Sunday, February 11, 2024

Keynote Address - James Ransome, Author/Illustrator

Keynote Address - James Ransome, Author/Illustrator

Sarah Baker introduced James with an amazing MORERAPS poem, which we learned from our fabulous first keynote speaker, Joseph Coelho. It was wonderful, met with sighs of adoration and as James took the stage, there was great applause. 

James has an extensive resume, having illustrated for 34 years (1990-2024) and has made over 70 books! Not only does he make work in the children’s book world, but he illustrates for magazines, libraries, corporations and has donated paintings to support many organizations and charities.

He took us through his life, starting from his childhood in a small town in North Carolina where his first art teacher were the comic books from the pharmacy next door. Inspired by those comics (his favorite being The Master of Kung Fu) and MAD magazine, he took his limited resources and would create books about he and his friend’s at his grandmother’s home, spending his Sundays dreaming up all sorts of stories. 

Books were hard to get in his town. There were no library, bookstores, no Amazon, no bookstores so he made his own booklets of his world around him. With his typewriter, paper, pencil and stapler, he hung out on the couch and make his books.

From then on, he would deepen his love of storytelling. He eventually moved and attended a high school with a robust arts curriculum where his teachers, who were trained at the Pratt Institute, encouraged him and his art making. He eventually attended Pratt himself, inspired by those very teachers and dove into the work of drawing and painting, focusing on the foundation that he would take with him through his long career.
Through pursuing his dream which at the time was to illustrate for Sports Illustrated, he discovered he loved drawing a series of subjects, really diving into it and exploring the same subject over and over.

“My art education began after college.”

James spoke about the mentor’s and influences in his life who really gave himself tools and guidance in his practice and process that he still uses today like Diane & Leo Dillon and Jerry Pinkney. He stressed the importance of mentorship and he learned so much from those who he studied and studied with.

“I learned the importance of sketching and planning before I start painting.” Those wonderful influences showed him the importance of sketching, and drawing, having introduced him to their process with tracing paper, where they built up scenes and characters by each layer before transferring the drawing to be painted.

Till this day, James is discovering new processes, new mediums and new flows, experimenting with his style, storytelling and approach to his work.

James’s journey to becoming who he is today was and still is a road of discovery and evolution. He continues to seek new perspectives and new ways of creating, ever challenging himself.

He started using collage as a way to play in his process and to see/compose in a different way. He felt that he had to take a risk and decided after experimenting in collage, that he wanted to make a book in that medium, which ended up being Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Willams by he and his wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Ever expanding his storytelling with all different mediums. He’s discovered that he loves working with watercolor and collage. Alwa challenging himself and thinking outside of the box, he advises to ‘flex your muscles’ and put a lot of work into your pieces to really improve and grow.

Conceptual elements have changed his work for the positive. Instead of the literal, he started to move toward the conceptual and it has given him such freedom. James loves working with patterns and colors to help establish the theme and focus of the story. Adding these visual elements also help the storytelling.

Some great advice he shared was:
“Find out what will keep your butt in the chair!”
Figure out what excites you and move toward that. Get involved and get inspired. Music and a series help him get through projects. Find what works for you!

“Find a place”
We toured his beautiful studio which was lived in, messy, expressive and welcoming. A haven for an artist who loves to play. Whether it’s a library, cafe, your garage or a tiny desk in a corner, find a place that you feel comfortable and excited to create in.

“Sketch but never go with your first idea”
Continue to build upon your foundations and sketch. And as you sketch, challenge yourself. Don’t go with your first idea. See what you can come up with.

And lastly,
“The work will never equal the pay”
…but do it to your fullest potential anyway!

Thank you James Ransome for a wonderful keynote! It was such an incredible way to close out this year’s conference!

James Ransome
James E. Ransome has been honored with the 2023 Children's Literature Legacy Award by the American Library Association in recognition of his exceptional contributions to Children's Literature. With a career spanning over 33 years, James has illustrated more than 70 books. His passion for drawing was kindled in Rich Square, NC, and as a teenager, he moved to Bergenfield, NJ, before pursuing a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.Ransome's remarkable talent has garnered him numerous accolades, including the prestigious Coretta Scott King Awards, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, ALA Notables, a Jane Addams Award, and NAACP Image awards.

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