Since graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in l983, James Yang has won over 200 awards for excellence in illustration. His work has appeared in some of the most prestigious trade publications in the United States including Communication Arts Design Annual, Communications Arts Illustration Annual, Print Magazine, Graphis, and the Society of Publication Designers Annual. One of his many posters were featured at the Hiroshima Museum of Art. He has also designed a sculpture titled â??Clockmanâ? which is part of a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonianâ??s National Museum of American History. Yang has also lectured at the Maryland Art Institute, Corcoran School of Design, and The School of Visual Arts and Design. In 2004, his first authored/ illustrated childrenâ??s book, â??Joey and Jetâ? was released to critical acclaim. His second book, â??Joey and Jet in Spaceâ? was released in June 2006. He and his wife currently live and work in New York City.
How did you get started in the illustration field?
I got my start in the Washington DC area back in 1983. It was the classic case of taking your portfolio around, waiting in offices for art directors to look at your work and going to the next studio. I also did part time production work at small studios to make some money while trying to get my illustration career off the ground. This was pre-computer, so I had to do paste-up for which I had NO TALENT. Illustration was my major in college and for some reason, I was convinced I could make it work. It was a combination of hard work, determination, luck, and naivetÃ©.
How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
At the risk of sounding overly simple, I tried to create images I like viewing. In other words, I wanted my work to fit if placed in an imaginary collection with the work of artists I admire. Early influences were Saul Steinberg, Ralph Steadman, and Joan Miro. My work is very different now than when I started, but you will see a thread. These days, I really like Tim Biskup and a lot of the retro stuff from the 50′s and early 60′s.
What is your process when working with clients? Can you run us through a typical job?
It’s a very simple process. They usually email with an assignment and reading material, and my rep will negotiate the terms. I will provide simple sketches in a couple of different directions and once approved, the work is created by computer and I will electronically send the final art. I feel my main job is to get to the essence of the article, or message they wish to communicate. Sometimes depending on the project, I am a cog in the machine and I am comfortable with this. Other times, I need to be the main guy and I am also comfortable in this role. I really like to be clear on the direction the editor or AD needs for the project before I start sketches. This saves a lot of time.
What is your creation process (start with pencil sketches, etcâ?¦)?
I read the synopsis, then do tiny rough pencil sketches with simple shapes. I try to figure out if an idea works compositionally first. Then I will work up simple ideas on tracing paper and pick the two or three best ideas to scan and email a client. Ideas (knock on wood) usually come pretty quickly. My final work is totally done in photoshop. I will use the sketch as a template in photoshop. I love photoshop because most of the final creative process for me is experimenting with color which is insanely easy on a computer. You can try out may ideas. I also have a library of scanned textures I use for my work. Doing the final feels like working an a really advanced Etch-a-Sketch for me.
How do you market/promote your work?
David Goldman, my agent, takes care of most of this with regular email blasts to clients and potential clients who have given us permission to send them updates. We also advertise in a couple of books like the Blackbook and Directory of Illustration. My work is on Folioplanet.com and we have either links or small portfolios on various illustration sites. Last year I started a blog, Yangblog World. I’m a big believer in having a presence on the web. When I started pre-internet, having your portfolio at few places every week was considered successful. I know I have a few hundred hits on my site each day. We also like to make mugs and t-shirts for our best clients once every year.
Do you have a rep? Why/why not?
I have been with David Goldman since the mid eighties. We have a great relationship and have similar ideas about how to approach business. I don’t think it is crucial for an illustrator to have an agent, but if you can find one where you both click, it can be a great help. With the growth of the internet, contracts and terms for larger projects have become complex. David is an excellent negotiator and I doubt that most illustrators are able to effectively negotiate some of the more complex projects. It is nice having someone who handles the business and promotion. However, he can only do so much. I have to provide him with samples and follow up with some of the more boring business stuff for him to be effective.
What was one of your favorite assignments?
Designing a transit bus for the German Embassy. The bus was part of the Washington DC transit system so commuters would see my art on the bus. Friends who lived in DC kept trying to photograph the bus, but the bus was too fast and gone by the time they took out their camera-phones!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I like the freedom of the typical workday. You schedule how hard you work, when you wake up, what kind of music you like when you work. Ironically, I’m pretty routine-oriented so my day starts at 9:30 in the morning.
Describe your work setting.
Very typical for New York. I have a two bedroom apartment in a doorman building and one of the bedrooms is my studio. It’s a corner apartment high up in the building so it has great views of the city. I have the classic drawing table for sketches and occasional paintings and another desk with computer and scanners. The computer is a Quad-Core Apple Mac Pro with a 23 inch Cinema Display. I should have bought the 30 inch display. It is just my habit to buy the “middle” of any product. Some of my friends have the 30 inch display and I am VERY JEALOUS.
Do you have side projects you work on?
Children’s books. I have a third book for Simon and Schuster called, “Puzzlehead” which is coming out in 2009. There might be book tours this spring for the “Joey and Jet” series. I am also producing a short video with Greg Nemec for the ICON conference this July in New York.
How do you maintain balance in your life between work and play?
This is not a problem. I’m like a grade school kid who makes sure he gets his homework done so he can go outside and play during recess. Golf has been a passion of mine, but recently, I’m not so sure. I was becoming a pretty decent player when suddenly the wheels came off and I now SUCK. My wife got me into yoga a few years ago. I have a regular poker group made up of illustrators, musicians, graphic novelists, and interesting people. I have a great church in New York. As if this isn’t enough, my wife is a choreographer who works internationally so I will travel with her occasionally.
Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Not really, but there are times when I get in a rut. Usually a vacation, especially to a foreign country solves the problem.
What do you do for fun/when you’re not working?
Golf, Tennis, Yoga, Movies, and travel. Naturally hanging out with friends it always fun.
What has been inspiring you lately?
I found this wacky free video podcast called “Public Duck” recently. Some of it is lame, but some of it is very clever. It is fascinating to see all this random video stuff since YouTube became huge.
Any advice for others who are pursuing creative goals?
This is the best advice I ever heard. I am only an expert at creating “Yangs”. I can either be a second-rate Picasso or a first-rate Yang.