Graphic design student paints image for MLK poster
Monday, January 11, 2016

So what do you do here?

In addition to studying art and graphic design, I’ve been a graphic designer with Student Life Marketing & Design for the past year, putting in about 20 hours per week. The work environment here couldn’t be better—it’s open to creativity, and I’m never afraid to fail. It’s been a great place to grow my personal skills.

The rundownDepartment: Job: Family: Hometown: Alma Mater:

Student Life Marketing & Design

Graphic designer;senior undergraduate student majoring in graphic design, will graduate in May 2016

Parents, three brothers, and one sister

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Washington High School

Why did you come to the University of Iowa?

Not only is my dad a UI graduate, I love the faculty here. I also liked that it was close to home. Unlike others who can’t wait to leave, I am a very proud Midwesterner. I love the culture of Iowa City, and the art facilities here are phenomenal. I am a graphic designer, but art is my passion, my true love.

You painted the portrait that is used on the UI poster promoting the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week. How did that come about?

My boss, creative coordinator Erin Fitzgerald, approached me. She said it would be cool to do something more organic for the poster this year, like painting, and she’d seen my work. I was totally on board—Dr. King was one of my idols. The original assignment was just for the poster, but as it progressed, I ended up putting out a lot of paintings, and my boss suggested doing a live painting event [Ed. note: At 6:30 p.m., Jan. 19, at the Kendall Gallery, Iowa Memorial Union, Watkins will paint live while attendees comment on how they are making democracy real].

You have eight MLK paintings on display in the Iowa Memorial Union’s Kendall Gallery this month. How did you approach the work?

I painted all of them within a few hours. As I painted, I was listening to his speeches and responding intuitively, oscillating between representative reality and pieces more abstract—because of the different energy in his speeches. I already had a collection of his speeches on my iPod, and I knew it’d be a good tool. What is phenomenal is that on one hand his speeches are intellectual and pragmatic, and on the other hand they are rousing. I think that is reflected in my work.

When did you know you were an artist?

I have been interested in art my whole life, and in fact my first memories are art-related. I grew up drawing and then in high school I moved to oils and acrylics, which are what I used in the MLK paintings, but I also like watercolor and digital art.

Who have been your favorite professors?

Ab Gratama, the director of the graphic design department, and Susan Chrysler White, professor of painting and drawing. Susan has been completely invested in helping to grow my skills while also pushing me to challenge myself.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

I’d love to go to graduate school. Maybe the Art Institute of Chicago or Yale University. I might also do graphic design, but I definitely want to cultivate art. I have several exhibitions planned right now, including one about a World War II vet I’ve been interviewing who was one of the first to liberate the concentration camps. I want to continue to tell other people’s stories in pictures, so I will go wherever that takes me.

Name some of your favorite things.

Art Building West (“I pretty much live there”); music, from Scott Joplin to Young Thug (“I studied music in high school”); soul food, along with a diverse mix of food from sushi to hot wings and orange soda; American Psycho, a novel by Bret Easton Ellis.