James Yang

Illustrator + Professor School of Visual Arts

Born and raised in Oklahoma, James Yang graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, in 1983, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree
in communication arts and design. Within a few years of entering the illustration marketplace, prestigious trade publications began to show or feature his work: Communication Arts Design & Illustration Annuals, 3×3 Magazine, Graphis, HOW, Print’s Regional Design Annual, Step x Step, and The Art Directors Club of New York Annual. Since 1983, James has won over 200 awards for design and illustration. Mr. Yang most recently taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He has also taught and lectured at the Maryland Institute College of Art, The Corcoran School of Art, and The University of Maryland. He continues to be in constant demand as a guest lecturer around the world, and most recently returned from a one week teaching engagement in Lebanon. Yang moved to NYC in 1994, and recently moved to Brooklyn where he lives happily married to acclaimed choreographer and dancer Abby

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 naiveté.

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.

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.

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.

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.