The problem was, this was not the first time he’d tried and failed to keep up with his reading. To ensure he stuck to his plan, LePage decided to combine his desire to read the Bible with his love for design. For every book he read, he would create a corresponding piece of art and post it on his online portfolio. The result was Word, a project that has lasted almost two years with over 79 unique designs, each interpreting a different part of the Bible. We spoke to Jim LePage about his project, the weirdness of the Bible, and cheesy Christian art.
Take us back to the beginning. Was it easy for you to start the project? Design is something you enjoy doing, but any project is difficult to stick to.
One of my main concerns going in was just not sticking with it. When I started out I was saying two to three hours start to finish — the design, the write up, and everything, but these days it’s gotten to be a bit more. I wanted to put a cap on it just so it didn’t grow into something that became too consuming and intimidating. But then it got to the point where I was not really in danger of letting it go because I loved doing it. I was starting to get people commenting and following, and there was enough motivation. [Now] it’s kind of grown into maybe five or six hours start to finish.
So you were going to do a design every week?
Yeah that was the original plan. Some books have a couple designs and I did a whole Easter series that broke from going book by book. Just going through the gospels . . . it felt weird just to do four designs for Jesus’ life. For me, that’s the heart of the Bible right there.
What feedback have you been getting? Has it been mostly Christians, or non-Christians?
It’s actually been more than 50 per cent Christians. But then I have actually had a decent amount of feedback from folks who aren’t Christian. There’s one comment I remember. I think it was something like, “I’m not a believer at all but I really like how you treat these.” So there’s been a lot of good feedback all around. I can maybe count on one hand the amount of times I’ve heard negative feedback. For some of the designs I’ve done and some of the stuff I’ve written I’m a little surprised that I haven’t had more negative reaction.
What has the negative feedback been?
The Psalms, I picked out some verses that go, “I’ll smash the babies’ heads against the rocks.” Not the kind of verses you think of when you think of Psalms. As I go through, all I’m looking for is something that stands out to me. I’m not looking for something that represents the whole book. Just anything that jumps out to me and I think some people didn’t like that. I think it might just have been that they didn’t understand the project. I got a few comments saying, “that doesn’t really represent the book of Psalms very well.”
I think there’s a tendency within the Christian community to sugar coat things and make everything look perfect. It’s nice that you are actually creating discussion about things that are real in the Bible.
Yeah thanks and that was one of the things that I wanted to do in the project. There’s so much weird stuff in the Bible. I grew up going to Christian school and Sunday school and they didn’t talk about how God ordered all the Israelites to slaughter entire towns — men, women children, animals. I mean that’s weird. It seems weird to not address that.
How have you been dealing with the stuff that you just think isn’t what you know to be Christianity?
You know for me, I guess I think there’s generally a couple ways people look at the Bible. I think one way might be that you have to make sense of that story ’cause if you don’t it’s like a little crack in the Bible that can grow and destroy your faith. But the way I see it, the foundation is Jesus. His life, His death, His resurrection, how He lived His life, that’s the rock, the foundation that’s everything. And all the other weird crap in the Bible . . . I could not understand it ever until I’m dead and that’s okay.
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.
Your designs are so diverse. Where do you get that inspiration?
Just by following other people whose designs I love. It’s fun for me to try different techniques. It forces me to try new things and not get stuck in a box. When I started the series, my whole intention at the beginning was, “okay, I’m always going to use this font; I’m always going to use this background.” I had all these parameters in place again ’cause I wanted to make this simple and easy to stick to but by about six or seven of those, the creative part of me just started going crazy.
What is next after the project is completed?
I thought it would be cool to start a design project where it’s maybe similar to Word but it involves a bunch of different people. Where maybe I come up with a list of 20 different Bible passages or stories and then kind of recruit different designers out there. Assign them one of those passages, they take it, do a design and I post that on the site. I’ve got a unique spot where I think I could pull that together and I have enough connections with these other designers that I could find enough people to do that. I think it would just be a cool resource to have so people can see that not all Christian design is lame.
Why do you think it is that a lot of Christian art is lame?
In my opinion American Christian culture is addicted to formulas. And formulas don’t work well with art. Good art comes outside of working within formulas. I feel like nothing in the Bible that talks about God supports that. I mean God is always being creative — Always working and adjusting and doing unique things and new things. Shocking things and things that people don’t expect. So I guess it just seems like American Christianity has become formulized. The whole being saved and having a relationship with God is formulized. So if that itself is formulized it just spreads into all forms of Christian art. But that’s just my opinion.
To go see the rest of Jim LePage’s work, click here.