Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Sean. I was born in Toronto and have been pursuing illustration and painting ever since I was a little kid. Both of my parents are painters so I kind of had no other option. After graduating from OCAD, I’ve been doing freelance illustration for about five years. I’ve also worked in the visual effects industry. I’ve bounced between doing more commercial/editorial illustration and fine art/painting. I’m trying to strike that balance right now.
How did you get started as an artist?
Out of school I basically started sending out emails, and trying to get my artistic voice nailed down. OCAD actually did a really good job of narrowing down the way I draw into a style to work with. It was a slow burned process where I would send out emails and just hope to hear back from people. I was represented for a time which helped a lot to get my work out there further.
But I only really started focusing on freelance illustration very recently. I was travelling because I wanted to see the world outside of school, which had kind of burnt me out. I got a great job working at a visual effects studio where I learned a lot of the technical aspects of illustration, as well as developing a good work ethic. I was pretty lazy when I first got out of school and I didn’t have the self-motivation to push myself. Getting this job allowed me to understand the work that it actually takes to be a freelance artist.
What did you do for the visual effects studio?
It’s called digital matte painting. I did work mostly for TV shows, but occasionally we got to do some fun stuff for movies. We did a lot of gory things. Sometimes instead of makeup they’ll throw on a digital drawing. Basically I would use Photoshop to create layers for the compositors to make parallaxes to integrate into the shots. It was all about realism, which was very different for me since there was no stylizing. It was about making things as real as possible, which was technically challenging.
What are your 3 most precious art tools?
I think I have the cheapest, simplest art supplies. First, my brush pen. I like the ability to work really fine or really broadly to get a more painterly look, which is really helpful. And my sketchbook. Just those two things.
How did you create our menu artwork?
I started with rough sketches by drawing out as many ideas as I could. I try to do more than what I think will be needed because you want to be able to weed out weaker ones. I did all of it digitally because there were a lot of images and I wanted to keep it cohesive. I’ve been working on this computer called the Surface Pro 4 where I can draw right on the computer. That’s where I did all of the sketches which makes it easy to make changes and move things around to figure out how I want things laid out.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
I love my friend Adrian Forrow’s work. His stuff is so graphic. It’s the opposite of what I do because I think my work is more painterly and meticulous, while he uses simple graphics to capture the same impact. I think it would be cool to see those things work together. I respect his work a lot.
Do you have a favourite spot in Toronto?
I love the Leslie Spit. I was actually just there on the weekend and it was beautiful. I think it’s one of the best places in Toronto for sunsets. You can see the whole skyline of Toronto with the sun setting over the lake.
View from Leslie Spit at Sunset. (Source: Phil Marion)
What’s your favourite project you’ve worked on recently?
I’m working in a studio space right now with a guy named Chris Knight. He’s an incredible painter. I’m working on personal pieces in between projects there and that’s kind of the most exciting thing. I’ve been away from painting for around two years now, maybe even three. I’m excited to get back into the flow of making my own work.
I’m trying oils for the first time which is hard and interesting, but Chris is an incredible painter and he’s been really helpful. All of my work before was acrylic on wood panel, so now I’m trying oils on wood panel but you have to do a lot more coats of gesso. I’m also trying coated paper as well which seems to be nicer to paint on to get detail.
What advice would you give an aspiring artist?
Best advice I can give is to work really hard. You always have to be creating. My biggest failing, I think was that I wasn’t working hard enough. I think I needed the break as well to give me a proper perspective on it. It’s good to also have balance. If you can swing doing things like traveling and switching your lifestyle up a bit, it will stop you from taking things for granted and appreciate what you have.
I took tons of road trips after school across the states and Canada. I actually just got back from travelling in Japan for five months and South Korea for a few weeks. Now I’m back and fully pursuing full-time freelancing.
In Japan I mostly backpacked and worked on a vegetable farm through WWOOF. It’s the World Wide Organization of Organic Farming. You’re housed and fed in exchange for volunteer work, but I had a holiday work Visa so I volunteered for a month and then was hired as an employee.
In another life, what career would you be pursuing?
Farming. Every year I’ve gotten more and more interested in moving to the country and finding that balance between more sustainable living and growing, and making art. I think that would be the nicest lifestyle.
Has your travelling influenced your work?
Yeah for sure. I’ve always been interested in Japan and my work was definitely inspired by wood block art prints. Everything you see when you’re travelling you soak it up and are influenced by it. Even if it’s not obviously inspired by it.
Here’s the final artwork for our current Fall 2016 Menu cover:
And the Bill Cards:
Check out more of Sean Lewis’s work here: