story by Garrad Lee / photography by Frank Farmer

One of the earliest activities humans engaged in was art. Before written language allowed people to keep records and histories, paintings on rocks and caves was the only insight that our ancient ancestors left behind. As such, the universal question of “What is art?” might be the longest running query within human existence.

Screen-printer Lonnell Waters however, has no question as to whether what he does is art or not. If we can agree on a basic level that art is simply something that is created using imagination and skill, then screen printing is most definitely art in one of its highest forms.

Waters, 41, when asked about his role as an artist, puts it this way: “It’s like when you finish a job and you stand back and look at it and you get excited and the customer gets excited. And I think, ‘I can do this and a lot of other people can’t.’”

“A lot of times, customers come in with an idea of what they want as far as colors. And many times, I can recommend them something better based on the color shirt they want or the amount they want the graphics to stand out,” he says. “Sometimes, I even mix colors right there in front of them so they can see what I see. I can make any color.”

It’s in talking about color that Waters gets excited. His face brightens up when he talks about the days when he was a contractor re-designing bathrooms and had time to play around with mixing colors. “I would just make a mess with colors with my hands. I loved it so much. I get goose bumps just talking about color,” he says, showing me his arms.

lonnell2Waters certainly has a lot of experience in his field. He has been screen printing for over seventeen years. Originally from New Orleans, he has been living in Jackson for about 25 years and started screen printing at Chimneyville College Design (which later was renamed Splash) in Ridgeland not long after. After a stint splitting his time between Splash and Global Screen Printing, he settled in at Studio Chane T-Shirt Lab about two and half years ago.

Working with Ron Chane has proven to be a life changer for Waters. “You do something for a long time and you think you know it all, then you get around a person who has been doing it longer,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot from his knowledge on color and design.” Waters attributes about 60 percent of his success to working with Chane.

The rest of Waters’ success can be traced back to Tanya, his wife of two years (and partner for 20), who initially “forced” him to get the job with Chane. Even though he tried to quit the business several times, Tanya wouldn’t let him. And he is certainly happy that he didn’t give it up. “I feel like for the first time in my career I am getting my props,” he says. “I had never really been acknowledged for my work until now.”