Q&A With Writer & Illustrator James Callahan

February 28, 2022 Features

Richmond-based writer and illustrator James Callahan graduated from VCU’s Communication Arts and Design program with a focus on Illustration in 2001. Over the years he’s created thousands of drawings for comics, records, clothing, skateboards, and every other imaginable printable surface, including the cover of VisArts’ Spring 2022 class catalog. Each year, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond selects four artists to serve as illustrators-in-residence. The artists illustrate a catalog and are invited to lead a workshop on the topic of their choice. We sat down with Callahan to discuss his work and his process for illustrating.

VisArts: What inspired you to start illustrating?

JC: I’ve always enjoyed comics and cartoons and their ability to communicate on multiple levels, sometimes transcending language barriers. I have had a lifelong fascination with their complex capability for storytelling.

VisArts: What inspires your work?

JC: Well, like many visual artists I’m trying to offer something people have never seen before, but still connect emotionally and make the audience laugh, think, or reflect. I also like to incorporate elements that include the viewer in the storytelling aspect, often using the illusion of kinetic energy to invite you to imagine what comes next or what happened a moment before.

VisArts: Describe your creative process.

JC: I’ll start by sketching a few different ideas, very small and very loosely. At this stage, it’s about coming up with an idea, preferably something that feels like it’s never been done, which can be quite difficult. I’ll pick an idea, compose it, then do a detailed pencil sketch. Then I use pens to ink it, then paint it or scan for digital coloring.

VisArts: What was the inspiration behind the Spring catalog design?

JC: I wanted to draw something that made making art look fun, something that made you want to pick up the catalog and ask “what’s this?” I also wanted to draw something that made creating art feel accessible and inviting. Hopefully, I’ve achieved that, and people will feel inspired to experiment and try new things that are beyond their comfort zone.

VisArts: How did Richmond/your time living here affect your creativity and style?

JC: I moved back to Richmond about a year ago from the West Coast. Richmond is a very creative place. So many talented people pursuing their passions and exploring their skills, all centralized in one place, really helps you realize that so much more is possible. Personal development within a field can feel limitless.

VisArts: What past projects are you most proud of? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?

JC: I am most proud of all of my comic book work. I’ve drawn about a thousand pages of comics, including a graphic novel I wrote called “Rotting In Dirtville” and a series written by Rick Spears called “the Auteur”. I have two new books coming out this year, one is a skate comic, and another is a collection of almost two decades of my skateboard graphics.