|About the Illustrator: James K. Russell
Among my fondest memories as a boy growing up on Manhattan’s West Side was attending the Alexander Robertson Elementary School on 95th St. and Central Park West. Going to the school’s library every day is where it all began for me as a young boy. That library is where I first buried myself in storybooks of kings and queens and their castles and heroes and heroines spanning centuries. It’s where I first dove into books that told stories of the greatest inventors and scientists of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries who sought to answer some of the great questions of the time or build the first machines of the industrial age. That library bathed me in story after story of conflicts among nations and men spanning from The Crusades to the American Revolution, The War of 1812, Waterloo and the Civil War, to history-altering naval engagements involving fleets and the men who manned them.
By the 4th or 5th grade, I was knee-deep in books that told the stories of the exploits of brave men, women and ruthless leaders throughout history. I began following the explorers and exploits of Columbus, Magellan, Balboa, Marco Polo and other brave men who sailed the oceans on dangerous quests into the unkown beyond the horizon. From Drake’s clash with the Spanish Armada in 1588, to Nelson’s victories over the French and Spanish fleets at the Nile in 1798 and Trafalgar in 1805; from the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and the decisive American victory at Midway in 1942, to the British Fleet’s heroic dash to the South Atlantic in the 1980’s to retake the Falkland Islands; I’ve grown up in a literary world of high adventure on land and the high seas. As a teen, I finally fell in love with military and naval history and the idea of giant fleets of ships on the move, the admirals who commanded them and the excitement of that first contact with an enemy fleet just over the horizon. Imagining myself being there, on deck during those moments in history, made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
During those early years I started drawing. I became this kid artist who always carried a drawing pad in one hand and a book on some sea explorer or inventor in the other. I was also focused on naval history and began drawing ships, specifically warships, and I became very good at it. During and after high school, I stayed immersed in naval history and naval issues. Yet, I majored in architecture in college because I had become a pretty good illustrator about the same time that I started getting excited about buildings, structures and how they worked. Add those two items to a healthy appetite for exploration and what lies beyond the horizon and my drawings began to take on a different appearance. I started imagining and illustrating future environments on earth and beyond; scenes that included elements of urban design, architecture and engineering that were a bit, well, “out there” or “futuristic.”
Today, E-scape Illustrations (“E-scape”) is the result of many encounters as a young boy and teenage kid and my professional career to date. It combines my career experiences as an architect, urban designer and avid naval historian with a passion for adventure and what lies out there beyond. It is a by-product of every architecture firm I ever worked for where I learned how to design buildings, but became convinced that there has got to be more to this than plans, sections and elevations. It is a result of my time spent in urban planning and design offices where individual buildings weren’t by themselves so exciting anymore and I saw them as but pieces of a larger puzzle.
It’s also a tribute to my parents who raised me, a brother and two sisters in the center of New York City where we ran free through a wonderland of non-stop action and where adventure lay around every corner, in every store, pizza joint, deli and playground in the city. I grew up in a single family brownstone on a city block where my backyard of Central Park was literally steps from my front door and everyone knew everyone. We ran around the city and rode the subways every day, experiencing people, situations and a world many kids never get to experience growing up. That world helped provide the fuel for my imagination. As a kid, at least for me, it was an exciting childhood to say the least, and it couldn’t get any better than that.
I never wanted to make a living as an illustrator because I didn’t have to. Early on, I was on a different career path as an architect and urban designer and my futuristic work was my retreat and escape. So, while I’ve largely kept the work to myself, it’s time to share it if for no other reason than the excitement I’ve seen in the eyes of a young boy, girl or even an architecture student and questions they pepper me with after looking at a futuristic city or the profile of an interstellar spacecraft in low earth orbit dry-dock.
There’s another reason to share the work. As a kid, I knew I was different from the others on the block or in the school yard, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it back then. For me, part of E-scape’s purpose is to show kids who are curious and creative thinkers with imaginations that it’s OK to see things differently- and to be different! E-scape is a tribute and thank you to the girl who wrote in my high school yearbook, “James, you dare to be different,” and to that small library in the Alexander Robertson School where it began for me. It is my story of a continuing journey of exploration and high adventure into the unknown and being both blessed and, yes, cursed with an imagination that comes with no off-switch. It’s the ongoing story of the kid on the block and in the schoolyard that was labeled different because he was and still dares to be.