RACC Creative Spotlight: Artist James Enos

Artist James Enos, Make | Learn | Build grant recipient

Introducing the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s Artist and Organization Creative Spotlight, where we will feature one artist and one organization in consecutive months that have been impacted by the support of programming, training, grants, or other services through RACC, and/or have been nominated for their impact on our community.

James Enos was a Make|Learn|Build grant recipient in June 2021. RACC’s Make|Learn|Build Grant Program was designed to address the ways the arts community in the tri-county region needed support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Artists, creatives, organizations, and businesses were awarded either $1,500 or $3,000 to make work, gain skills, or build up their arts business.

With RACC’s grant award, Booklyn, Inc. represented James Enos at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair. The Outsider Art Fair is a world renowned art fair that provides a stage for self-taught artists, art brut, and Outsider Art and takes place biannually in New York City and Paris.

James Enos works at North Pole Studio, a Portland-based progressive art studio for artists with autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities. With James’ consent, this Q&A was answered collaboratively with North Pole Studio staff and his mother, Beth Enos.

Would you share your journey as an artist with us? When did you begin; how did you begin?

James is an entirely self-taught author and illustrator. James began drawing in high school, and was encouraged to expand his drawings with the encouragement of an early teacher. His deep creativity quickly emerged, as he transitioned away from life drawing to more fanciful subjects. It was years before he started making the books that he is now known for, and the catalyst for this shift is still unknown.

James designs and executes each book from scratch. His extraordinary process includes binding, researching, writing, and hand-drawing illustrations— many of which fold-out and can extend upwards of 275 cm. His stories weave together to form a collection inspired by his life experiences, picture books adapted from major motion pictures, and pop-culture of the late 80s and early 90s, among others.

James began by hand-writing his books with penmanship that is a work of art in itself. James’ early books alternate line for line with a slightly different shade of the same color (i.e. light blue, dark blue; pink, red). Over the past two years, James has transitioned to writing on a type-writer. His illustrations have evolved but adhere to a consistent style.

James created art at the Portland Art and Learning Studio (PALS) until it closed in 2020. During his time at PALS, James was discovered by Marshall Weber at Booklyn, Inc. in NYC who began representing him and selling his books nationally. In 2021, James joined North Pole Studio, where he works to date. 

In a very short period of time, James went from being an unknown artist to boasting an impressive resume which includes being collected by major universities including Bainbridge Island Museum of the Arts; University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections Library; University of Central Florida, Special Collections Library; University of Delaware, Special Collections Library; Yale University, Haas Family Fine Arts Library.

How would your community of peers (family, friends, other creatives/artists) describe you?

James is incredibly focused and has an admirable art practice, working continuously from 10am – 3pm and pausing only for a lunch break. When James is in the writing phase, his typewriter starts buzzing the moment he walks into the studio, and doesn’t stop until he leaves. It has become a beloved soundtrack of North Pole Studio. 

Because of the seriousness James approaches both his art practice and the world with, many don’t know what an incredible sense of humor he has. He is a prankster at heart and has a sharp and sophisticated sense of humor which is best captured in his books. 

James’ artistic genius and extensive knowledge of pop culture, familiar kids’ stories (such as Mulan, Tarzan, and the Chronicles of Narnia) is admired by his peers.

Thinking back to your artistic journey, bridging to where you are at now, how would you summarize your artwork currently? Where are you now with your work?

James continues to hone his craft; his evolution from hand-writing his books to his typewriter has marked a distinctive shift in his process. James’ illustrational style and syntax are consistent across his stories, but he continues to refine both with each book. 

James experimentation with various methods and materials for binding his large-scale, multimedia books is evident over time. James books are often up to 6” thick and well over 5lbs when complete, with fold-out illustrations strategically folded to fit into a structure that can be read cover to cover.

James’ latest books are tighter, both visually and structurally with consideration to decisions around materials and paper size. Additionally, many of his recent works are written in chapters, and can be read as isolated stories or as a collection.

Based on the award/grant you received from RACC how have you continued your direction in your project/artwork/process?

In 2021, James was invited to exhibit his books in a solo booth at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City. The Outsider Art Fair is a world renown art fair, and provides a huge opportunity for lesser known self-taught artists’ work to be viewed by major art collectors alongside the greats. With the support of his team, James applied for a Make | Learn | Build grant to cover the cost of the booth fee. With RACC’s grant award, Bookyln, Inc. represented James Enos at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair in spring of 2022.

