Jennifer Orkin Lewis fulfills many different creative roles as an artist, illustrator, author, and teacher. As seen on August Wren, Lewis’s predominately nature-inspired paintings have been featured in collaborations with Anthropologie, Kate Spade Home, Seattle Chocolate, and more.
After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Lewis decided to start her creative career in textile design and styling. Lewis decided to solely pursue illustration in 2010, establishing her unique creative process through a 30-minute daily painting practice. Finding that it created her most meditative and intuitive work, Lewis continued her ritual. She completed sketchbooks filling entire shelves.
Wanting to encourage others to implement the same uninterrupted creativity, Lewis later published two sketchbook guides, 100 Days of Drawing and Draw Everyday, Draw Everyway. Her illustrated book All Hail the Queen: Twenty Women Who Ruled empowers girls and women by depicting prominent women monarchs throughout history.
Girls That Create collaborated with Lewis over email to discuss her creative inspirations, sketchbook guides, and advice for young girls.
Artist, Illustrator, Author, and Teacher Jennifer Orkin Lewis
Did you have any artists or pieces of art that inspired you as a child or you remember enjoying?
I remember as a kid having a few favorites. I loved an artist named Hunterwasser, the art Nouveau style of Alphonse Mucha, Vincent van Gogh, and the drawings of Toulouse Lautrec (which I still adore).
Was there someone in your childhood or teenage years who encouraged your artistic pursuits?
I was lucky, and my parents really encouraged me from early on to be creative. I loved drawing and painting so much that it wasn’t hard to convince me to work hard at it. In high school, I had an art teacher who saw my potential and helped me get a portfolio together and apply to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), which is where I ended up going to college.
You previously worked as a textile designer and a stylist. What made you decide to pursue an independent art career and paint full-time?
I loved my career as a textile designer, but I got tired of working in a male-run business with a limited scope. I just wanted to create the way I wanted to – with what is inside of me – to let all the locked creativity out. I was looking to develop my own style of painting that wasn’t dictated by what the manufacturer wanted. I still do work for many clients and companies that make products, but they come to me for the style, quality, and colors that I can provide. I don’t appropriate other styles to get a job, which was what I had to do in the textile industry.
What is your process behind creating your paintings?
I work in two different ways: when it’s a painting that is for me only – in my sketchbook or on a canvas – I often just go for it without too many restrictions. I do start with a general idea; maybe something I saw that day, memories of a place I’ve been, a photo I took or using vintage photos to recreate a time and place. But I don’t think it out fully – I like to see what emerges. I don’t love every last one. It’s just all part of the process. I rarely go back in to fix anything. I just move on and do the next one. It’s very important not to feel too precious about each piece of work you make.
Your work is inspired by nature, color, patterns, and people. Can you touch on some of these themes and why you decide to incorporate them into your art?
The way the colors of the trees and flowers pop on a grayish-blue sky; the interesting shapes and colors of a bird – nature is always around us, and it’s there for the taking. Basically, it comes down to the fact that it makes me happy, and I can interpret it as I like in so many different ways.
Your illustrated book All Hail the Queen empowers girls and women through its vibrant depictions of powerful women monarchs. Why did you decide to publish a book around this theme?
It was exciting for me to research and draw powerful women from different cultures and countries. Some were well known, and others were quite obscure. It was so cool to find these women who could influence society when women were really held back in so many ways (much more so than today), even though it’s an ongoing issue. I hope that girls and women can find some strength, beauty, and power by looking at and reading about what they all accomplished!
You have also released two sketchbook journals that encourage daily sketchbook practice. How important is practice when it comes to creating art?
It is crucial to try to create something every single day. It gets your mind flowing. You are building up a practice that will lead you to find your style. They say you need 10,000 hours to become pretty competent as a task. If you draw every day for 30 minutes in less than a year, you have reached 10,000 hours. I have been doing this since 2014, and I see I am more confident, better skilled, and open to trying new things the farther along I go. I think everyone should do this in whatever interest you have; draw, paint, write a poem, write a short piece of music, anything. You will see a difference.
Your work has been featured in collaborations with major brands. What is it like working with these companies and promoting your art beyond the canvas?
It’s always so thrilling to see my work on a beautiful product that I love. It’s fun working with different people and in different markets. It keeps things exciting and fresh and makes me want to expand to other products as well. I try to stick to companies that make a beautiful, sustainable end product. Many of my collaborations are with women-owned companies. I like to make a connection.
You also teach through workshops and online classes. How important is support from other artists – such as provided through workshops – when pursuing a creative career?
I love to teach my approach, which, at its core, is making art that comes from deep inside and staying true to your core beliefs and aesthetic, no matter what the world is pressuring you to do, and to take away the critic inside. The more workshops I teach, I learn how important it is to be with a group of like-minded, creative people. This is truly how one grows.
What do you wish to see in the future of your career as a creative?
I just want to make art that I love to make. I am working on a series of more fine art pieces, which is a direction I am interested in. (I also want) to continue to work with clients that I connect with and love the product.
What advice would you give to a young girl wanting to pursue a career in art and illustration?
I would say to enjoy the process of making something every day. Don’t say this one is “bad,” the whole thing is a journey. I don’t think any young person should put themselves in a box as far as style. Try everything that interests you. Go for it – as you go, you will find your direction. Explore, play, get energized, and don’t listen to the critics.
Jennifer Orkin Lewis
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Written by Brooke Weatherbie
Images provided by Lewis