StickerGiant Chats Art, Design, and Building a Community for Artists in Boulder, CO with Phil Lewis
In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Andrew sits down with Phil Lewis of Phil Lewis Art in Boulder, CO to talk about his gallery in downtown Boulder, hosting art shows for inspiring artists, and of course, and how his art is traveling in many forms, from gallery paintings and laser engraved water bottles, to custom printed stickers.
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[00:00:08] Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic podcast, brought to you by stickergiant.com, where we talk with our customers about how they started their business, how they're marketing their brand, and how they're growing their company. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. If you're a regular listener, thank you for your continued support.
Without further ado, it's time for the Stickers on the Mic podcast from StickerGiant. Let's get on with the show.
[00:00:42] Andrew: Welcome back to the Stickers on the Mic podcast. I'm Andrew, I'll be your host today. I'm very happy to welcome to our studio Phil Lewis, of Phil Lewis Art here in Boulder, Colorado. He does a lot of things that I will let him tell you all about. Phil, thank you so much for being here.
[00:01:02] Phil Lewis: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
[00:01:05] Andrew: We've been seeing your stickers come through the shop for a long time, very unique style. We were able to visit your studio and folks who are listening, you're going to have a great chance to see that video. It illustrates the visual so, so well. Phil, start off. Why did you end up in Boulder?
[00:01:28] Phil: Ending up in Boulder, it really was our music that took us there. I was playing music in a band called Story Time with my two brothers. We were rocking and rolling and had a fantastic time traveling all over the country just making music and having a great time. At the time, we were living in Hollywood, in LA, and coming from Tahoe, growing up in such a pristine mountain environment, LA was a pretty difficult place to live after a while.
I had gone to college, at Colorado College, previous to that time, and I would make adventures at the Boulder to check out the Boulder Theater and the Fox and just experience the culture that Boulder has to offer. It was my radar, like a cool place to live, and a place that had a lot of music, and a live music presence. We just on a whim decided, "All right, let's get out of LA and let's move to Boulder." And so we did.
[00:02:24] Andrew: That is awesome. Art, music, and expression obviously is a big part of your life. When did you know you wanted to be an artist? What led you on that path?
[00:02:36] Phil: I've always been very intrigued by artwork, all the way from when I was a toddler messing with crayons and drawing on the walls and whatever. [laughs] I was always into art and my parents always encouraged that. I feel like I've always been interested in art but it wasn't really until that time playing music with my brothers that I started to dabble in creating poster designs, album graphics, and T-shirt concepts, and getting my feet wet with product development and how art can apply to that.
I was experimenting with that during those years and when it came time, we decided we wanted to take a break from playing our music when my brother had his two daughters. We were moving on from music and it was like, "Okay, what do I do now?" I just made this transition from touring around the country playing music to touring around the country showing artwork. I really just dove headfirst into making art a full-time career path. It's definitely one of the best decisions I've ever made. It was definitely the calling for me.
[00:03:37] Andrew: You'd create art for those communities. Obviously, you had a background in the poster and promotional artwork. Where did you then take those inspirations to create your unique pieces that you see today?
[00:03:53] Phil: I think you really sort of-- The seed was doodling. I was always a doodler. My artwork is very repetitive, there's a lot of pattern work, there was a lot of meanderings. Over the years, I've become more focused and more contained and driven towards certain narrative and character development things; but it was really doodling that started it all.
I then started to become interested in trying to capture certain scenes. I've always been inspired by nature and places I've hiked and camped and explored over the years. I really started to combine my doodling concept with landscape and eventually arrived at this very pattern-oriented stylized landscape artwork that has since developed into a lot more than that, but that was the root.
[00:04:46] Andrew: Right. There's your classic poster that we're looking at when we were at the studio visiting with you, that Flatirons Poster, which is very iconic. Every Colorado Boulder artist, you've got to have that in your portfolio-
[00:04:58] Phil: Sure, sure.
[00:04:58] Andrew: -but that one has-- You're showing us the original line work and drawing of that in the evolution of that piece. Now, though, your style, there's so much emotion in all the things that you do. Talk a little bit about that creative process, where you're able to-- We sat with you and watched you doodle a little bit, but talk about how, like you said, doodling, your process still begins with a piece of paper and a pencil. Walk through our listeners a little bit of what that looks like to create some of the art.
