you need that!] You definitely need that.
What’s been your biggest challenges as a young artist thus far?
Will: Money *Laughs*. Money, staying motivated. Artists of any kind go through a period of time where they just can’t think of anything. Nothing comes out. So still finding a way to press and fight through those moments and try to do something. Once you do that you start breaking down those barriers and it’s easier to get through those moments where you don’t feel motivated.
What frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Will: Everything is really trendy. Nobody is unique anymore. Too many people seem to follow the fads of the times, instead of seeking that true individuality. For instance, I did a painting of Jean-Michel Basquiat kinda like covering his eyes and on the side it said, “Too many Basquiats and not enough new artists.” It’s really saying, “It’s OK to be you.’ Seems like since Jay-Z put his name in a song, everybody wants to know or shoutout Basquiat. I was looking at Basquiat like back in 06, like, “Yo who is this black with this crazy hair?!” Now everybody is trying to use his symbols or make their art work look like his art work. Be original. Do something different. Be yourself.
What accomplishment or piece are you most proud of thus far?
Will: In 2010, I did a mural on the side of the Historical Madame C.J. Walker building in Indianapolis. It was part of a beautification project for community service. I came up with the sketch in 3 days and painted it in 3 days. It’s a picture of music throughout the ages. Then just a few months ago I get an email saying, “Will check this out!” and it was a link to the Huffington Post. A lady did an article titled “19 Beautiful images that prove America’s greatest art isn’t in a Museum.” The image of the mural was #11. That one blew me away. Definitely one of my greatest accomplishments. I will always have this piece of artwork up in my hometown. Its’ a historical landmark there so I know it’s not going anywhere.
What’s the #1 factor to your success?
Will: Not giving up man, not giving up. Often times I say, after any picture I post or anything, “Never Stop Dreaming.” I feel like that’s an important thing in my life. You can’t give up on your dream. It’s going to be a lot of people who will try to get you to give up or distract you. For me, I just won’t give up. I heard Will Smith say, “I will die on the treadmill…” And that’s how I feel. I don’t care if I only sell like one painting. I don’t care. I’m not going to stop painting. I’m not gonna stop doing what I love because at the end of it it’s all about what makes me happy.
What advice would you give young artists that aspire to do what you’re doing?
Will: Just that point; Don’t give up. Even in the times where it seems illogical and nothing makes sense, you can’t give up. Because at any given moment now… especially with social media, you never know who’s sharing your work, who’s gonna see your work, or who’s going to contact you. Somebody is always going to like your stuff. No matter what some “haters” may say. Just keep practicing. With anything, you can’t have a gift and sit on it and expect to be great. Stay consistent, stay persistent, and trust in God throughout the process. Faith is the number one thing.
Johnny: Social media can open more doors than old school chivalry if we use it right. Continue to lead the way bro and welcome to the @ShineHardFamily! MAB
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