“What makes illustrating books so exciting is that because each book has a special voice, my approach toward each is different. Whether it be through my choice of palette, design or perspective, there is always a desire to experiment and explore what makes each book unique.” ~ James E. Ransome
The Children's Book Council named James E. Ransome as one of seventy-five authors and illustrators everyone should know. Born in North Carolina, James grew up in the rural South. There were no opportunities to meet artists or visit museums, but he was drawn to the artwork he saw in comic books and the illustrations in the Bible that he read to his grandmother. These pictures of magnificent landscapes and detailed architecture sparked his imagination and soon he was trying to imitate those pictures and create his own stories.
Around the fifth or sixth grade, Ransome enrolled in a correspondence course that he found in the back of a comic book titled, How to Draw Gags and Cartoons and Get Rich, Rich, Rich! “Well, I didn’t get rich, but I did begin to understand some basic things about cartoon characters.”
As he grew older, James was impressed by the images on television. He became fascinated by cinematography and how scenes were set up. This fascination, along with being told about the difficulties of making a living as an artist, shifted his attention to filmmaking.
When James was in high school his family moved to Bergenfield, New Jersey. There he began to develop his artist talents by taking film making and photography classes. The impact of these courses greatly influenced Ransome’s style of illustration. He discovered the power that perspective, value, and cropping could have on a single image. Through film making, he discovered the many ways to pace a story with the aid of camera angles and framing images. This new understanding of a different form of art made James reflect and rekindle his passion in illustration and inspired him to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
In art history classes he discovered artists such as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer and Edgar Degas, all of whom have had a major influence on his style of painting. It was also at the Pratt that he first met African-American illustrator, Jerry Pinkney who became Ransome’s mentor. “I had always been given the impression that there were virtually no African-American artists, so meeting Jerry Pinkney and discovering his large body of work was very encouraging."