Nathan Watkins, ’17: Painting the Town, Literally

Posted by Caitlin Joyce on Thursday, September 7, 2017 at 12:31 PM PDT

Most recent graduates’ portfolios contain samples of class projects and freelance work. For Nathan Watkins, a 2017 Digital Design grad, the pillars of the I-5 James street corridor stand as an example of his creativity and skill.

 

 

Nathan has had a passion for art and design for as long as he can remember. “When teachers would ask me, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I would answer with, ‘be an artist!’” Nathan chose Digital Design as his major because it took art and applied a clear goal and logical process to achieve an outcome.


But how did Nathan go from a student studying design to the creative lead on a high profile project like the I-5 pillars? Nathan worked with the First Hill Improvement Association (FHIA) to redesign First Hill’s signal boxes. It was important to Nathan that those designs depicted life on First Hill today, incorporating the community’s history and landmarks. The organization loved his work and how it communicated the essence of the neighborhood, so the director made sure to let him know they were holding an open call for artists to design the I-5 pillars. After submitting his design, Nathan was selected as a finalist along with a few other local artists. Nathan soon found himself with just under two weeks to complete a final concept and submit it to FHIA and the organization that would actually execute the design.


“I was working day and night sketching out concepts.” Nathan finalized his concept with only six days to go. “I was in overdrive trying to get everything together and still meet the impending deadline. I got very little sleep that week, but thankfully it was 100% worth it.”

 

 

Painted Pillars on I5If you’ve driven on James Street recently, you’ve seen Nathan’s art slowly come to life on the pillars under I-5. While not officially completed, the response to his work has already been positive.


“People are absolutely glowing about them,” Nathan said. “It's so gratifying to see. One building on First Hill even wants to put the design on one of their support columns and is asking for licensing to use the design on donor gifts. Every time I drive under the I-5, I see people staring at the pillars from inside their cars, craning their necks to get a better view, sometimes even pointing and talking to other passengers about them. I'm so happy my work has been received so well and it's such an honor to be the mind behind it all.”


As for how this project has impacted Nathan’s career path, he says, “I never really expected to be doing public art, but having had the opportunity to do so really opened my eyes to new directions and possibilities for my career. With the way things are going, continuing to grow Nathan Watkins Design doesn't seem like such a bad idea, and with the influx of attention I may even need to start expanding, which is an exciting prospect. The work I've done around the city has been extremely rewarding, and I'm hopeful that these projects will lead to even more of that kind of work.”


Nathan’s designs are colorful and eye catching, making morning commutes that much more interesting. Don’t just take our word for it—the next time you find yourself stopped at a light under I-5, take a look out your window and experience Nathan’s work for yourself.

Special thanks to Gabby Lopez and Afina Walton for their help with this article.