Among my fondest childhood memories while growing up was attending the Alexander Robertson Elementary School on 95th Street and Central Park West on Manhattan’s West Side. That school’s library is where it all began for me. It’s where I first buried myself in storybooks of kings, queens, castles and heroes and heroines spanning centuries as well as history’s greatest inventors and scientists who sought answers to man’s greatest questions or built the first machines of the industrial age. That library bathed me in stories of conflicts among nations and leaders spanning from The Crusades to the American Revolution, The Anglo French war, World War II and history-altering naval engagements involving fleets and the men who manned them.
Throughout elementary school, I was knee-deep in books that told the stories of brave and even ruthless explorers- Columbus, Magellan, Balboa, and Marco Polo who sailed the oceans on dangerous quests into the unknown. From Drake’s clash with Spain’s Armada in 1588, to Nelson’s victories over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar; from the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and Midway in 1942, to the British Fleet’s heroic dash to the South Atlantic to retake the Falkland Islands; I grew up in a literary world of adventure. As a teen, I fell in love with military and naval history and the idea of giant fleets of ships on the move and the admirals who commanded them. Imagining that contact with an enemy fleet just over the horizon and being there during those historic clashes made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
During those early years I always carried a drawing pad in one hand and a book on an explorer or inventor in the other. Because I was so focused on naval history, I began drawing ships, specifically warships, and I became good at it. I stayed immersed in history and naval history and remain today an avid naval historian. Yet, I majored in architecture in college because I was becoming a pretty good illustrator about the same time that I started getting excited about buildings, structures and how they worked. Add to the mix an appetite for exploration and what lies beyond the horizon and further out there; combine urban design, architecture and ship design and what I was drawing took a turn towards the “out there” or “futuristic.”
Today, E-scape Illustrations (“E-scape”) mainly combines my career experiences as an architect, an avid historian- especially a naval historian and illustrator with a passion for adventure and what lies out there beyond. It’s also a by-product of every architecture firm I’ve worked for where I learned how to design buildings, but became convinced that there has got to be more to this work than plans, sections and elevations.
E-scape is a tribute to my parents who raised four kids in in the center of New York City; in a single family brownstone just off of Central Park West on the Upper West Side. I grew up with the Park literally steps from my front door and on a city block where everyone knew each other. Every day was like a wonderland of non-stop action. Adventure lay around every corner, in every candy store, pizza joint, deli and playground in the city. We were the ultimate free-range kids. We ran around the city and rode the subways every day, experiencing situations and a world many kids never get to experience growing up. I go home to the “city” often, but miss running around those streets, hearing the city and feeling that pulse and vibrancy you only get down in “the Village,” Chelsea, Upper Broadway or up in Harlem, Columbia Heights and the Bronx with all of the eye candy to fuel any kid’s imagination.
I never wanted to make a living as an illustrator and still don’t. It was simply that private world I slid into when I was not swimming in the day-to-day lane of an architect on his career path. So, I’ve kept my work to myself and only recently decided to start sharing that side of my life. Another reason to share the work is the excitement I’ve seen in the eyes of a young boy, girl or architecture student and questions they pepper me with after looking at a futuristic city or the profile of an interstellar spacecraft. E-scape’s purpose is to show kids who are curious and creative and even colorful thinkers that it’s OK to be different, and to embrace it.
E-scape is also tribute to the girl who wrote in my high school yearbook, “James, you dare to be different,” and to the library in the Alexander Robertson School where it began for me. It’s the story of a continuing journey of exploration and adventure into the unknown and being blessed and, yes, cursed with an imagination that comes with no off-switch. It’s the ongoing story of that kid on the block and in the schoolyard that was labeled “different” because he was and still dares to be.