Jim LePage Art & Design

Q&A

A selection of questions from interviews I've done over the last few years. Thoughts on things like art, faith and being offensive.

Why do you think so much of the mainstream Christian arts, including film, music, and of course artwork, are somewhat lame?

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. 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 bookstore. Christian creatives (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.

(via Modern Reject)


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. 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  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.

(via Modern Reject)


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.

(via Modern Reject


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.

(via Modern Reject)


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.

(via Modern Reject)


As faith is so personal, I’m guessing some of your designs sparked some intense debate and discussions. Any examples of that?

I’ll start off by saying that most of the feedback I’ve received has been and continues to be positive. In fact, I heard from quite a few folks that don’t consider themselves religious at all saying how much they like my work. I’d like to think that my designs offer a different take on the Bible than most religious art, and it seems like there was an audience that appreciated that. That said, the main negative feedback I got was from Christians. Many of my designs and write-ups are irreverent and contain images and words you wouldn’t associate with church. My design for the book of Nahum features a close up of my hand giving the viewer the finger. Some of my designs are violent or depressing. There are designs and write ups that contain swearing and many others contain some very honest confusion and doubts. There have been some people who thought I crossed the line a few too many times. I probably did, but for me, with art and faith, I think there’s a lot more opportunity for growth and honest discussion when you’re willing to cross a few lines than when you’re being so careful that you never get close to one.

The post that sparked the most debate and feedback was “Jesus Christ: Terrorist Killer?” After Osama bin Laden was killed, many American churches participated in the celebration that followed and in some cases even endorsed the killing and insinuated that God was happy about it. My design and post questioned how so many churches that claim to follow a man who willingly died for his enemies could take part in celebrating the death of their enemy. It got a lot of reactions and not all of them were from people who agreed with me. 

(Via Go Media)


What inspired you to take on the Word project?

I've always thought the Bible was a powerful book and contained an amazing story of God's pursuit of humanity. But in all honesty, whenever I tried to read it, I got bored really quickly. I'd make all types of different efforts to read the Bible more, but inevitably I'd always give up, because it seemed boring and I'd rather watch TV. It's a frustrating feeling to know that this book shares such an incredible story that I just couldn't seem to tap into.

Eventually, I decided to try combining something that felt boring – Bible reading – with something that I was passionate about – design. 

(via Rachel Held Evans


In your designs, you aren’t afraid to highlight some of the strange/disturbing/quirky elements of Scripture. Why feature these lesser-known (or lesser-emphasized) themes rather than the more traditional, “inspirational” themes?

The God I read about in the Bible is beautiful, but also surprising, creative, offensive, risky and oftentimes seems a little crazy. I want my art (and the reflections I did for each design) to represent all of that. As an artist who is Christian, it seems to me that most Biblical art seems to value propriety over honesty. In other words, it's better for Biblical art to be "nice" than honest. That seems wrong and boring. I wanted to value honesty above propriety and I think that led me to some strange and lesser explored parts of scripture. For me, if I didn't explore those passages, it would have felt dishonest. Oftentimes, being honest in the design led me to a greater and deeper appreciation of the passage and I ended up seeing it in a completely different light.

(via Rachel Held Evans)


What got you started in design?

My path to art/design isn’t a typical one. in 2003, I’d been a preschool teacher for 5 years. I realized I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, so my wife encouraged me to go back to school. I looked at what the local community colleges had to offer since I didn’t want to be in school for 4 more years, and graphic design sounded cool to me. I didn’t grow up drawing all the time. I had never even owned a computer. Looking back it seems like such a stupid decision, but it ended up working out OK.

 (via Project Paperie)


How would you like to impact the world with your art?

Wow, that’s a big question. I guess I hope that my art causes religious folks to reconsider some parts of scripture that they might usually gloss over or ignore and also encourage them to ask honest questions. I think there is an idea that we shouldn’t question the Bible or God, which I think is ridiculous. God is not so insecure that he gets mad when we ask honest questions. For folks who are not religious, I guess I hope that they can resonate with my honest exploration of scripture. I think a lot of folks fall away or avoid God/church because they were in an environment where you were not supposed to ask questions, and that sucks. 

(via Project Paperie)


What is your opinion on the term “Christian art” or “Christian artist”?

I understand what people are trying to do when they say that, but I just don’t think it’s accurate. If the word “Christian” means Christ-like, then the only thing that can accurately be described as “Christian” is a person. Being Christ-like always means loving and sacrificing for others. Art can be no more “Christian” than a bag of potato chips. Religious or biblical, maybe, but only human beings have the ability to be Christ-like.

(via Project Paperie)


Do you feel like the church effectively uses art?

That’s a tough question because “the church” is a pretty broad term. If we’re talking generally about the church in the U.S., then no, I don’t think it does. The art I generally associate with churches is pretty bland. Pictures of sunsets, landscapes... pretty things. Nothing against pretty things, but I think God wants more than that from us. I’m drawn to art that challenges and confuses me. Art that hits me between the eyes or forces a new perspective on an old story. I don’t see a lot of that kind of art in churches. Sadly, the art that seems the most spiritual or God glorifying to me is usually seen outside the four walls of a church building.

(via Project Paperie)


How does your art affect you as a person? Or, to reverse the question, how does your personality spill out into your art?

I once heard someone (I think it was Frank Chimero) describe his process of writing by saying something like “I don’t know what I think about something until I write what I think about it.” I guess I feel that way about my artwork. Many times it’s through the process of creating art that I come to a better understanding of what the piece is about.

(via Project Paperie)


What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as an artist? What is the smartest choice you’ve made as an artist?

