Illustrator hindered by home learning has turned new page

Lewis james Picture by James Hardisty
Lewis james Picture by James Hardisty
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A review into home schooling has been announced by the Government, Catherine Scott speaks to one
man about his experiences.

Tomorrow will be a proud day for Lewis James. The 28-year-old from Rotherham will see the launch of a children’s book he has illustrated.

Lewis James,  from Rotherham, who as a teenager battled with self-confidence and depression. Then a friend convinced him to join The Prince's Trust Enterprise programme to help establish himself as a professional illustrator for children's books.

Lewis James, from Rotherham, who as a teenager battled with self-confidence and depression. Then a friend convinced him to join The Prince's Trust Enterprise programme to help establish himself as a professional illustrator for children's books.

It is the fruition of years of hard work for Lewis, who suffered anxiety, depression and low self-esteem when he was a teenager, partly, he believes, as a result of being home educated.

This week the Government announced it was consulting on creating a register of children who are home educated after it was revealed the number could be as high as 60,000.

The aim, says the Government, is to ensure that no child slips through the net.

Lewis knows all too well what that is like.

Taken out of the education system at 12 years old, Lewis says he never received a formal education after that.

“I didn’t particularly enjoy school but then who does? It seemed to be at odds with my family’s religious beliefs. They didn’t want me affected by outside influences, but my mother wasn’t really equipped to home-educate me.”

As a result Lewis never sat any exams, and although he interacted with other home- schooled children in the area, he says he missed the structure of a school day.

“I was never the most confident child, but it really knocked my self-confidence even further,” he recalls.

“I became frustrated and angry as I felt that I was missing out on a lot of things.”

Instead of lessons, a young Lewis spent a lot of his time watching cartoons and then drawing what he had seen.

“I started drawing when I was really young but as I started to get into Disney cartoons I started to copy what I had seen. Although I never had any formal lessons and was left very much to my own devices, it meant I spent a lot of time drawing and being creative.”

He then became fascinated with comic books and started collecting them.

But he became increasingly withdrawn. From the age of 14, after seeing someone close to him suffer with anxiety and depression, he experienced it himself and didn’t know how to cope. When he got to 17 and decided he wanted to go to college, his lack of qualifications meant his options were limited.

He saw college as an opportunity to finally lead a normal teenage life but sadly the reality was quite different.

“When I got there I felt even more alienated and alone. My life quickly went from bad to worse; I was swamped by depression.”

He enrolled on a wall and floor tiling course as he knew he would have to earn a living.

“I never thought that doing something creative could actually be a career.”

It was while visiting a comic convention in Manchester that Lewis got the first idea that being an illustrator could be a career.

“There were all these people making their own comic books and selling them.

“It really struck a nerve. I thought ‘I can do that’.”

But Lewis just didn’t have the confidence to pursue his dream.

Then while working part-time at Toys R Us, a work colleague told him she had just started a business with the help of the Prince’s Trust.

“I’d never heard of it but she told me how much they had helped and supported her, particularly with the business side of things and I thought it sounded brilliant for me.”

Lewis approached the Prince’s Trust in his home town of Rotherham to see if he could join their Enterprise Programme and help him set up a professional illustration business.

“They helped me so much. They gave me a grant and supported me through the whole process.”

Lewis also did a lot of volunteering for the Prince’s Trust and in 2016 he was named Young Ambassador of the Year for Yorkshire and The Humber.

“The Prince’s Trust changed my life,” says Lewis.

“As well as helping me with business support they really helped me get my confidence back. I started to believe in me and what I could achieve and as a result I became a bit more outgoing and it forced me to come out of my shell.”

Lewis also started volunteering at Rotherham- based Grimm & Co before being their first paid employee.

Grimm & Co is a Yorkshire literacy charity with a mission to change lives. They provide exciting writing workshops to children and young people, aged seven to 18.

“I loved working with the children at Grimm & Co. I could really understand where they were coming from and it really helped my confidence. Debbie at Grimm & Co really helped me. She saw my lack of confidence and helped me believe in myself.”

To say thank you, the launch of Lewis’s book, Jasper – Space Dog will be at Grimm & Co and will involve a workshop with local schoolchildren.

“I had been doing some illustration work, including for Disney in Sheffield and then someone who had known me at Prince’s Trust said the author Hilary Robinson was looking for an illustrator for her new children’s book.

“It has been such a learning curve working with Hilary and her team and I am really proud that the book launch is at Grimm & Co.”

Jasper – Space Dog is aimed at first independent readers, a second Jasper book is planned which Lewis will also illustrate.

He now has a full-time
design job and wants to concentrate on writing and illustrating his own teenage fantasy fiction books.

“I do struggle especially with English, my spelling and grammar is appalling as I never really learnt it and it does slow my down, but I am very positive about the future.”

Jasper The Space Dog by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Lewis James is published today by Strauss House Productions, £6.99. A launch event is taking place tomorrow at Grimm & Co where Hilary Robinson and Lewis are running a workshop with local schoolchildren.