James Lewis is a 3D lettering supremo who has worked with a diverse mix of brands from Pepsi to the BBC. We caught up with the creative dynamo to find out what makes him tick
I’m a lettering artist based in the capital city of Wales, Cardiff. I’ve been interested in all things creative from as long as I can remember, but my interest in lettering began just over eight years ago. I was a big fan of video games and a scene emerged on YouTube with gamers from all around the world (myself included) sharing gameplay. With this surge of new content creators, there was a big need to stand out amongst the crowd, and with that people needed to develop brands. I first designed my own logo, then many other people’s, at first for free and then for a small fee.
Before long I was more interested in the design side of the online gaming community and I decided to study graphic design when I finished school and went to university. At this time I had no formal education in the field so I taught myself as much as I could from YouTube tutorials and online courses. It was whilst searching online for graphic design tips that I stumbled on calligraphy and lettering. Something as ubiquitous as letters seemed – at the time – so simply replicable, something I could easily do. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The videos online made brush lettering look easier than writing with a pencil, but when I first tried it the results were laughable.
Dedication to the cause
I have always been the sort of person who, when presented with a challenge, faces it head on and aims to overcome it. The challenge of lettering, therefore, was really exciting to me. Alongside my studies of graphic design I practised many different calligraphy and lettering styles, drawing inspiration from traditional copperplate and Spencerian calligraphy, technical type design and 3D sign painting. I think having this understanding of many different styles, and coupling that with my understanding of what ideas each type style conveys, allowed me to create logos and lettering artworks that resonated with people who may not even be interested in lettering.
When I graduated from university two years ago I had been sharing my process online via Instagram, Behance and my website for over four years. I had built up a small but engaged following and a network of clients and collaborators, so I made the decision to go freelance and with that devote 100% of my working time to lettering art and type design. This was the smartest and scariest decision I’ve ever made and even though it was technically the beginning of my career it’s the proudest moment of my career too. The subsequent success as a result of this decision allowed me to trust in myself and my decisions in a whole new way.
Life in 3D
One of my favourite projects I completed very recently was the design of a full 3D typeface for a well-known luxury goods company. I’ve been obsessed with 3D lettering and have been lucky enough to travel the world and teach workshops based on my 3D lettering technique. Being able to convert all that learning and teaching of 3D lettering into a font that will be applied throughout their brand was very special to me.
Over the past year I’ve combined my love for lettering with my graphic design skillset when painting 3D logos. It was first a way of practising painting and what began to happen was my clients not only wanted me to design their logo, but also paint it for them for it to be hung up in their workspace. I realised that what I was doing was becoming more art than design and with that realisation I began to structure my business more like an artist than a graphic designer. I still design logos and fonts but my main focus and passion is painting and producing video content around this.
Practice makes perfect
For anyone interested in 3D lettering, one book I’d recommend is Shadow Type by Louise Fili and Steven Heller. It’s filled with incredible examples of 3D lettering from all over the western world and has provided me with endless sources of inspiration. Explaining the process of 3D lettering is rather complicated, which is why I teach the six-hour 3D lettering workshop where each attendee is taught and practises drawing 3D lettering, eventually painting their own 3D letter as I do on the videos I share on my Instagram.
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