#005 - What's on your bookshelf? Interview with James Lewis
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
James Lewis is a lettering artist and public speaker who creates viral videos and teaches workshops on lettering skills. He uses techniques such as signpainting to create 3D effect versions of popular logos, as well as spreading good messages to his followers.
I managed to persuade the Onion Alternative, a student lead initiative to bring creatives in to give talks to students, to invite James to the University of Chester to put on one of his workshops. As a result I was able to talk to someone who inspires me first hand.
I suppose if you don't ask, you don't get.
What would you say are the three most important or influential books that you have on your book shelf? They don't have to be design related.
‘Winning the Story Wars’ by Jonah Sachs.
‘The ABC’s of Custom Lettering’ by Ivan Castro
‘This is Marketing’ by Seth Godin
Is there a book that you go back to time and again, knowing that it will inspire you when you’ve hit a creative lull?
'The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield.
It's an incredible book, I’ve even given away copies to inspire others.
Often as designers we take it for granted that people know the same things that we do; or have been on the same kind of journey. If Design is a language, what are the top 5 things (vocabulary, if you will) that a designer should know to help them converse in the world of design?
Just to confirm here James, trendy would be keeping an eye on what is currently trending, but also seeing if you can create work that might also trend, or have a buzz about it?
Comic Sans, I'm guessing is being aware of the bad reputation this typeface has, and not using it unless there is a real reason for it?
Lastly, ... James Lewis? Have I heard that correctly? Are you suggesting that people should be aware of and check out your work?
You're exactly right.
In terms of suggesting that people check out James Lewis; absolutely!
An important part of being a creative to be confident enough to talk about yourself and promote your own work. No one else is going to do it for you, at least not as well as you can.
That's a fair point; a lot of creatives shy away from that kind of thing and focus much more on creating the work rather than talking about it. Social Media is a great tool for creatives to share their work, but I suppose one thing I have learned from the way that you operate on Social Media, is that it is just as important to engage with your audience. In a sense it forms a small part of the many aspects of self promotion that we all need to develop as creatives.
Would you say that you have a favourite designer, and can you explain why they hold that rank with you?
I’ve never had one creative I’ve looked up to, but I always recommend my students to look outside of traditional design influencers (Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Paula Scher etc.) for creative influence.
I draw reference from great artists who changed the game completely with their genius.
Are there any other books you’d like to recommend, or further advice for creatives?
Use your design skills to pursue that thing you love.
As a graphic communicator in 2019, you’re in one of the greatest possible positions to communicate to the world your ideas in an interesting visual way.
Tell stories with your designs, create engaging content, and carve a path for yourself that you’re happy to stroll down every day.
Thanks James, the information has been great, and thank you for the advice you gave me about using Instagram as a business. I think you said that I should focus on one thing that I want my account to be used for, and let it be the best example of that; it doesn't have to show all aspects of my life or creative outputs. You suggested that if there was another thing I did, I could always create a separate account that showcases that rather than watering down the focus of the first account. We also talked about using other social media platforms in the same way where you would have a business account, and keep your personal stuff separate.
I had a great experience talking to James about all kinds of things including seeing the value in the things that you create. We as creatives often think that because we are good at drawing something quickly, or creating something fast, that it has little value, and it's easy for other people to see it in the same way. What we have to understand is that it has taken time, often years to hone our skills to such a level that we can make something look easy, or create it so fast. We take our skills for granted, and under sell them because we naively believe that everyone must have an ability to draw, or have a creative imagination, because we have always had those skills.
James is an advocate of educating the clients about the value of the time we spend on projects, and the price they should expect to pay for that time, and our skills. He has an ongoing project where he asks people to share artwork they have created that uses the slogan 'Our Time Has Value', and share it on Instagram using #ourtimehasvalue
I'm sure James won't mind me sharing the details of one of his posts on Instagram that I found most inspiring, which kind of ties into the advice I got from Rob Draper about 'Mindset Matters'. Like Rob, James advises to keep creating things and following your passion whether there is a client or not, push your skills, explore techniques, share your passion, and learn something new.
"I realised at a young age- as a result of my circumstance- that we can define our reality by changing our values and beliefs. . The first stage in doing this is becoming conscious of your current world view, your perspective, Beliefs, values, likes, dislikes, you name it. You begin unraveling the onion that is your psyche. . By doing this, one of the first things you realise is that most of what we think of ourselves and the world aren’t our own thoughts, but things we’ve been told, things we’ve seen and accepted as truth. In short it’s our conditioning. . Movies that tell us what love is, news telling us how awful the world is, lifestyle advice from family that tells us where to invest time and energy. Now when you question your conditioning a scary thing happens / you have to relinquish your tight hold on all you’ve believed is truth to open your mind and ask yourself why do I believe these things. This is a process of uncovering your own values, understanding what you want, how you want to feel, how you think the world should be. In short, who you are. . But before you can find out who you truly are so you can powerfully affect your reality you must first know who you are not. . To know this you then become aware of all the influences around you. You analyse the world view of your peers, the information you’re getting from mass media, the expectations of your parents. You eventually determine most of these ideas are coercing you into doing things that were decided for you to do. . These influences may be inherently good or bad but once you understand this it comes time to define your own values. By becoming aware of what you’re not through experience and exposure you can then define who you are. . It may sound selfish, but it’s actually the most selfless act you can undergo. By defining your values and then living by them you can pave the way to doing something that’s meaningful to you and your own life. This thing usually involves serving others in some way."
Check out James' website for more information about him and his work.
Follow him on Instagram @jamesllewis
He has created an incredible typeface called VERSA which is for sale, and you can see the video preview below. James has not asked me to promote the typeface, and I am not receiving any kind of renumeration for promoting it, I just think it's cool, and you should at least check it out.
Here are a couple of Podcast interviews with James: