Ep 20 Featured Image Podcast

Drawing A World – William Downs – Ep 20  

March 9, 2022


An artist’s capacity to feel the world, coupled with bold creativity and intuition, will always make something extraordinary. Immense and powerful art doesn’t just happen by accident. It comes from artists living and thinking in a more encompassing way. This orientation signals tremendous maturity that is difficult to achieve. When I saw William Downs monumental wall drawings I just had to find out more. Join me now, for this warm and generous conversation with William to learn firsthand how he thinks of, feels, and ultimately creates a newer, more connected version of the world with his art. 

Listen if you are interested in…

  • William’s journey and the story behind his specific art style [2:09] 
  • William’s art-making process and how he creates a location-specific experience everywhere he goes [7:13]
  • Defining the feeling and concepts behind William’s work [14:26]
  • Core lessons William teaches his art students [19:53]
  • Why staying active plays is so important to William’s art practice [22:56]
  • The characters and challenges of William’s work [26:15]
  • How William approaches working at such a large scale [35:24]
  • Using contrast to create your aesthetic [37:28]
  • William’s advice for developing artists [39:12]

Developing a unique style

Drawing was and is always what makes painting and printmaking work for William. He went to graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he became a self-proclaimed drawing machine. He created thousands of small drawings that he would place in quilts on the wall that ultimately formed one big story. After school, he immediately began teaching students how to draw. William was obsessed with teaching people the practical fundamentals of drawing. He wanted to make sure his students didn’t lose their touch making big pieces first, without using drawing skills to get there. 

About five years ago, William hit a bump in the road and turned to his father for advice to see where next he should go creatively. At the time, William was using a wide variety of colors to create his art. His father suggested creating black and white drawings instead and it was the breath of fresh air he needed. When William got back to his Atlanta-based studio, he bought a gigantic jug of ink and went to work. He began creating like never before, using tools in his mouth and even his feet. Ink would get all over his hands and he’d use it to create David Hammons-Esque rubbings on the paper. It was wild, and crazy, and free. All at once, it hit William that THIS is what the next decade of his art career looked like.

Tailor-making a creative experience

William’s artwork feels like an invitation to another world. It’s so personal. Like you’re walking into someone else’s mind where you can see their innermost thoughts. William tells people that his brain is like a video camera constantly recording imagery. Sometimes sleep is impossible because he can’t stop thinking about an image or how he wants to express it through art. William studies the gestures and body language of other people so that when it comes time to do a wall drawing he can simply “press go” and the art comes right out. That is one of the most impressive aspects of William’s art-making…he does his wall drawings LIVE at an art show! 

When William gets invited to a gallery, it’s not to hang pieces for patrons to stand around and look at. Galleries invite William to come and express his creativity so that other people can experience it and enjoy the process. His goal is to tailor the art specifically to each location. He achieves that by literally installing himself (and his creativity) into the space. William visits a location the day before a show. He tries to blend into the neighborhood by walking around and visiting local coffee shops to get a feel for the area. He also brings a piece of nature from the surrounding area into the space to be used as a stencil on the day of the show. Everything William does is an intentional step to create a one-of-a-kind event for everyone involved.

Creating a new world

The feeling you get when you admire William’s artwork is comfort. Growing up in a huge family, William was always the observer. He infuses the comfort he experienced being frequently surrounded by a slew of loving family members into his drawings. To me, they represent the synchronicity and simultaneous commingling of people. His work possesses inviting beauty that highlights the positive energy radiating from the world around us. There is something incredibly reassuring about his figurative depictions of group activities where everyone works together to achieve a common goal.

Time is also a major concept for William, both in his work and life. William’s father was a Marine who instilled punctuality as a foundational value for his children. Because of this, time is something that he is always aware of during the art-making process. He diligently keeps track of how long it will take him to complete each section of his drawings. Time makes its way into William’s art as well. You will often see him draw a two-headed figure that is looking both into the past and into the future. He uses that figure to show gratitude for all of the people who have helped him in the past and for those who will assist him as he continues his journey as an artist. All of the elements William uses for his art are just another way people get to experience him through his art. For more on William, his art, and how he brings it to life, listen to this episode and check out the links below!

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with William Downs

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Nicholas Wilton

Hi! I’m
Nicholas Wilton
the founder of Art2Life.

With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.

Join me and artists from all over the world in our Free Art2Life Artists Facebook Group or learn more here about Art2Life.

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