Biggest mistake? Not sure if this counts, but I wish I took more of an interest in art growing up. I don’t have a good knowledge of art history and I can’t draw to save my life. I guess I feel like I’m “behind” all the other born and bred artists out there in that sense. Smartest choice is an easy one – starting up a personal project. That changed the course of my career and life. It still is, in fact. Can’t recommend that enough.

(via Project Paperie) 


What are your future goals?

I’ve been doing design as a living for about 8 years now and really enjoy it. The thing I like most though is doing personal passion projects. Word, Old & New, other personal artwork, talking to people about my work and art in general... I love that stuff. Someday I’d love to just be able to work on passion projects full time. That type of thing feels like a pipe dream, but I may test the waters on that someday.

(via Project Paperie)


How do most people respond to your artwork? How do you respond to critics? Do you have any advice for young artists on handling negative critique?

I mostly hear positive things about my work from people, which is great. I like hearing that. I do get some negative feedback though and I actually really enjoy it. I feel like I have a gift/curse of being able to be fairly detached from my art in that I don’t get upset when people don’t like it. Rather, I kinda like criticisms because it give me an opportunity to try and get inside someone else’s mind. Why didn’t they like it? Is there some type of underlying assumption that would contribute to that? What does it say about me that I’m not bothered by my work? I also like to respond to anyone who gives me criticism, whether it’s constructive or not. I recently got an angry email from someone who didn’t like my Nahum design. “Visual profanity” was the phrase that was used. It’s fun to me to try and get inside that person’s head and figure out what beliefs they have that would lead them to think that, and then realize that I don’t have those beliefs, or if I do, I somehow interpret them differently. That is fascinating to me. Also, I find that if you respond to emotionally charged criticism by being calm, collected and looking for a common ground, the other person usually calms down pretty fast.

(via Project Paperie)


Were you ever afraid to give Christianity a bad name if you pointed out certain things?

Never. I think it’s super damaging to not address those things. I think if I was a non-Christian that would be one of the things that I [would] hate about Christianity. There are all these blatant things that are glossed over and not addressed or sugar coated. That sort of thing just seems fake even outside of a religion.

(via Converge Magazine


 What design were you the most nervous to post?

Jesus Christ: Terrorist Killer? (Osama bin Laden) post/design is by far the most excited and nervous I've been about any post or design. I think it had to do with a couple things.

First, it was a very personal expression. It wasn't some quick Bible design with a snarky write up that I did in a few hours. It was an expression of something that had gotten so far under my skin that I knew I needed to get it out. That post had a lot of me in it and sharing something that personal is 100% exciting and 100% terrifying.

Second, it was something that many people had extremely strong, and emotion-fueled, opinions about. In fact, the whole post was directed at challenging the people with those strong opinions. I knew I was about to shake a hornet's nest and was very nervous for that reason. I remember having my wife read through it first and, although supportive, I could tell she was nervous for me too. Just a couple minutes after publishing it, comments started coming in... and kept coming in. In the end, it was cool to hear from so many folks who were experiencing the same unease that led me to do the post in the first place. I know the post helped me to reorient myself to focus on what is true and I'd like to think that it did that for a few other folks too.


Do you have any theology degrees?

Nope. Before going back to school for graphic design in 2004, I had a bunch of random college classes, none of them having anything to do with theology. Most of my knowledge of the Bible comes from growing up going to church and to Christian schools.


How did you keep yourself motivated to stay on schedule for completing designs for Word?

Staying motivated was a big concern of my when I began the project. I knew myself well enough to know that I needed to set up some parameters that made it easy for me to succeed, otherwise I'd probably bail on the entire project the first Friday I didn't feel like doing a design. To begin with, I made things easy in that I always used the same background and font. Having a few decisions already made helped get me going each week. Eventually I started to enjoy the project so much I ditched those parameters because I didn't need them and they were actually beginning to feel like a constraint.

The biggest motivator was feedback from folks who started following the project. First it was family and friends, then it spread to other folks. Eventually people started posting about the project and it kinda spread from there. I can't begin to explain how encouraging it was to post a design and get feedback from folks, many times within 5-10 minutes. It ended up feeling like other people had joined me on a journey and that felt really encouraging. One thing I learned through that is that even though it may only take 30 seconds, throwing out an encouraging email or comment to someone can really mean a lot.


Was there a design that you wanted to do in your Word series that you had to pass up because it was too crazy or inappropriate?

The only reason I ever passed up a design concept was because I didn't think I could pull it off in the amount of time I gave myself. After I did posts like Joshua and Job (each of which could be seen as inappropriate for different reasons), I knew that in this project I would value honesty over decency, both in the designs and writing. 


Some of your designs are rather bold. Did you have any sense of weightiness or responsibility with those?

I definitely have a sense of weightiness and responsibility with my artwork, but I'm never worried about being too bold in the sense of being controversial or inappropriate. The weightiness and responsibility I feel is about being honest. If I post something bold or controversial and some folks didn't like it, I'm totally fine with that. The thing that bugs me about most Biblical is that it takes subject matter that is powerful, controversial and challenging and distills it into something that feels superficial and easy. I feel a responsibility to be real and not sugarcoat things. If someone is mad or critical about a post, that's fine. I actually kinda like that. If I was not completely honest in a post, that is what I see as failure.


Do you know of anyone that makes a nice graphic with all the books of the Bible?

I love finding new biblical art. Below are some I like. I'll update this as I find new stuff. 

  1. History of Redemption (art by Chris Koelle)
  2. JŌB (art by Chris Koelle)
  3. The Book of Revelation (art by Chris Koelle)
  4. The Golden Bible (art by Alice and Gus Provenson)

 

Many of my designs are available as prints and digital files.