[00:05:32] Phil: Sure. Well, to me, one of the most raw and bare forms of expression is drawing. It's really just, whether it's a pencil or a pen or a marker, crayon, or whatever it is, it's just-- Or even a paintbrush, it's one artistic tool in your hand and that is it. It's literally straight, the ideas are just flowing out of my head through my hand down the pencil on the paper. It's very basic to draw. I've always felt most connected to the creative experience just letting stuff flow out as quickly as I can.
My initial beginnings of all my artwork is a pencil drawing on paper. It's very small usually. My original drawings are about 8 x 10 or so. They're very small. It's just like the scale that I've become comfortable working in. I like to focus very tightly and just really organize every single little section. For me, I worked very small, I work in pencil and paper.
I've also always been a way into gadgets, technology, and computers. For me, when I was in college I did take an intro of Photoshop class. This was back in 1999. It was definitely a long time ago. The program was nowhere near as advanced.
[00:06:48] Andrew: It was nothing like it is today.
[00:06:48] Phil: Yes. It was not as capable as it is now. What it did was it opened my eyes to the possibility of combining artwork that I was making on paper with the digital sphere, the digital space. I started to scan my finished drawing doodles into Photoshop, then breaking them up into different layers and experimenting with the colors and just messing around with Photoshop. It's all really self-taught. It's just like pick up a menu item, apply it and see what happens.
Half of the time it fails, half of the times it was something totally mind-bending. I've experimented a lot over the years with Photoshop and what you can do with it.
For me, it's just exciting to combine the raw artistic creative process that happens on paper and then get it into the computer and take it much, much further with experimenting and seeing what's possible.
Over the years, I've really developed and grown in that realm and started to work more and more on a tablet. Up until a couple of years ago, I've been pretty much exclusively using a Waccom Satique monitor that you can draw directly on the screen with. I would scan my drawings and then-- I started to trace the actual linework because it's a lot cleaner, crisper and more high-definition when you create it digitally rather than scanning it and trying to clean it up.
Over the years, I've really transitioned away from doing the color and the pen work on paper to just doing a pencil drawing, taking a picture of that, bringing it in the computer and tracing it by hand. It's extremely time-consuming because I essentially draw the entire piece twice. What it allows me to do is get a really crisp, clean, black line layer that I use as the foundation for all the color and the effects and the layer work and everything else in Photoshop.
[00:08:47] Andrew: It was cool to watch you do that over your shoulder at the shop there because, for me, I know Illustrator pretty well. I was surprised that you're creating those lines in Photoshop and allowing the imperfections of pixels at a very granular level. When you zoom all the way in, I was like, "Wow, that is actually--" Like you were saying, it felt more organic for your own process to do it that way, and we're an Illustrator shop. That's how we print stickers.
I'm just used to really super tight pixel-perfect lines, whereas yours when they blow up look perfect but you started that atomic level of a less-- It mimics, I guess, the pencils is what I'm saying, which I found really unique about your process.
[00:09:39] Phil: Sure. Something I've really focused on throughout this development of this technique is trying to retain the organic human element of it all. Don't get me wrong, I love and appreciate Illustrator too. When it's crispy, it's real nice for me.
[00:09:57] Andrew: You can slow it up in ways that are different in Photoshop but you are able to maximize your palette.
[00:10:04] Phil: From a design perspective, I love Illustrator. From an art creation point of view, Photoshop is just a better fit for me.
[00:10:11] Andrew: That’s awesome.
[00:10:12] Phil: When I zoom in on this stuff and I'm tracing it, I'm often zoomed in like 300 or 400% and I'm working with a four-pixel brush. it's very in there. To me when you're tracing and drawing and doing color at that scale, it's almost a little bit more like paint. You kind of push it around a little and you can get away with like, whoops, that was a little weird and like maybe I like that.
[00:10:34] Andrew: That's the Bob Ross feels like "Oh, it's a happy accident."
[00:10:39] Phil: Exactly. Those kinds of things can still happen for me when I'm working in a pixel-based medium. In a way, it sort of lets my personality and artistic motions come through a little bit more. I've definitely played with both but in the end, right now, where I'm at, I appreciate just working with Photoshop at that resolution.
