Jim Waterman '71, painter

by Cathy Tollefson '83

A dozen koi peek bashfully from under waterlilies on a sunny Northwest fall morning, gurgling fountains, and maple trees turning luminescent yellow—the oasis-like setting is Jim and Niki Waterman’s backyard. Driving down busy North 30th Street in Tacoma, no one would ever suspect it’s there. The couple’s efforts were featured in the summer issue of South Sound Home and Garden. “I finally realized a few years ago that gardening isn’t just about plants,” Jim says, “It’s a component of design and art.” That thinking carries over to his day job as the floral designer/buyer at Washington Floral Service, Inc., a position he’s held for more than 15 years.

As a North End kid who used the Puget Sound campus as his playground—sometimes sneaking in through the second story windows of the fieldhouse to catch a good concert—Jim never considered attending college anywhere else. “I don’t know what I would have done if UPS hadn’t accepted me,” he says. Jim wanted to study with legendary ceramist F. Carlton Ball, but was discouraged by the number of people interested in the field. “There were so many people in my first class, I figured the world didn’t need another potter,” he says. So he switched to fine art instead.

Jim began to show his art locally while still in college, but his big break came in 1982 when he was encouraged to approach the Foster White Gallery in Seattle (www.fosterwhite.com). “When they accepted my work, it was right up there at the top—a moment in your life you always remember—like getting married and having your kids,” he says. Foster White has represented him ever since and nearly sold out his September exhibit.

Even though Jim didn’t end up in ceramics, part of his painting method is reminiscent of raku-fired glazes. “I like the element of surprise in the technique because I never really know how it’s going to turn out,” he says. Jim prefers to work on standard hardboard instead of canvas because it allows him the flexibility to experiment with his background techniques—using solvents, sand paper, and even bubble wrap to create the distressed, corrosive look that is classic Waterman.

Jim chooses his subject matter from what he believes others might “overlook as ordinary.” Large filing boxes contain hundreds of pages pulled from magazines and books that help provide ideas—the shape of a pot, the lilt of a flower, or a reflection. Jim refers to this part of the process as visual collage. Once he’s chosen his subject, he draws the image on a board. He covers the sketch with a masking fluid, similar to rubber cement, to protect the design. Then Jim plays with layers of paint and other techniques to create the desired background effect. He then rubs the masking off to expose the original design, which he paints in elaborate detail. The result is simple, clean, and evokes a feeling of ikebana, the Japanese art of arranging cut flowers. Morris Graves’ influence also is observable in Jim’s paintings, and, in fact, he once shared exhibit space with the famous Northwest painter.

Jim also is represented by Northwest by Northwest Gallery in Cannon Beach, Ore., www.nwbynwgallery.com.