My mom once told me that to have the pleasure of doing something you love as your life’s work is something that few get the opportunity to do. Something one should be grateful for. Applauded for. So many choose a different path. This one is the path less travelled. The one that leads to true happiness and fulfilment. There are definitely going to be bumps in the road… but they are ALL worth it. I am inspired by anyone who takes the leap of faith and follows their heart. So, this is what inspired me to interview Caldecott winning artist/illustrator Gordon C. James. His immense talent and success are a prime example of what it means to find your passion and follow your heart. He is truly an inspiration and testament to taking risks and betting on yourself. That’s why I knew I wanted to find out more about the steps that led to his success and what is his motivation.
1.At what age did you discover your passion for art? What steps did you take to perfect your skill in painting?
I knew I had talent at about 10 years old. My cousin Dave was doing work for DC comics. I started doing superheroes like my big cousin and my friends really liked them.
2. You were one of two full time illustrators hired to work at Hallmark Cards Inc. but you left after 4 years to set out on your own. What gave you the courage to do so?
I had started doing my own art after work and on weekends, so when the company downsized and got rid of a lot of illustrators it was a good opportunity for me. It was a great learning opportunity, but I was ready to strike out.
3. What struggles would you say black creatives have in your industry and what suggestions do you have to help overcome these barriers?
I don’t know if this is specific to black creatives, but styles go in and out of favor. I went about 8 years between my first picture book “Campy” by David A. Adler and working with Derrick Barnes on “Crown”. As an illustrator you are at the mercy of changing tastes.
4. You did beautiful illustrations for Derrick Barnes’ book: Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut and I Am Every Good Thing. What was your inspiration behind your art for these books?
I love classic illustrations and paintings. The great American painters like John Singer Sargent and Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Henry Ossowa Tanner inspire me. I want to give the kids museum quality work 17-24 paintings at a time in children’s book form. I try to do books that will make people wonder how all that work got done. I get that feeling when I look at Jerry Pinkney’s work.
5. Your books are on billboards, tv shows, etc., and have picked up prestigious awards, what do you attribute your success to? How do you feel about everything you have accomplished thus far?
I’ve got parents who supported me. My wife and kids are behind me. I work every day to honor the memory of my grandparents who came here from the islands with very little to give later generations like me these opportunities. I feel I am approaching where I should be given all that was put into me by the people that love me, but I’ve still got a way to go. I want to make my family and my people proud.
6. It is my understanding that you have a son with autism and so do I. When did you discover your son had autism? What was your initial response to finding out about this diagnosis? My son Gabriel is on the cover of “I Am Every Good Thing”.
I think Gabe was about three when we found out. Finding something out like that is life changing but you switch gears and move forward. We expect the same things for his life that we do for our daughter. Maybe the time-table will be different or the path will be unique the path but he will have the full, independent life he is entitled to. It’s really the same approach we take toward raising his older sister.
7. What are your son’s interests? Tell us your hopes and dreams for your son and all his wonderful accomplishments.
Gabriel loves travel and maps. He is also a master drone pilot.
8. Tell us about any upcoming books that you plan to illustrate for and any other new developments in your career.
I am working on “Just Like Jesse” by Paula Young Shelton. It’s about how Andrew Young was inspired by Jesse Owens and it’s the first book I’ll be doing in chalk pastels. It’ on my easel right now and so far, it’s beautiful. I’ve got a book about Thurgood Marshall with Carole Boston Weatherford as well as another project with
9. Where can we find you on social media?
Facebook: Gordon C. James Fine Art and Illustration
I hope that Gordon’s story inspires more people to find their passions and pursue their dreams. Your dreams are what help you feel alive. They add purpose and meaning to your life. No matter how hard you work on your passion, it never feels like work. It brings you happiness and peace that surpasses all understanding. Even when you are broke or struggling to get your business off the ground, somehow deep down inside you know that is still all worth it. It creates dreams for your children that they will have a better life by knowing you can pass down this legacy to them. I am glad that Gordon sees possibilities for his son despite his special needs. I plan to create as many opportunities as possible for both my sons to find their passions. My dream is that more parents do the same. This is a tough, cruel world and kids should feel limitless in their abilities and opportunities. It is your job as parents or caregivers to encourage that.
Love and light,