Focus explores the creative talent within the climbing community.
Illustrator Stevie Lewis's work takes direct inspiration from her experiences in the outdoors. After realizing she was destined for a sedentary life in front of a computer, the American climber took the nomadic route and hit the road.
How did you first get into illustration?
I've wanted to be an artist since I was young, but it only seemed realistic as a career when I was in my senior year of high school. As a kid I was inspired by Saturday morning cartoons, Disney films and comics. I was a shy kid, an only child, and felt that the only way to express myself was through drawing. Throughout school I was always scolded by my teachers to stop doodling during class. I remember one time, a history teacher came up to my desk during a lecture, grabbed my doodles, and crumbled them in his hands shouting 'This needs to stop!'. I was bummed. I mean, not everyone wants to be a historian. Nonetheless, I kept pursuing what I loved and ended up going to an art college in Florida; Ringling College of Art & Design. When I graduated, I landed an amazing job at DreamWorks for four years working on various feature animation films. Now I live out of my van and climb, bike and create art based on my travels.
How did you develop your style and how much impact did your time at DreamWorks have on it?
I slowly started to develop a style while I was in college. Between my junior and senior year, I landed an amazing internship at DreamWorks working on one of the Madagascar films. I sort of jumped right into it all, and hoped that I'd make a good impression. I learned a huge amount that summer, especially how to refine my technical skills. I definitely wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for that chapter at DreamWorks. After I left in 2015 I focused on my own art. I'd been working for someone else for a while, and it was refreshing to try and find my own path. Combining climbing and the outdoors with art was where I found my current style, and where I feel the most myself.
What goes into the process of you creating a piece, from conception to the final work?
It depends on what I'm working on, but generally I'll do a bunch of small thumbnail sketches to play around with compositions. Once I find what works best, I'll redraw it larger, or import the thumbnail into my computer to refine the sketch. I spend a dubious amount of time searching for reference, as I want to be well-informed on the location or environment I'm illustrating, especially if I haven't been there before. Then, I'll move onto color thumbnails, where I plan out lighting and color for the piece. Usually the process leading up to 'finishing' the final painting takes the same amount of time as the actual painting. It's nice to have a plan before jumping into a project, it just makes the process flow much smoother!
What kind of impact has your experience in the outdoors and climbing had on your work over the years?
Climbing has become a lifestyle for me over the last several years, as well as a place I find inspiration for my personal work. Prior to climbing, I would never describe myself as 'outdoorsy', I'd never camped, hiked, biked, or explored. I lived a sedentary lifestyle in front of my computer, destined for a long career in animation, without realizing I was slowly losing the reasons why I wanted to be an artist in the first place. To share experiences, feelings, stories—to share my art with others, especially people I care deeply about. Being on the road and climbing has allowed me to find balance between these two worlds. One which tries to ground you to a certain mindset, place or job, and one that allows you to travel, explore and learn more about the world. The art I've created since feels real, and has a deeper meaning for me.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow a similar path in animation?
As I no longer work in animation I'm not sure if I'm the best person to ask for advice. When I was leaving DreamWorks I was told in subtle ways that I was throwing away my career to 'find myself'. But I've found that the best path to take is the one that makes you happy. At the time, I just wasn't fulfilled by my dream job and instead wanted to dive into climbing and explore a new community. I still wanted to work, just not as much and under different circumstances. I ended up making a website with all my best work, and landed several children's book illustration jobs. Now, I mostly freelance full-time doing children's books. I guess my advice would be to do what feels right, whatever your job is or wherever your passion takes you. If you pursue what you truly love, you will find balance.
You can follow Stevie on instagram here.