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8th May 2020
Meet the Artists – James Weston Lewis
The stories James Weston Lewis tells within his illustrations are impressively detailed while remaining strikingly bold – they draw you in from afar with their distinctive limited colour palettes and reward closer inspection with concise narratives. It’s no wonder that James says if he wasn’t an illustrator, he’d be writing.
James says that his grandparents Tintin and Asterix collections had a big influence on him, but his comic-tinged images are filtered through a hand reminiscent of Ravilious.
Utilising traditional craftsmanship through his use of woodcut and linocut printing, then combing them with digital media, James creates compositions that frequently have an air of adventure; hijackers fall toward the viewer, lush tropical greenhouses dwarf the characters within, fires engulf a perfectly composed city… his illustrations encapsulate all the exciting aspects of any brief he’s given from clients like The Ivy, The Sunday Times and Medium.
We spoke to James about storytelling, the friends he made at Art School and tasty ramen…
Where do you live?
I live in a flat in Walthamstow with my wife, currently working from a home studio in the living room for the duration of lockdown.
Can you describe your creative process?
My work is usually a mixture of lino or woodcut printmaking and digital media. I started out mostly making linocuts for all my work, but as I got busier it was harder to do everything in that form as it can be a fairly arduous process. These days I often use scanned textures and the techniques I learned whilst printmaking to inform the work I make digitally, for example building the image in layers of limited colour, and working negatively into blocks of colour etc. My process usually starts with thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook, then digital rough drawings using a Cintiq, and then from there I’ll either move on to lino or stay on the computer and build a palette.
What does a typical working day look like?
At the moment whilst we’re in lockdown, I’ll try to start the day with a bit of exercise, then have breakfast and a coffee zoom call with one of the people from my studio to keep a bit of contact with the outside world. Starting work, I’ll try to get a few emails out of the way and then depending on what I have on I’ll usually try to split the day up into ‘planning’ work and ‘crafting’ work. I prefer to do planning work in the morning when I’m feeling fresher, so coming up with ideas, sketching, thinking about projects etc. Then later in the day I like to switch over to work where more of the planning is done and I can just enjoy the process of making the images.
Do you listen to music or the radio whilst you work? If so, what’s on your playlist?
I like to listen to music while I’m planning or thinking, and then I’ll usually switch to podcasts or an audiobook when I’m working on finals. I like to listen to a of different music, though I’ve never been great at finding new music and I’ve relied on studio mates to play me new things the last couple of years. This morning I’ve been listening to old favourites – Talking Heads, Prince, Paul Simon and Kate Bush.
How long have you been with the Artworks for?
I’ve been with the Artworks for about 4 years now.
What drew you to Artworks?
When I got to a place where I felt I needed help managing things, I asked a few friends and the Artworks were recommended to me. I had a meeting with them and I really liked their friendly approach to the work and how easy they are to talk to. It’s really been a pleasure working with them.
What books or programmes did you love as a child? Have they influenced your work in any way?
I think the books I loved as a kid had a big influence on me and the work I wanted to make, some more directly than others. My grandparents had a big collection of Tintin and Asterix books which I loved, as well as The Adventures of Uncle Lubin illustrated by William Heath Robinson which I spent hours looking at. I also really liked Maurice Sendak books and Noggin the Nog.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be instead?
The things I really like about illustration are the aspects of storytelling – and the craft of learning and refining a skill, so I think I’d be happy doing something in one of those areas, either writing for storytelling, or maybe furniture making or carpentry for craft.
What was the most important lesson you learned at Art School, if you went!
I think the most important lesson I learned at Art school was from the friends I made there, from their dedication to the work they make and their ability to be inspired.
What inspires you the most to create?
Name three artists that you admire.
David Hockney, Eric Ravilious, Tove Jansson
What kind of commissions do you enjoy the most?
I really like the variety of working on different types of commissions, but books and children’s books can sometimes be the most fun as they tend to give you more time to get stuck into the subject.
What is your very favourite meal?
We recently went to Japan on our honeymoon, which is the place we’ve both always wanted to go to. Since then I’ve gotten into ramen pretty heavily and I’ve been making versions of that for our lunches a lot, it’s pretty hard to beat.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, so I like to try and be active and get some exercise when I’m not working. Usually we like to try and get out at the weekend, get a coffee and a cinnamon bun and go to the British Museum, or the V & A, an exhibition or a nice park. With the lockdown going on though we’re mostly watching movies and TV and doing pub quizzes on Zoom with our friends.
What is your current dream travel destination?
Now we’ve been to Japan I don’t know if there is one single place above all others, we’ve never been to Greece though and we just watched the Trip to Greece with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon this week. It seems like there are so many beautiful places there so maybe we’ll attempt to do that when this is all over.
If you want to see more of James’s work, you can here.