Before he could write, James was drawing. At the age of two he scrawled on a piece of lined paper and declared “It’s a worm”. Armed with his battered briefcase filled with pencils and the paper his father would bring home from work, he was always drawing.
“Drawing was the one thing I knew I could do as well as anyone,” he says now. “I was entered in minor contests in school growing up and always did well. I didn’t think much about it, because it was always just my thing.”
As high school came to an end, he was accepted into the Herron School of Art at the Campus of Indiana University, Purdue University at Indianapolis, the skills in drawing being the main reason he was accepted.
“My professors remembered my portfolio and my drawing skills and knew immediately everything else would come easy. And it’s what I believe; that the visual arts comes from being able to draw. To be able to see things and interpret them onto paper via the pencil is crucial,” James explains. “Once you can draw something to look like your reference, I believe that creating can come easier. Not easy, per se, but easier.”
A Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts gave him the creative background for everything else to come. “My major was in painting, but I took enough of drawing, photography and ceramics that if minors were given, they would have qualified.”
Music began to play a part in his life and he discovered the band Kiss. “I was very drawn to the visual aspect of their show and the music was simple, strong and straight forward.” He discovered classic 60s and 70s rock music and soon he had the desire to play guitar. His parents bought him a guitar when he was 13, he took some lessons and a semester of guitar class in high school and his desire grew.
“I don’t think I’m really, deeply musically inclined, but the desire was always there and I believe that is a huge part of being successful creatively,” he says. “I met a friend with a similar desire and we began dreaming and writing songs.”
In the fall of 1987 he moved to New York City to fulfill the dream of musical stardom. With his friend they wrote over 50 songs, James being the primary lyricist, and worked to make their dream happen, it never did. “I was fine with it,” he explains, “I felt good about what I’d try to do and what I’d created.”
He fell back on his artist background and began working selling art supplies to the designers in the Fashion District. “I met many of the people in the major design houses and began doing freelance work,” he explains. At the time he did a series of handpainted prints for Nicole Miller and some odd jobs here and there. For a short time, he worked with a partner in their own design studio, where he used a computer for the first time.
“At first I was against it… after all I was an ‘artist’ and thought that I was trained like the masters so I wanted to use those skills. I quickly realized that it was a tool to expand my creativity and knowledge and make my job easier,” he says, “at that point I was hooked.” This led to work at printing company where he delved into the use of type and layout.
“Those years were great because you solved problems which seemed simple, but had complex answers to make them look simple,” James explains. “Understanding graphic design and layout is like using a pencil; all else starts there. If you can lay out a business card or flyer or poster and make it pleasing to look at, you have the rudimentary skills to move to the next level.” To this day typography remains a passion.
This lead to his current position at Design Works International where he designs everything from business cards to powerpoint presentations, textile designs to packaging designs, fashion flats to child carseats. “It’s a great environment because I do many different things,” he says.
His career in teaching began with a recommendation from a colleague. “When I started designing on the computer, there weren’t many resources available to gain information. Being self taught, I told myself that if I had the ability to give back, to pass on what I spent time learning myself, I would do it without question.” He is especially excited to be able to teach drawing this semester. “I’ve always believed that it all starts with the pencil and a blank piece of paper. I believe I can teach anyone to see and improve their drawing skills… anyone who wants to learn, that is.”
In his fourteenth year of teaching, he still sees what he does there as interesting and important. “A few days a week I teach others to use tools that I use every day. I find it not only rewarding, but energizing. The students keep me on my toes and using my creative processes to help them with their issues. I truly do learn from them as well.”
all artwork/photos copyright ©2017 James Thomas Simon