chad lewis artist
© Chad Lewis

7 Questions with Illustrator Chad Lewis

We learn about the artist's process and favorite materials plus advice for young creators

Chad Lewis
Cleveland, OH
On the web

The best artists have a way of not just producing a beautiful image, but telling a story at the same time. Illustrator Chad Lewis specializes in creating just that kind of art.

His work features more than just dynamic compositions and masterful rendering – each picture tells a kind of story that makes you want to look a little closer.

Small clues peppered throughout his illustrations help convey who these characters are and what kind of world they’re living in.

These skills have led Chad to work with a variety of major clients like Marvel, BOOM! Studios and Adobe among other publications.

We were lucky enough to pick his brain about his creative process, including how he’d cope on a deserted island and deal with a generous genie…

When did you know you wanted to pursue art as a career? 

I grew up drawing all the time. From an early age I knew it was what I wanted to do but had no idea how to go from a consuming pastime to a viable career.

My Oma was a fine artist so I spent time with her as she painted, made prints, and tended her gallery. This made a big impact on me and I assumed I would follow in her footsteps. When it came time to develop a cohesive body of work however, I lacked a cohesive aesthetic vision for the kind of work I wanted to produce.

While I was trying to find my creative voice for developing a meaningful body of work I was also making posters for a friend’s band. In sharp contrast to my struggling painting career, this work, done in my free time, was editorial in nature and a joy to produce.

The timing was such that I could compare both creative endeavors with a critical eye with the offshoot being that I have the most fun when given content to interpret. From there I knew what kind of work to pursue and my career took shape.

Paul and Babe

Where do you find inspiration and how do you overcome creative block? 

I love everything comic related and look to the medium when finding inspiration as well as dealing with a creative block. When a comic is firing on all cylinders you can find great character design, cinematic storytelling and clever design thinking all woven together.

It’s inspiring to see this delicate balance of information acquisition and aesthetics play out through the comic’s multi- modal storytelling mechanisms and the medium always leaves me wanting to create. Recently I’ve found YA graphic novels such as Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker and Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared particularly exciting.

When a comic is firing on all cylinders you can find great character design, cinematic storytelling and clever design thinking all woven together.

What’s your process like when you start a new piece?

My favorite part of any creative medium is the early ideation phase. I fill pages up with thumbnail sketches then go to the light table to build and refine a finished composition. From there I like to refine the form traditionally with color erase pencils then ink with ballpoint pen followed (if applicable) by India ink washes. This black and white piece is then scanned and colored digitally.

Your art covers a wide range of mediums including both digital and traditional tools – what are your favorite materials to use?

I am partial to traditional media as it gives me solid parameters to work within. I commonly use my Wacom Tablet on tight deadlines as everything is editable and results are immediate, but if we are talking favorite I’d say large 11 by 17″ cheap cold-press watercolor paper, col-erase colored pencils and cheap ballpoint pens borrowed from the local bank.

There is a freeing quality to working with materials that are not precious.  

If you were trapped on a desert island with just one art supply, what would it be? 

Ballpoint pens are the unsung hero of inking. They have a subtle mark, offer a great texture and are waterproof which is great for dropping washes over.

Let’s say you encounter a genie who grants artist’s wishes.  If you could wish for instant mastery of one creative skill, what would it be?

Writing. I’m in awe of cartoonists who build content from the ground up. I’m currently writing a few things and would love to lean on a genie for editing and proofreading.

Final question – any words of wisdom for someone looking to become a professional artist one day? 

Tons! I’ve learned so much along the way but I don’t want to bore you with the lists and bullet points. I’d say the two main pieces of advice I have for young creators are-

  1. Work on and understand Line of Action in character design and Implied Line in composition. For insight here I’d recommend looking at Albert Dorne’s character work. My favorite breakdown of his stuff can be found in the excellent book Drawing Lessons From The Famous Artists School
  2. Be aware of the kind of work you are passionate about and try to develop a portfolio which represents your interests. This sounds like a no brainer but starting out, work is hard to find so you can easily get lost taking freelance projects which don’t represent your interests, muddying up your portfolio. There is a balance to all of it and I highly recommend prioritizing a personal project every once in a while
Work in progress on an Arthurian legend graphic novel project
An illustration for the Astonishing Legends podcast Skin Walker Ranch episode

A big thank you to Chad Lewis for his insights and taking the time for this interview.

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