[00:11:00] Andrew: Clearly it's working and like I said, as someone who's taught a lot of these different softwares, they're so the same but different and the way an artist or a creator interfaces with them, I love watching people get creative in those. That's why it's such a cool suite of products. You've created this really great digital workflow that starts again with an analog process and you've also though over the years expanded what you serve to your customers, basically.
I want you to just walk us through a little bit of coming up with your product lines, but also then how did you start? You said you were doing it at festivals, which has a lot of leg work. How did you start selling or creating your market?
[00:11:50] Phil: When I originally first started out, coming from the musical space, I knew that was where the type of people I wanted to share my artwork with, that's where they were going to be, was at live events. At the very beginning, when I did first start out, I was doing like art craft fairs, like an art show. The very first show I ever did was in the Boulder high school parking lot. It was like the Boulder art show or something. I can't remember what they even called it.
The easy up with just super thrown together set up and I really didn't know what I was getting myself into but it was exciting and fun. I did a bunch of shows like that. I did like the Crested Butte Fine Arts Fair, the Pearl Street Fine Arts Festival, lots of art based things. It wasn't until like 2008 when I first did my first music festival, Sonic Bloom. I remember it was up in Winter Park and it was kind of a major eye-opener.
It's the same amount of work. You set up a booth, you're sweating it out for the whole entire weekend but what it is is a higher concentration of people that are attuned to my style of artwork or the subject matter or like whatever it is. My artwork tends to fit in really well in live music settings. Over the years I have worked with a lot of bands and festivals and so developed a lot of work for that crowd specifically. For me, that was a real turning point. It was like vending a music festival. I was like, "Whoa, this is where I need to be."
[00:13:22] Andrew: It's a concentrated audience that's focused on that kind of expression whereas like a general pedestrian traffic at a fine art fair, 1 out of 10 might be interested in that look and feel. That's cool. Also, your history with gigs and being a musician obviously it was a very natural fit. You're doing festivals for a number of years and then you're able to open up a studio on Pearl Street, primo real estate in the heart of town. Tell us a little bit about that process of opening up a studio.
[00:13:55] Phil: Sure. Well, through the years, of vending music festivals from 2008 all the way up until about two years ago. That was like my super primary focus. We did 12, 15 festivals a year, traveling all over the country. By doing that legwork and exposing my artwork in different markets, different pockets of the country, it helped develop widespread grassroots following for my work that is definitely on the ground.
These are real connections, real impressions that when you meet somebody at a music festival and maybe they're super jazzed up and they're really fired up and they get a big piece of artwork to take home with them. Or maybe they don't have that ability at that point in time and they end up with some cool stickers. It doesn't really matter what it is, but if somebody takes something home with them, you've made a connection with them.
Over the course of the past 12 years, I've really made a lot of connections like that, like really strong, just amazing following which I'm so extremely grateful for. It's phenomenal the support that I've had from my work. I truly feel blessed for this path and so for me opening up a retail in physical presence was the next step in that. Instead of trying to go out on the road and hustle and burn the candle at both ends, I wanted to focus on one single space and put a lot of energy into it. Using that support that I have for my network I was able to build this space and plant roots there and it's been so phenomenally well received. I am blown away by it, it's amazing.
[00:15:34] Andrew: What's the address again of that again? We'll do it at the end again.
[00:15:37] Phil: Sure, we're at a 2-0-3-4 Pearl Street. It's right in between 20th and 21st.
[00:15:44] Andrew: In that space you were telling us when we were there, it obviously serves as gallery space to hang big pieces and have a point of purchase items like Frisbees, et cetera, which is obviously very great, but you're also trying to have it be somewhat of an event space and create a community around that energy that you'd put into it.
[00:16:03] Phil: Absolutely. That was definitely part of the plan at the beginning was to not only share my artwork but to get an opportunity to share the artwork of other artists that I really appreciate and am inspired by. We do these guests art shows where we take down my work off of one of the main walls and we put up artwork of people that I want to show.
It's a really awesome opportunity because not only do I get to look at this really cool art in my own space for a while and be inspired by it, but I get to expose the community to awesome artwork that I think is worthy of being shown. That's really exciting for me and there's so much artwork being made in Boulder, there's so many artists living here, but there's really not very many galleries that are supporting the visionary art culture at the festival, live music festival culture. It's been really well received, and we've had some amazing shows with just phenomenal artists. It's just such a fun, exciting new chapter.
[00:17:06] Andrew: That term visionary art or visionary artists, that was new to me. Incidentally right after we had our interview, I was at the Trader Joe's and I had something of yours right there and the guy is like, "Oh man, that's really cool." I was like, "Oh yes, I was just talking to that artist." He's like, "Oh yes, he's a visionary artist." He knew that term. What does that mean? What is visionary artist mean?
[00:17:31] Phil: It's hard to put a finger on that and there's a lot of us that are grouped into it but basically, it's a Renaissance of just really creative spirit at this day and age. There is an element of psychedelics involved. It's like opening the door to a different way of seeing the world and having revisions and encapsulating on the energy that we're all sharing in this world. There's so much of it happening when you start to dig into it, it's amazing. There really hasn't been much of a time period. When you look at art history, this is definitely a new thing and it's definitely happening right now and it's pretty exciting.
[00:18:12] Andrew: No, that's how it feels like. When I first started working here many years ago and seeing this style-- I've been a live music fan and experienced a lot of different pockets of those around the country. I'm looking, I'm holding in my hands this Red Rocks piece that you have which is a really impressive piece of art. In that, you have the cemetery of the venue but then you have this whole story being told around it.
Again, there's so much motion in this piece but it's like contained. For folks listening if you head over to Phil Lewis Art online you'll be able to see a lot of those and there's a really cool variety of different products. How did you branch off to do-- I'm looking at this little postcard. You've got the stickers, you've got the big prints, and then of course in this space you have all kinds of different collateral. What does a new product development look like for you for instance?
[00:19:06] Phil: It could really come from anywhere, but over the years at festivals that's definitely where I picked up a lot of ideas. Somebody would come in and mention like, "Hey, have you ever thought about doing Frisbee golf discs?" I'm like, "Well, no, not until right now." Ideas would definitely come at me as suggestions, but also from just witnessing what people are into and seeing like-- I can remember vending High Sierra Music Festival years ago.
[00:19:31] Andrew: Such a good festival.
[00:19:33] Phil: - which is phenomenal. It's a great time. It's really close to where I'm from, so it's a bit of a homecoming for me there too. Witnessing people playing Frisbee right in front of the booth and it was like a light bulb moment. Like, "Hey, wait a minute, we should make some Frisbees." That was just sort of--
[00:19:49] Andrew: Then you sort the supplier and it is just artwork.
[00:19:52] Phil: Yes. I do always vet my vendors to make sure I'm working with people who have high-quality products and are consistent and everything is aligned. I've just really picked up ideas over the years and of a component of it also for me has always been the goal of my artwork or what I want to do with it is really just to share it and to get people stoked and spread joy as corny as that sounds. It's really the bottom line of all of this is I do want people to be happy and I want to try and make them happy with my artwork.
A good way to do that is to offer products that people can engage with. It's not just a piece of artwork that goes on a wall, it's a piece of artwork that can go on your phone case so that you can pull it out of your pocket and show your friends and every time you use it you're reminded that like, "Hey, this is cool, this is an expression of what I enjoy and it's right here with me all the time." All things like that. Like in laser engraving, the stainless steel water bottles, every time you pick up your bottle you're reminded of that art and of how it makes you feel.
I've really developed products that people can engage with. The puzzles. Working with Liberty Puzzles has been a phenomenal relationship. That's just really a grand slam in terms of combining what they do. They're super artistic, creative puzzle making with my artwork really is a fantastic marriage of concepts. That allows people to sit down and actually play with the art and engage with it in a puzzle experience. Like you're contributing to creating it. Again, from a box of puzzle pieces, you're putting it together. For me, I've always wanted to create art people can experience.
[00:21:32] Andrew: You're talking about the laser engraving and I want to circle back to that because that seems like a cool segment. Are you doing that engraving there in-house?
[00:21:41] Phil: Yes. Absolutely.
[00:21:43] Andrew: How do you like this? It's a curved surface. How were you able to create those paths and get it the way you want it? You said you're a perfectionist. Is there any quality control things in that process that you've had to figure out when you started doing that?
[00:21:59] Phil: Yes, definitely. Laser artwork definitely, for me, it's a cool way to combine the digital sphere with the physical because you basically create this artwork digitally and then use the machine, like a printer that uses an invisible laser beam to put that design onto whatever you can conceive to put it on. For example, those water bottles that's taking it even a step further using this device called a rotary attachment that has wheels on the servo that will actually spin round objects. Kind of technical but as long as you coordinate the page size of your file with the diameter of the bottle--
[00:22:41] Andrew: Because you have different sizes of the bottle. That was what I was wondering about because like some of them are huge. They're like 64 ounces, which is a massive amount of liquid and real estate to print. Those are fun products for those of you that are into being hydrated, which should be everybody. You should definitely check those out.
You mentioned cutting things with lasers and that's something we do obviously at StickerGiant. That one little nugget of information that you threw at us at the shop, which I can't believe people haven't thought of this before, but tell, and I don't want to steal your thunder but tell us a little bit about how you're using stickers locally-- In general, you sell them, that makes sense, but how are you using the stickers with other local businesses?
[00:23:23] Phil: We do have a pretty awesome marketing concept where I partner with the Boulder Theater and the Fox Theatre, the Z2 Entertainment Group. What we have is we have custom printed wristbands that are pretty awesome looking, super psychedelic, little wristbands, that are vinyl and have my artwork all over them. They just look really cool.
[00:23:44] Andrew: When you go into a show, it's better than a neon paper thing.
[00:23:47] Phil: Yes. It's pretty amazing, awesome little thing. On the wristband it says, Phil Lewis Art and with the address of the studio and gallery and it says, "Bring this wristband in for a free sticker." That's been just phenomenal in terms of marketing and marketing impression. When you do marketing, you talk about impressions and it's like, this is an impression that is literally attached to your body.
You have to physically rip it off or cut it off. The next morning we wake up after a great night out or something and you look at your wrist or whatever, maybe it's later that night, whatever it is, you have to physically engage with this marketing impression. It's been really powerful, and it's really been awesome to how people step into the gallery and say, "Hey, I got this wristband last night and I didn't even know this place was here. This is amazing."
[00:24:35] Andrew: They might be local.
[00:24:36] Phil: Yes. They've lived there their whole lives and just never happened to stop in. Boulder is such a bustling place. There's things changing all the time. It's hard to notice everything that's going on.
[00:24:45] Andrew: Your little corner of the street was one of my old haunts and I honestly don't even recognize it.
[00:24:51] Phil: It's definitely changed a lot, so yes, working with you guys to create these awesome little stickers that we then give away to people when they come in with their wristbands, it's totally awesome because they get to come, they get a chance to experience the gallery. They get turned on to the art, they get turned on to the guest artists whom I have up at the moment and they get to leave with an awesome sticker.
Those stickers then continue that, because they eventually get stuck, like all stickers get stuck somewhere. That sticker is going to live on and it's going to be out there in a world and more people are going to see it. For me, stickers have really been a powerful marketing concept and it just stems from when I was a kid, loving stickers myself.
[00:25:34] Andrew: You were talking about that and it makes me think of a different episode of our podcast. We interviewed Travis who is one of our designers here, our art team designers and he designs skateboards. He was talking about how when you're a kid, and I remember being a young skateboarder, stickers were like everything. You know what I mean? Or you were talking about snowboarding too.
Those cultures, including music all really rely, like the center of gravity for promotion is either a poster or a sticker or a print of someone doing something. It's a nice little closed loop for you there. The thing about the people coming in though, you were saying also that you have the locals, but then since there are so many national acts coming through people touring, you're bringing non-local audiences through that wristband promotion.
[00:26:25] Phil: Sure. Right. Absolutely.
[00:26:27] Andrew: That again, plays off your whole national network concept, which I thought was unique as well. Those people hopefully leave with a piece.
[00:26:35] Phil: Yes. You never know. They come in, they'll find something that they love. That's also been a part of my mentality the whole time is to be able to meet people where they're at. Where they're at, you go with their budget too. It's like, if they're really into it and they really love it, I have something for you at any price point. Whether it be a multiple $1,000 gigantic piece of art on the wall or if it's a $5 sticker. I try and meet people where they're at so that if they love it they can obtain something even if it's a free sticker from a wristband. People coming in. I really just want people to leave the space happy that they came in.
[00:27:13] Andrew: Well, I left the space happy that I came. If you recall, I wasn't expecting this to the folks who are listening, but I picked up this amazing children's book. That is called, what do you call it?
[00:27:26] Phil: It's called Animal Friends.
[00:27:27] Andrew: That's what it's called, Animal Friends. I read it to my kids actually that night and they grooved on it a lot and the story was fun. This seems like a little bit of a departure for someone who is a visionary, psychedelic artist to write a children's book. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be.
[00:27:44] Phil: Certainly, it was inspired by the birth of my son. That was a major turning point in terms of me experiencing my life now as a parent. It's like, okay, everything gets turned upside down and it's no longer about me. My son Robin was born and I was reading him a lot of books and it's crazy. I did like a lot of market research on these board books. Like how long should it be?
[00:28:11] Andrew: Because it has to be an inch and a half thick tops.
[00:28:13] Phil: Exactly. How many pages is too many? How many is not enough? How many words can these kids actually handle? I actually did a lot of research in terms of the size, the amount of words per page, how many images.
[00:28:27] Andrew: What the narrative looks like.
[00:28:28] Phil: Really thought it through and then writing the little phrases that went along with the art. That was a fun experience.
[00:28:35] Andrew: It's got to rhyme.
[00:28:35] Phil: Yes, rhyming. Revisiting songwriting for me a little bit. It was a cool combination of creating art and writing me lyrics or phrases that go along with the arts. That's been fun. It's been awesome.
[00:28:47] Andrew: My son Conroy, the youngest that I have was very psyched about it, so we had a moment. I left happy, and I know Chase our video guy was super psyched. I think that came through. The energy was very much there. Children's book author, you've got these very huge prints, you've got a variety of products and projects. What's next for Phil Lewis?
[00:29:14] Phil: Well, I'd really like to continue hosting art shows at the space. Those have been really exciting. It's just the response from the community has been so supportive. It's really just been overwhelming. It's great. There's a huge need for that here in Boulder. We have great music venues from the Fox theatre, the Boulder Theater, all the way to Red Rocks.
Not to mention some of the new places in Denver, The Mission Ballroom, all these, there's lots of support from music, but there really has not been tons of support for visual art, and there's a lot of us out there doing it. For me, it's very inspiring and awesome to host art shows. That's really what I hope to continue doing with the space is to just continue showing art that I'm inspired by.
[00:30:00] Andrew: We appreciate, obviously, all the stickers that you do. For anyone who wants to find Phil. Phil, can you just, again, give us your social handles, your website address and just, again, your physical address so that people can leave with that information?
[00:30:16] Phil: Yes, absolutely. It's pretty easy to find. It's just Phil Lewis Art. You could Google that, it will bring up everything. The website's phillewiesart.com. Instagram is just phillewisart, all one word. Same as Facebook. The gallery again is on 2034 Pearl St, right downtown Boulder, just one block east of the last stoplight there on downtown.
[00:30:36] Andrew: Phil, thank you so much for spending time with us. Letting us hear your story and sharing it with all of our listeners. We, of course, are going to love watching your business continue to grow. You have a great story that I think everyone can find, like you said, something for everybody, right?
[00:30:55] Phil: Right on.
[00:30:57] Andrew: Thanks again for listening everybody. This is the Stickers on the Mic Podcast. I've been Andrew. Very happy to host Phil here today in our studio in Longmont. We will see you next time. Thank you, Phil, for joining us.
[00:31:09] Phil: Thanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure.
[00:31:14] Announcer: That wraps up this episode of Stickers on the Mic, brought to you by stickergiant.com. You could download us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcatcher. If you enjoy what you're hearing, please leave us a review. It helps us reach new listeners and share our customers' sticker stories. If you're inspired to create your own stickers or labels, head over to stickergiant.com to check out our options. Thanks again for listening to Stickers on the Mic.
[00:31:48] [END OF AUDIO]
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