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Meet Jamie Lew

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jamie Lew.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jamie. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m an artist and art director for live performances and concerts. I’m also an illustrator, video designer, graphic designer, filmmaker, producer, dancer, culture creator, queer femme of color, and the youngest daughter of Korean immigrants. I’m an American dreamer with all the resilience of my parents and all the emotionality of a girl raised by pop culture.

I’ve always been an extracurricular overachiever; as a kid, I loved drawing people, playing music, building sculptures, reading manga, and watching cartoons. All of this has had an impact on me, but I think my love of female-driven pop music has had the most lasting impression. I can remember racing home after school to see if “Oops I Did it Again” would win its rightful #1 spot on TRL each day, singing along to every lyric when it finally came on. I dressed up as Britney Spears for career day in 3rd grade and covered my walls with posters of Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child. By the time I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was go to concerts; I saved up allowances to get tickets to see Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift. For me, the feeling of an entire stadium of strangers singing and dancing to the same lyrics has always been a religious experience. Concerts have always been my church. The spectacle of pop music showed me how to dream. I knew I wanted to create shows by the time I was nineteen.

This led me to studying Theater Design at USC. Even as a nineteen-year-old, I knew that concerts are much more impactful when there is thoughtful intent (and theatricality) in not just the music, but also in the storytelling and visual design. During my college years, I learned about Wagner’s Ring Cycle and how to build scale models in my classes, and then went home to read about David Bowie and design future pop stages in my free time.

While still a student, I met a creative director named Amy Tinkham. She had spoken on a panel of industry professionals, and I was immediately inspired by her unique presence and work. She spoke on storytelling and the importance of supporting other women in the industry, in addition to her experiences working with everyone from Paul McCartney to Mariah Carey. I mustered up all my courage and approached Amy after the event, pitching myself with my digital portfolio on my iPad. I started interning with her shortly after, and I’ve had the privilege of working on shows with her ever since. Eight years later, Amy has become my mentor, friend, and artistic soulmate, and together we’ve made shows for Aerosmith, James Taylor, Paula Abdul, Disney Junior Channel, Harry Belafonte, and many others.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest challenge of being an artist is that my career is my personal life—my dreams, passions, and world views are constantly shifting alongside paychecks and opportunities. I’ve been fortunate to work on countless inspiring and amazing projects, but I’ve also worked on many projects that have sucked me dry and left me feeling empty. When your art is what also makes you money, you are constantly asking yourself (and testing) what your vulnerability is worth. You can not make great art without offering your most naked self—the self that believes in love stories and childhood magic. The self that has hope that the world could be a more beautiful place. The self that is often deemed “naive” and “idealistic.” The self that recognizes that most profitable industries have some very dark sides to them. This self is what makes me a great artist, but it’s also the part of me that is scared to show up to business meetings, the part that can become depleted and depressed after a challenging project. My dreams and passions have led me to happiness and success, but they have also led me to a lot of sadness and pain. I’m still working to understand how all these things can coexist, and how to recover more effectively when things become too overwhelming.

Jamie Lew – what should we know? What do you do best? What makes your career unique?
I’m a freelance artist and I try to not limit what mediums I express myself with. That being said, my work as an art director for live shows is definitely the most prominent part of my career. As the art director, I develop the early concept renderings, visual language, and pitch decks for shows as early as two years before they are set to open. I help orchestrate the synchronization of video, lighting, music, and movement from pre-production all the way to opening night.

In addition to this work, I do a lot of side projects—driven both by my insatiable artistic curiosities and also by a need to make art that explores my personal identities and experiences as a queer femme of color. I’ve directed and produced dance shorts and music videos, illustrated zines, and written poetry. On the to-do list is a graphic novel, animated series, and Korean-inspired fashion line.

I am proud that my work can take on so many different forms all while feeling true to how I see the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a James Taylor concert, a canvas painting, or an Instagram post; I want my work to remind the viewer to be hopeful, brave, and loving. If I am able to make you believe—even for a split second—that magic is real, I think I’ve done my job.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success as a sense of peace. I’ve felt most peaceful in my life when I knew I was actively answering to my life’s purpose in this universe. I try to remind myself that every human existence is a miracle and that we each have a unique combination of talents and personality that no one else possesses. When I am able to put my talents and personality to hard and honest work, I feel both peaceful and fulfilled. I think the ability to sustain this feeling is the ultimate success.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Mitch Dao, Elias Brown, and Paul Phou

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