Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone: Jim LePage

by Sabrina Smelko


No, that’s not a painting behind artist Jim LePage in the photo above — that, in fact, is his backyard. Nestled just outside of Bellingham, WA, Jim lives in a one-of-a-kind cabin with his wife and two cats. As an artist, painter and graphic designer, you’d imagine that he works out of a dedicated studio room, but for Jim, this one wall within their bedroom and the great outdoors is all he’ll ever want or need.

Up until he followed his dream and became a freelancer last year, his “office” was simply a wall that housed their only TV, a stereo, and an entertainment unit. But as the couple prepared for him to quit his job and start freelancing, they decided to sell their stuff, a single choice that has become significant in more ways than they anticipated. This change gave Jim some much needed motivation to start his business, forced the couple to consume less media and spend more time together, and it rekindled their love for a good book in bed. Today, from Jim’s comfort zone — his bedroom and “studio” — he’s opening up to share more about living 50 feet from the Salish Sea, their lifestyle shift, humanity as a whole, life’s grey areas, and the three words he wished he believed in sooner: “art is good.” -Sabrina

Photography by Patrick Fore and Crystal Garcia

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Jim LePage and I live outside Bellingham, WA with my wife and two cats. I’m a freelance artist, painter and graphic designer and also sell prints and digital goods in my online shop.


What does home and this space mean to you? Describe it.

My office space is basically one wall of our bedroom. Our house is basically a small cabin and we need to be very creative and strategic about how we use the space. Until I followed my dream to go freelance in May 2015, this wall had our only TV, a stereo with speakers and an entertainment unit. As we prepared for me to quit my job and go freelance, we needed to set up a proper office space for me. My wife — in a moment of divine wisdom — suggested we sell the TV, stereo and entertainment unit and make that whole wall an office. I — in a moment of divine obedience, since she’s always right about these things — agreed. That change ended up being significant in many ways. As we started putting the office together, just the sight of it made the idea of full-time freelance feel so much more real and attainable and gave me the motivation I needed to make it happen. In addition, we no longer consume as much media and have started reading a lot more.


What makes it so comfortable (physically and personally)?

My office area is quite small, but very cozy. We live on the Salish Sea and the water is around 50 feet away from our house. My office has a wall of windows, so I get to work with the sound of the waves and a view of the San Juan Islands.


What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?

There is a “black and white” worldview that splits things into two extremes, ignoring that most of existence is lived in the grey areas. It results in a lot of judgement and negativity that just makes the world a worse place to live in. That worldview has no room for love, joy, empathy or creativity. I’m uncomfortable when I encounter it — and even more so when I’ve entered that mindset without realizing it. My big fear is that humanity moves more and more in that dark direction.


Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?

Quitting my job and taking the plunge into full-time freelance work last year was pretty terrifying. I left a job with good pay and benefits for something with a lot of unknowns to it. Even though I’d always dreamed of a full-time freelance life, I don’t think I ever would have done it without the encouragement of my wife. I always thought of obstacles for why it wouldn’t work, and she always came up with solutions and encouragement. It’s turned out to be a great decision (did I mention she’s usually right?), both personally and professionally.


What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?

Day: Find out where Radiohead has a concert, fly there with my wife, and see them play live. It’s on our bucket list and I’m convinced we will actually do this someday.

Week: Load up on paint supplies, rent out a studio somewhere and paint for a week. There’s not a lot of space for painting at our house, so being somewhere for an extended period of time where I could spread out and experiment with different paints, tools, and mediums would be great.

Year: Enroll in some art classes and learn some things I know very little about, like pottery or glass blowing. My wife and I love to travel, but haven’t done it as much as we’d like, so we’d do a ton of that. We love whales so we’d definitely go to Hawaii to see the Humpback whale migration and Mexico to see the Gray whale migration. We’d also probably follow Radiohead around on tour.


What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?

Art is good. I didn’t grow up with a natural inclination towards art. It was never something [I] thought I’d enjoy or was pushed towards. I ended up stumbling into it in my late 20s. I wish I’d seen the value and joy of art and creativity more as a child.

How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?

I’ve enjoyed abstract painting for a while, but it wasn’t until the past couple years that I’ve actually tried doing it myself. I’ve found that it uses a very different part of my creative brain than the work I do as a graphic designer. There’s much more freedom, spontaneity and surprise involved and it helps me clear my mind of work or any stress I may have. I started posting my art on Instagram and it’s starting to come full circle as I’m now selling prints and getting client work where they request my paintings. The process of exploring something for fun and then having it become part of how I make my living is now a recurring pattern of my career.


Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?

Yes. I’ve found that usually the reason for it is because I haven’t been doing any personal art for a while. For my first five years as a designer, I only did work for employers and clients. Then I did my first personal art project and everything changed. I fell in love with the process of exploring something personal and meaningful to me, and then expressing that through art. Now, if I go too long without doing some type of personal art, I get cranky, irritable and somewhat depressed, so I try to stay aware of that.


What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?

Less stuff, more experiences. As my wife and I have simplified our life (gotten rid of things we don’t need, continually moved to smaller houses, eliminated debt, etc.) we’ve found that it brings a lot of extra freedom and time into our schedule.

What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?

Will Larry David ever make another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm?

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  • Wow, this is the second time I’ve left a comment and it’s on a Comfort Zone post. I’m loving these posts and I love reading about creative people and their endeavours. I feel so bogged down in my accounting career and mom life sometimes that it’s nice to read about people who took the plunge and started something new (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my life, it’s just nice to read about others). Thank you!

  • I loved this! I felt so much of what he said, especially his answer about the grey areas and trying to stay aware of maintaining the work/personal equilibrium, and it was so heartwarming reading about the relationship he and his wife nurture. The view is gorgeous; I want to live right on the sea!

    Also, Radiohead. <3

  • What an inspiring article! After reading this I am starting to realize that I need to get back into the grove of craving out time for my personal art too.

  • It is so encouraging to see people following their dreams! I also love Jim’s reflections in this piece about life lived in the grey places. I hope to have a view of the water someday… Super jealous of their spot!

  • I like this. I realized that I often don’t take the time to thank the people who are putting beautiful things out there in the world that I enjoy. So thank you. I like this.

  • Great article! I love Jim’s work and the integrity he maintains with everything he does.