Catch This Escapee/Interview with Thomas James

By Carolyn Edlund

Thomas James, illustrator and author of the popular blog “Escape from Illustration Island”, is fascinating on several different levels. He serves up an incredible online resource which educates and inspires illustrators, artists and other readers who visit his site. Thomas is also a smart and savvy blogger.

EFII has the complete package – check how he uses multiple modalities. Read the articles, listen to the podcasts, see the visuals, participate in contests, comment on his posts, join a community.  There are books, sites, artists and blogs reviewed, and discussions of the history of illustration. Tutorials are offered, although you can request his personal input as well. EFII hits on all cylinders, showing a masterful understanding of how to communicate and involve an audience while providing a wealth of valuable and useful information at the same time.

AS:  You have a lot going on. What are your current projects?

TJ: First, I want to say thank you for inviting me to share my story with your audience.  I love what you’re doing here at Artsy Shark.

The project that I’m most excited about right now is my new eBook, 15 Steps to Freelance Illustration, which aims to outline the basic steps involved in building a strong foundation for an Illustration business.  Even though there are other useful books out there on the topic, I’ve taken the approach of empowering every artist to organize their thoughts and formulate a strategy that fits their unique situation.  I’ve done this by breaking things down into groups of tasks and by including a supplemental Workbook so that everyone can move at their own pace and make the most of the ideas presented in the book.  It’s taken me six months to complete, and I’m very excited about the official release on June 15th.

Now that I’ve crossed that off my list, I’ll be focusing on this year’s ICON6 Illustration conference, where I’ll be attending as a media sponsor.  While I’m there, I’ll be covering the event from the inside and recording as much audio and video content as I can to share the conference with Illustrators who can’t make it there for whatever reason.

AS:  Tell us some of your favorite aspects of the EFII blog. What are your readers’ favorites?

TJ: I really love the community that has been built there by my fellow artists, and that is still growing.  I think EFII helps Illustrators and other creative professionals come together and share ideas and resources.  After all, the name Escape from Illustration Island comes from the idea that most Illustrators live and work in the isolation of their studio.  A lot of artists have expressed gratitude for the resources provided at EFII, and that helps to keep me motivated to do more.

I have to say that the audio podcast is another one of my favorite aspects of the site.  I’ve had the chance to speak with so many incredible people in the industry, such as Steven Heller, Drew Struzan, Gary Taxali, Brian Despain, and so many others.  The chance to pick the brains of Illustrators, Art Directors, and Art Reps on the show has really helped to make me a better artist, and a better freelancer as well.

AS:  What goals do you have, either with EFII, or other professional endeavors?

TJ: One main goal I have moving forward is to share the resources at Escape from Illustration Island with as many creative professionals as possible, because I strongly believe that it has a positive impact on peoples’ lives, and on the industry as a whole.

Also, the ability to make an alternate income from the site has allowed me to take a step back with my own Illustration work and completely redefine my style.  So, I’ll be working on figuring out new and unique ways to market that style and secure more of the types of projects that I’d like to work on.

AS:  Emerging artists often have questions about how to get started professionally. What resources would you direct them towards?

TJ: I have a growing selection of Featured Resources on Escape from Illustration Island, but I think some of my favorite are books like Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines), the 2010 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market (Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market), and the blog Freelance Switch, which discusses best practices for freelancers.  I was definitely inspired by Freelance Switch when creating EFII, but I wanted to tailor my posts more specifically to Illustrators and other creative professionals.

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