Everyday People: The Art of James E. Ransome

In the spring of 2017, the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature opened an exhibition featuring vibrant paintings by James E. Ransome in its exhibition, Everyday People: The Art of James E. Ransome.

While a few of the books represented in the show are illustrated in watercolor, primary media of Ransome's art exhibited at the NCCIL is acrylic and oil paints.  The vivid colors seen in Ransome's paintings work are in perfect balance with the subject matter of his books. The books featured in this exhibition cover a wide range of subjects, but what they all have in common is the celebration of the simple, and often the most joyful moments in our lives. Based on this, the exhibition is divide into three sections: Stories of the Land, People who made History, and Family Ties.

"I was born in Rich Square, North Carolina. Because I grew up in the rural South, I did not have the opportunity to meet artists, visit art galleries or museums. I do not remember how my interest in art began, but I do remember that some of my first drawings were of hot rod cars and images copied from the pages of comic books and the Bible. My Grandmother, who raised me, began asking me to read the Bible to her. And as I read, the illustrations — filled with figures in dramatic poses wearing flowing garments and surrounded by beautiful landscapes or elaborately detailed architecture — sparked my imagination. These images were the first types I tried to imitate. After discovering Mad magazine, I began creating my own stories which featured me and my friends. There were no art classes offered in the school I attended, so I began borrowing the few how-to-draw books my school library had on the shelves. I also tuned into any television show that discussed art and artists. Around the fifth or sixth grades, I enrolled in a correspondence course that I found in the back of a comic book with the course title, “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 I grew older, I became increasingly impressed by the images I saw on television. I was fascinated mainly 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 my attention to film making.

After my freshman year in high school, I moved to Bergenfield, New Jersey. It was at Bergenfield High School that I began to develop my talents by taking film making and photography classes. The impact of these courses greatly influenced my current style of illustration. Through photography, I discovered the power perspective, value and cropping could have on a single image. Through film making, I discovered the many ways to pace a story with the aid of camera angles and framing images. After producing several student films, I realized that I preferred to work independently, so I began animating my own visions on film. Upon the suggestion of my high school film making teacher, Charlie Bogasat, I took a drawing and painting class. This class rekindled my interest in illustration.

I went on to earn my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. It was in art history classes at Pratt that I discovered artists such as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Edgar Degas and Joaquin Sorollla, all of whom have had a major influence on my style of painting. It was also at Pratt that I first met an African-American illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. 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. Jerry lectured and later taught a senior illustration class that I would occasionally attend as a junior. I reconnected with Jerry after graduating from college and he has since become a mentor and friend.

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