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Life & Work with Ryan Lewis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Lewis.

Ryan, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I believe my story begins as most artist’s stories begin, with a pencil, paper and the will to create. From an early age, I knew I was tethered to the art world, and in turn it was tethered to me. My earliest creations—which I exhibited a little too proudly—consisted of doodles and poorly executed sketches, but they certainly lit the creative flame. Coupling that with encouraging parents, and I was on the artistic highway to some professional career involving creativity in all its forms. As I got older, I would love to say that one career path shone brightest, but I was the kind of pre-teen that jumped at every opportunity. I was basically the starved child at the all-you-can-eat buffet. No rules, no limits, just countless opportunities. The journey, despite appearing glamorous, was tumultuous at best. It started with an adventure through architecture, then a leap to starving painter, a mad dash to become an animator, a jump to storyboard artist and after a couple of loops in the same field, I settled for graphic design. Reviewing what I just wrote, I could honestly win gold medals for “Most Indecisive” if it were a sport played in the Olympics.

However, on this path, I determined that life is basically a game of “what ifs?”. What if I try just painting? What if I become a Visual Story artist? What if I just stopped asking “what if?” If I hadn’t tried everything, I would have never known exactly where my art-infatuated brain fit in the professional world. Ultimately, I’m grateful for those past decisions in my young adulthood. I currently work in Publishing Design, and I get to spend my days putting together graphic novels across all genres. It’s incredibly rewarding to imagine people looking at the pages I designed while immersed in the story of a great book.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest struggle was deciding where I wanted to fall in the professional world. However, I think the biggest roadblock has always been just me, myself and I. I think every artist that enters this field has an understanding of what it feels like to not have a body of work that satisfies you. I feared for a long time that, as I had been warned, a Studio Art degree was not a “serious” degree. It was that fear of failure that simultaneously pushed me up and dragged me down. There were also moments of deep introspection on what brought me happiness and what just didn’t work. I wasn’t always comfortable with my decisions, but I grew everyday because of them. So, no, the road wasn’t smooth or clearly marked. I took the scenic-route to the scenic-route and eventually reached the goal line. That’s honestly all I could have ever hoped for.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I currently work in publishing design. My job flows across multiple departments and I’ve had my hand in quite a few cookie jars (I haven’t been caught yet!). On one day I could be designing for marketing and sales needs. On another, I could spend my days compiling, organizing and designing files into the completed graphic novels that line the shelves at any bookstore. It’s truly a mixed bag, but it’s a really cute bag, I swear! Outside of design, I also oil paint and started a series of paintings based on my emotions surrounding the pandemic. It’s been amazing to dip my toes back into the painting world, even when I end up with more paint on me than the canvas. Hey, it’s an easy excuse to upgrade my closet. I think it’s hard to define what I’m most proud of because I’m not sure I think it’s fair to just pick one thing. I do little things everyday that I’m generally very proud of, but if I have to narrow it down to a shortlist, I would say: I’m proud of my ability to grow into my opportunities (especially amid COVID). I’m proud of my motivation to learn the new things I need to learn to continue that growth. Most importantly, I’m proud I’m doing what I love to do. Not everyone gets to accomplish that in this world, so I feel incredibly fortunate.

As for what sets me apart, I think my biggest strength is my tenacity to adapt and change to a situation. I love a routine and there is nothing I dream of more than an overcast day and a cozy bed and blanket combo, but when the chips are down, I’m willing to throw that pipedream to the wayside. Comfortable or not, I roll up my sleeves and get to work. I’m very much a self-starter, and my only limitation (wait for it!) has been what I convince myself I can and can’t accomplish. It’s me, myself and I roadblock from hell, but as I’ve grown more comfortable adapting to new challenges, I’ve found it to be less and less an issue. In fact, nowadays, to borrow a Mean Girls quote: “The limit doesn’t exist!”.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I personally wouldn’t say I have had very many mentors, so my advice might honestly not be worth soliciting. However, I am an incredibly social butterfly and have an amazing group of friends who support me across the board. They are actually the reason I had this opportunity to interview with VoyageLA (thanks Drea!). So, my best advice for networking or for finding a mentor is to be open to socializing with other students or professionals around you. Ask questions! Don’t be scared to introduce yourself and let the world know who you are or what you want to accomplish. That person who you casually befriended over coffee could be your next co-worker because they referred you to a position. The teacher you kept in contact with could easily be the person helping you perfect a resume or a portfolio. It’s truly a two-way street, and the guidance goes both ways, but having the knowledge that you can give and receive support makes the journey much much easier.

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Image Credits:

Victoria Pierce

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