Today, I have the privilege of interviewing the talented and gifted artist and graphic designer Jim LePage. I first mentioned Jim, here on Modern Reject, last month. I was so impressed by his passion, work, and vision that I wanted to share him with all of you.
If you love God’s word, desire to be inspired, or are a creative mind, then you will enjoy this interview. Keep reading to see some of the coolest, most stylish, Biblical artwork around…1. Describe yourself in 20 words or less.
I am an artist and graphic designer in St. Paul, MN with a passion for visually representing Biblical themes.
2. How did you get started in graphic design? How did you make the transition to designing the Bible/Christian artwork you currently create?
I went to school for graphic design and graduated in 2005. During my time at school, I had an internship at my church and was fortunate enough to get hired on full-time in April 2005. I’ve been working there ever since doing graphic design and managing our web presence. As far as the personal artwork, I didn’t start doing that until around January of 2010 with my Word Bible design project.
3. How and when did you become a follower of Christ? How has that affected your art?
I know a lot of folks can tell you the date time and what color socks they were wearing when they started following Jesus. That’s not my experience. The closest I can get would be to say around 1996 or so. I see God as the ultimate creator, constantly doing new things. He created beings with free will and he’s constantly working with, and adjusting to the choices we make. He’s always looking for ways to bring good out of bad, joy out of sorry and reconciliation out of conflict. As a creative person, I can’t help but marvel and be inspired by that type of pure creativity.
4. Do you consider yourself an “artist”? Why or why not?
That’s a good question. I think many people who are way smarter than me have many different thoughts on what art is and what makes someone an artist. I tend to think that an artist is someone who creates out of personal expression. I think the work I do for churches and clients is not art in the sense that it’s not a personal expression. Someone else has something they want to say and I’m just trying to help them say it in a clear and effective way. I do consider my Word Bible design series art. They are a very personal expression. I love the fact that other folks have enjoyed the series, but with Word, I never set out to create something for other people, if that makes sense.
5. Why do you think so much of the mainstream Christian arts, including film, music, and of course artwork, are somewhat lame?
I’ll preface this by saying that I feel like my thoughts on this are very much in process, so my answer today may be different than what I’d say a year from now.
Basically, I think American Christianity sets the bar too low. For example, look at the heart of the Christian faith, Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a beautiful thing that for a large percentage of Christianity, has essentially been boiled down to mean “you go to heaven when you die.” That sounds nice in a way that an insurance policy sounds nice, but it’s not radical or life-changing. In my opinion, that setting-the-bar-too-low type of thinking trickles down to all aspects of Christianity, including Biblical/spiritual art. Just get a photo of a sunset, put a Bible verse over it and it’s ready to print out frame and sell in the local Christian book store. We Jesus followers (and I’m including myself here) need to go past the clichés and push concepts and ideas further in film, music and, most importantly, faith. In order to have art that is original, beautiful and complex, it starts with recognizing how original, beautiful and complex Jesus is.
6. What art trends do you see emerging in the Christian art scene?
At the risk of coming off as some snooty artist, I’d actually call what I do “Biblical art” instead of “Christian art.” Over the past couple years, I’ve started to feel a little weird about categorizing any art as “Christian.” I honestly don’t know that art can ever be Christ-like. That seems more like a human quality to me. If I sit around all day doing Biblical art, I’m not necessarily being Christ-like. But if I take a 10 minute break to shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk (remember I’m in MN here), that’s Christ-like. That may just sound like semantics, but I think it’s an important distinction.
Since I started my Word project, I’ve definitely come across more and more artists and designers who are doing some really cool Biblical art. I don’t know that I would call it an emerging trend or just something I find myself drawn to, but I generally like art that values honesty over propriety. By that I mean that it feels like an honest expression more than a proper spiritual design. If I see Biblical art that is so honest that it would never hang inside the four walls of a church, I’m drawn to that. I’d actually love to see more Biblical art from non-Christians (and am hoping to launch a project next year that does just that), simply because they usually don’t have that “church propriety” thing that gets in their way.
7. Describe your “Word” series and how it has personally impacted you.
Word was a personal series where I created original designs for each book of the Bible. I’ve read the Bible on and off my whole life, but it always seemed boring to me so I decided to try and combine it with something that I’m passionate about, design. Before each design, I spent time researching the book, finding out the themes, historical context, weirdest stories, etc. I scanned through parts of the book looking for a passage or story that could translate into a cool design. Each design isn’t meant to completely represent the book, rather it is merely based on a passage from the book. I also did a write up for each book with my thoughts and reflections. One of my goals was to be really honest, so some of the designs and write ups contain images, words and themes that you won’t find in most churches. From January 2010 to November 2011 I posted a total of 91 Word Designs.
It was really cool to go through the Bible like that. Just to be clear, I didn’t read the entire Bible in this process, but I did read a decent chunk of it and felt like I was able to see a story arc to the entire book in a way I hadn’t before. In addition, I was always scanning for potential design ideas, so I ended up going through the Bible visualizing things in a way I hadn’t before. When I read, I imagined all everything I was reading like it was a movie playing in my head. That brought a lot of life to something I’d always assumed was boring.
8. Where do you find inspiration, including any of your favorite artists?
Like most designers, I’ve got my list of sites that I always visit for inspiration. I really like mid-century design from people like Alex Steinweiss, Saul Bass and Paul Rand among many others. There was a beauty in that period of art and design that has mostly been lost today. In fact, I started a site called Gettin’ Biblical where I post cool Biblical design and a lot of the work on there is from that time period. As for current artists, I’m generally drawn to people whose work has a very vintage feel, like Mark Weaver, Chaz Russo and Pope St. Victor. I also love the work of Aesthetic Apparatus, Heads of State and Jason Munn (AKA The Small Stakes). And even though I can’t draw at all, I’m really inspired by the work of illustrators like Lydia Nichols, Scotty Reifsnyder and Ward Jenkins. I could go on and on….
9. What advice would you give to anyone pursuing a creative profession, especially in the Christian sphere?
Never stop stretching yourself creatively. Try to bring creativity into everything you do. When I’m at a mall, I pull out my phone and start taking pictures of cool vintage logos that I’d never notice unless I was looking for them. When I write an email, I try to be creative with the Subject. That may seem silly, but I feel like doing stuff like that trains my brain to think more creatively and notice beauty and design that I’d otherwise miss. As far as specifically in the Christian sphere, I’d just say to be hyper aware of the traps of “Christian” art. Using a cross in place of a “t” in that logo or using the stock image of the dude with his hands raised may be tempting, but push past that and come up with something new. You have it in you and you can do better than that.
10. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
I’ll give 2 answers here. One is based in my dream world and the other is based in reality. I get most joy from doing personal art, so in my dream world, I’d love to be able to support myself by doing just that. Realistically, I’ll probably still be working at my church (a job that I love) and doing a mixture of freelance art and design on the side. But if anyone sees and opening for a full time artist, let me know :)
11. What is your ninja name?
Enoch. Now you see me, now you don’t.
Go on and ask Jim anything. He’s game (I think). Also, what personally inspires you? What do you hope to see take shape in the Christian world of art, whether it be film, music, artwork or the rest?
Pssst- For a limited time, Jim LePage is also offering 30% off of Word series prints. It may be hard to choose just one, but you can try. And Christmas is just around the corner. All proceeds benefit the Making Space Campaign at Woodland Hills Church, which serves low income or homeless families.