Accessing grant funding is rife with barriers for many artists in the disability community, from awareness of opportunities, through application to the disbursement processes. James’ team values RACC’s recognition of his work through this award, and their collaboration in making this grant funding accessible.

What have been some of the speed bumps you have encountered? Did it change your trajectory or direction?

For a long time, James did not have access to the resources needed to fully develop his creative practice. Being part of a progressive studio community has provided James with access to materials, direct support, and advocacy to both structure and develop his existing practice and promote visibility of the work. Having access to progressive studio programming changed everything, as it provided a platform for James’ work to be seen and acquired. Without this platform, it is unlikely that James’ work would be included in the art collections and conversations it is today.

When the pandemic hit, James’ studio program (PALS) closed, putting a temporary pause on his practice as he no longer had access to materials and space to work. In the spring of 2021, James resumed his practice at North Pole Studio. 

What is next for you?

James is currently working on writing and illustrating and original series based on the Chronicles of Narnia. Both North Pole Studio and Booklyn, who represents James in NYC, will continue to facilitate opportunities for James’ work to contribute to the art and literary world.

Artist James Enos sits among his illustrations.

James Enos working in North Pole Studio. Photo by Kaitlin Green

Worrying is Just Another Form of Storytelling

How Kathleen Lane is working with youth to understand anxiety as a universal human experience

by Lokyee Au, Communications Manager

It’s estimated that we create anywhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. These tens of thousands of thoughts running through our head every day have the ability to reinforce, dictate, or alter our actions, our decisions, and all our subsequent thoughts. For those of us who worry (and let’s be honest – we all worry), that’s 50,000 to 70,000 opportunities for worrisome ideas, feelings, and stories to be produced by our brains. Worry and anxiety are not things everyone is comfortable talking about, whether it’s with friends, family, or complete strangers. As adults traverse through the stigmas or shame around anxiety, stress, and worry (subsequently fueling the significant boom for the wellness and health industry), what about young students who have those tens of thousands of thoughts? Who do they share them with? And how?

Writer Kathleen Lane developed Create More, Fear Less for students to navigate some of those anxious waters. Borne out of a confluence of events and experiences – publishing a book about an anxious 10-year-old, managing her own experiences with worrying, and meeting students who deal with anxious feelings, this RACC-funded project brought Lane to middle schools over the past two years to create a place for students to share their thoughts and feelings with one another, while partaking in hands-on art activities that encourage them to express and work through those feelings.

So how do you get kids to share deep, personal feelings with their peers and adults? Each workshop begins with ‘worry stones’, where everyone, including Lane, writes their worries onto a stone and take turns sharing. These stones are then placed into a bag, a physical reminder that students are separate from – and have power over – their worries – they get to decide when and how much time to spend with them. It’s also a reminder that carrying our worries (stones) around all day can get heavy. Comfort is key in setting the tone and expectations for the group: anyone can pass, and can draw on their stones if they don’t want to write out their worries. The important thing is that students see they’re not alone in their feelings, and that they can unload some of the weight of those worries.

Through workshops, and now an interactive website, Lane introduces kids to various art and writing activities that aim to normalize the feelings and worries themselves, as well as the act of expressing their anxieties. Some activities include using metaphor to capture the feeling, creating a “worry survival kit”, drawing and dialoguing with a “worry monster”, and more. With these activities, Lane says, “It’s not about pushing feelings away, it’s about working with your feelings—it’s human to worry, it’s okay, and you can get through it. And also, thank you for being a sensitive soul because we need more of those in the world.”

Although described as a project of using art for anxious youth to express themselves, Lane’s approach and practice remind us that it’s more than that. She encourages students to see the power in their feelings and anxieties – Our great storytellers, thinkers, and problem-solvers often start with some form of worry, and that is important to celebrate. “I want to help kids see that not only can art and writing be powerful tools for expressing anxiety, but anxiety can be a powerful source of imagination, wisdom, and healing. You have anxiety, you have your fears, now what are you going to do with them?”

And while students certainly need more than a creative workshop to navigate these feelings, the project has created new paths for students and adults to understand, communicate, manage, and embrace them. In the two years since Create More, Fear Less began, the project has already taken hold in other spaces, and Lane has been in outreach mode to share it far and wide. Her hope is this project serves as a resource for as many students, teachers, and counselors as possible, and that the projects and activities create a cultural shift in how we view and deal with anxiety.

Create More, Fear Less was funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC). Learn more about RACC’s Grants Program here. You can find more about this RACC project grant by visiting the project website and more about Kathleen Lane on her website.