We had the good fortune of connecting with Ryan Lewis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ryan, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Don’t be an artist, you’ll never make any money! It’s the age old phrase every aspiring artist hears, at some point, on their path to a creative career. When I was first told being an artist wasn’t a lucrative endeavor, I shrugged, because as a child art was about coloring outside the lines and exploring every inspiration. There was no dollar sign attached to the haphazard crayon scribbles or the carefully shaded pencil drawings. It was creating to create, and in this case money had no part in that process. Obviously, as I got older my mindset shifted, and that green paper I scorned as unimportant in my young age, became a reality in my budding adulthood. And oh, how my mind raced with the possibilities. I went through a myriad of careers in my head between high school and throughout college, first landing on being an architect (until I realized math and I were mortal enemies), a graphic designer, a painter, an animator, a story artist, and finally meandering back into graphic design. Despite all the chaos of choosing a career, I believe there was always at least one common guiding thread driving me to stay the course, and that was my passion to create. So, to come full circle, I didn’t pursue a career path in art because I thought it would make me Mr. Moneybags, as implied by many people who warned me about future Top Ramen meals to afford my rent. On the contrary, I pursued a career in the creative field because it allowed me the opportunity to continue capturing the experience of putting pencil to paper, cementing fantasy into reality, that I so enjoyed when I was a child. Yes, that process, unlike my childhood, now comes with a monetary value, but how many people can truly say they turned the innocent scribbles of childhood into a plausible, professional career path? Simply put, I didn’t pursue a career in art, it pursued me, relentlessly and without remorse. It was, to sound absolutely cheesy, the lighthouse guiding my ship to friendly shores, and I have no regrets…Well, maybe one, I’m starting to get rather tired of eating Top Ramen.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I look at my body of work, I tend to measure it in moments of transition. My style has changed so rapidly from when I first started to now, that it is actually more fun for me to view each piece as a timeline of my progress. When I first took painting seriously, my biggest inspiration was the ever peaceful Bob Ross, who taught me that happy accidents are inevitable. I made a lot of (un)happy accidents painting in skies, mountains and trees, but each painting nurtured my growing passions. By college, I was taking any painting class I could jam into my schedule and spending hours discussing painting ideas with my peers. I became obsessed with the Art Nouveau movement, developed an unhealthy infatuation with gold leaf, ruined a number of wonderful garments with oil paint and painstakingly painted with the smallest brushes I could find just because I could. Somewhere near the end of my collegiate experience, I discovered the beauty of digital painting, and so began a new era. With all that in mind, I look back at a lot of my work now and have so much respect for my tenacity to adapt and dip into anything that excited me. So the question now becomes, how did a painter become a graphic designer? The abridged answer is, it just sort of happened, but the complex answer follows a more precarious path of deciding how to best combine my love for traditional and digital art. Graphic design afforded me the opportunity to work digitally while simultaneously thinking about how my work would be interacted with, and, in my opinion, that’s usually half the battle with traditional mediums. How does your color theory affect the mood, how does the hierarchy change the flow of your piece, is your imagery effective to grab the viewer’s attention? My experience with both mediums worked together interchangeably, and ultimately settled into what I do now, publishing design for comics and graphic novels. I’m not going to lie, jumping into my career was not easy, but nothing worthwhile usually is. A lot of my first baby steps into becoming a designer involved freelancing and creating my own projects. Staying motivated involved finding inspiration in my daily life, like building a brochure for a favorite hiking destination or a logo for a budding skincare company. This period of time, difficult as it was to have hope I would break through, eventually led me to an internship, and it was full steam ahead from there. If I learned anything from my experience, set a goal and stick to it. We can’t control what happens along the way, but we can certainly make our lives easier by setting up for success. Presently, I’m still a graphic designer working in publishing, but with recent world events, I have jumped back into painting traditionally. Yes, I am still torturing myself by using the smallest brushes I can find and managing to ruin the remainder of my closet, but much like in my past, the sacrifice is absolutely worth the reward.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If I had the opportunity to show LA off to my best friend, I would likely start with a tour of the 101, a jump to the 405, and end with the usually less travelled 118. We’d have to sneak in the 5 and the 10 at some point on the trip, but it is my firm belief you can’t really have the LA experience if you haven’t spent some time switching freeways. All joking aside, I have had some amazing experiences hiking and touring the Hollywood hills near Griffith observatory, learning about the history and enjoying the views of city below. I think the most popular destinations in my mind are the beaches of California. Taking the drive along PCH to Santa Monica is, in my opinion, the perfect place to catch the sunset and enjoy the attractions lit up at night on the pier. I think the next best places to explore are obviously the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Pantages theatre, shopping on Melrose and the bars and restaurants of WeHo (shout out to Hamburger Mary’s). I’ve also had some amazing times exploring thrift stores in the Burbank area, and lunching at the restaurants along the way. I’m sure I have forgotten major LA hotspots, but even having lived here my whole life, I haven’t seen it all. I guess that’s the true beauty of living in the midst of a continually growing metropolis. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’m about to be incredibly cliché, but I think obviously the biggest shout outs go to my mom, who demanded she have first dibs on any painting, my dad, who painted along to Bob Ross with me, my brother, who put up with a crazy art brother like me, and my grandma, who bought my first easel knowing I’d make good use of it. I’d like to thank all my friends—and I’d be here all day if I listed them all—for being there every step of the way to remind me that I can do just about anything if I put my mind to it. I’d also like to shout out, in particular, my friend Victoria Pierce, who nominated me for this very interview because she believed my work shouldn’t be tucked away, but celebrated. I feel blessed to have such a huge support circle, and you all have a place indelibly in my heart.