Jim Harris – The True History
There’s usually a little biography about me on the jacket flap of my books, and I always think to myself that it really could use some clarification.
For instance, in the back of Jack and the Giant it says…
“Jim Harris began his career in North Carolina, using baby food as paint and his high chair tray as a canvas.”
That’s true. But it goes on…
“Jim’s work has appeared in numerous national magazines, at least as many as his parents left lying around open.”
And that is also true… I was a big scribbler. This did not make my mother cheerful, particularly when I scribbled on the walls. However, in my own defence, I would like to mention that once, when I was a teenager and our family moved across town, the people buying our house made it a condition of the sale that the drawings on my bedroom walls – cartoons of my dad playing golf -- were not to be erased, defaced, etc. etc. (So there is something to be said for drawing on the walls.)
Anyway, then it says …
“Among Jim’s honors and awards are a silver medal from the New York Society of Illustrators ….blah, blah, blah”
And finally we reach this little note:
“Jim is also a finalist in the PUBLISHER’S CLEARING HOUSE SWEEPSTAKES.”
Now this is the part I feel could stand some clarification. Because the fact of the matter is that I have been a lucky finalist in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes for TWENTY YEARS RUNNING! If that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is. One weird thing – I don’t know how to explain this – is that even though I’ve been a finalist so many times, I’ve never actually won any money. (But that’s okay. I’ve gotten to read a lot of interesting magazine articles.)
There were actually a lot of other exciting things that happened to me while I was a kid in North Carolina (including helping to start one airport runway on fire at the age of 9), but mostly I spent my spare time drawing and painting.
I had two friends, Joe and Pete, who liked to draw too. Often we would meet at Joe’s house and do something like an art assembly line: Joe would draw the cars, then I would put the people in the cars, and last of all Pete added anything else we needed, like trees, roads, animals, etc. It was a pretty good system.
When I got to high school I still spent most of my time painting. Once, in English class, when I should have been taking notes, my teacher discovered me drawing a caricature of her instead. I expected to get in trouble, but instead she invited me to join the school yearbook staff (which she advised) and become the staff artist. This mostly involved drawing caricatures of the various teachers in the school, and this produced a little bit of a problem. The trouble was that the only way to get a caricature to look funny is to exaggerate the subject’s features… and usually not the ones they’re most proud of. One of the teachers I assaulted with my art was the school wrestling coach, a man who possessed the temperament of a gorilla with a toothache, (which might explain why I went about the rest of the year looking like a shaggy-haired pretzel.)
At about 15 I made a major career decision... and decided to become a professional basketball star. The first stage in reaching this goal was, I deduced, playing basketball on my high school team. But, there were a lot people ahead of me in line for becoming a basketball star, and I got tired of waiting... (also I got saddle sores from sitting on that hard bench so long).
So I thought maybe I’d become a mathematician.
I really liked math and eventually I got a college degree in math education.
But before I could become a math teacher, I took a summer job drawing cartoons.
That turned out to be so much fun that I got to thinking that it might be nice to do work for lots of different companies… doing all kinds of art.
A sort of artistic freedom and sense of creative adventure beckoned.
So that’s what I did. I quit my job. And became a free-lance illustrator.
As of right then, anybody who wanted to could hire me to do art.
And right away, I was free.
Free, free, free!
No boss, no co-workers, no boring conferences.
Also, no money, no food, no car.
There were times when I actually hit the poverty level.
But usually I was way below that.
One of my acquaintances took pity on me and said they owned a farmhouse that had been scheduled to be demolished (just for practice by the local fire department) but they would let me live there with my young family if I didn’t bother them with details like getting electrical service to the property, providing functioning plumbing, repelling invasions by rats, and the like.
They had a deal.
So we moved to the countryside of Indiana. Which you can read about here.
Eventually -- and I’m sure it was due to the kindness of God -- people and companies of all sorts did begin asking me to do artwork for them, and it did turn out to be a wonderful life.
I painted calendars, and greeting cards…
And lots of magazine illustrations, and some collector plates…
But I always wanted to do a children’s picture book.
Then, one day, I got the chance to do one, with an invitation to illustrate The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell. And sure enough, I loved it as much as I thought I would.
Many books later, I still do!
Images and Text © 2009 Jim Harris. All Rights Reserved