An Eye for Art: Having learned he ‘can do anything,’ Will Watson makes a career out of art

Will Watson
Will Watson (Lyndi McNulty)

Will Watson is a regional artist. His first attempt at art that he remembers was sitting at his Fisher Price desk trying to draw Batman.

He tried and tried, balling up paper with his many attempts and throwing them away. He became frustrated and stormed through the house. His grandmother asked him what was wrong. She calmed him down and told him “You can do anything you put your mind to.” From that moment on it was his philosophy in life. She sat with him and helped him to draw Batman. Later in life he had the slogan tattooed onto his arm.


Once his family noticed he had a skill and a talent, they encouraged him to follow that path. Watson did a lot of art in school. He attended Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Watson won prizes while at the school as well as the Senior Purchase Prize in 2006. His surreal drawing still hangs in the school library.

Watson attended Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis and majored in Fine Arts. He graduated in 2011 with a BFA, Bachelor of Fine Arts.


In 2011, Watson was sick of art because he did not have a good undergraduate experience. He was not challenged and did not feel growth or motivated. Watson began to see his art as a hobby.

As an undergrad, Watson did a lot of peer mentoring. He joined many student organizations and held officer positions in those clubs. As a result, Watson felt that might be his path in life.

At that time, Watson decided to become a life coach. There was a job opening at the Excell Center, a high school for adults. They helped individuals that had dropped out of school achieve their high school diploma. Taking on all those personalities was a huge task. He was good at it but he started to miss art.

Watson began to do more art projects. He began to do art shows, traveling to sell his art in his region from Chicago to Cincinnati. In 2013, Watson made a decision that he would pursue a career in art full-time. He moved to Washington, D.C., because he had a friend there. Although, Watson wanted to move to New York, his friend had an extra room.

Watson worked retail for a while and did some Paint and Sip classes, workshops and other small art-related jobs.

It became harder for him to get into shows and exhibitions. Watson knew he had a lot of skill and knew he had more to offer. So, he applied and was accepted to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore in their graduate painting program. It is called the Leroy E. Hoffberger School of Painting.

That experience changed his life. They encouraged and supported him. The level of artists and instructors he worked with was high. The support of the community was also encouraging.

"I had a beautiful experience. I was pushed and they challenged me as an artist but also helped me to learn more and more who I am as an individual,” he said. “The shift happened quickly.

He was afforded the opportunity to study at the 2017 Venice Biannual. “It is like the Olympics of Art,” Watson explained. They studied ancient architecture, paintings from historical times, art by Venetian artists such as Titian and Bellini.

The visited the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (www.scuolagrandesanrocco.org), which was similar to an old fraternity house. Tintoretto was commissioned to do the paintings. “It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was the first time art brought me to tears,” Watson said.

MICA provided Watson many opportunities in the world of art. He had a show in Harlem, New York at Curtiss Jacobs Gallery.

Watson also got a chance to work with two amazing directors at MICA including Joan Waltemath and Steven Ellis. Ellis was instrumental in mentoring Watson and the things he is creating now.


While Watson was at MICA, it was beneficial to his career to meet and be mentored by Tim Okumura, of Brooklyn, New York. Watson also got guidance from Amy Sherald, the artist who painted the Michelle Obama portrait. He met her at the National Portrait Gallery, where Obama’s portrait hangs today. She was a 2004 graduate of the same MICA program Watson participated in as part of the art program.

“I enjoyed two years of solid focus,” at MICA, Watson explained. When he graduated in May 2011, he won the MICA fellowship for Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower studio. He had a studio there until May, 2019.

Watson began to teach at Carroll Community College in August 2018.

“I like the freedom to create and express. It lets me unpack, think and breathe. It has become more therapy than anything,” he said.

He can be contacted at WillWatsonart.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun