Paul Lewin was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973 and moved to the US in 1977. He spent most of his years growing up in Miami FL and now lives in Oakland CA. Initially, pencil and paper were his medium of choice, but he was also into graffiti, and soon moved into colorful pieces using markers and pens. In 1994 he picked up a paint brush for the first time and began painting in acrylics. This opened up a whole new world that he’s been exploring ever since. In 1998 he had his first art show in Miami. In 2004 he moved to the Bay Area to pursue his art further.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling or a craft like any other?

That’s a tough question for me, but I think I would have to go with perspira­tion. In my early days of painting before I decided to take my work in a more professional direction, all I needed was inspiration. Nowadays with expenses, deadlines, and goals to meet, perspiration has become my best friend. I manage to stay inspired through most of my pieces, but there are always those days when it’s just not showing up. Sometimes working a day job puts constraints on your time and can zap your energy significantly. Having the ability to push through when this is a factor is essential to doing the work you need to do on a daily basis.

I think most artists who inspired me did have a higher calling. I’m moved by works that have something profound to add to the greater conversation of art, either with imagery or content. My work has moved more in this direction over the years. My early works were mainly about experimentation and learning about myself. Once I’d reached a comfortable place with my craft and technique, then I wanted to expand it to something bigger. Growing up as a person of color who was all about sci-fi and fantasy art, I never noticed the lack of black and brown characters in my younger years. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I could not fully relate to these images. If my work today can in any minute way have an effect on this conversation, then I would feel much closer to where I want to be.

Talk a bit about one of your most interesting cover projects. What’s it like to illustrate an author’s work? How do you engage with the work and make it your own, while still honoring the source material?

Coming from the perspective of a fine artist, there are only a handful of cover projects that I’ve been involved with over the years. Without a doubt, though, the most interesting one has been with Seven Stories Press and the reissuing of Octavia Butler’s books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. They were looking for new cover art for each book and wanted to use some of my work for this project. I was very honored they chose my work for this. Ten years ago a friend loaned me Parable of the Sower and it completely changed my life. It caused me to view art, sci-fi, and literature in com­pletely new ways. I was very moved by the way Butler was able to seamlessly weave in heavy subject matters such as race, gender, and class without ever compromising the integrity of the sci-fi. My work at that time began to shift in a new direction. I owe a lot of what I’m working on today to the inspiration of her profound visions of the future. So to have it come back full circle to the original books that started me down this road of art that I’m on today, I honestly don’t have the words to describe it.