Thursday, October 23, 2008

James Noel Smith

I recently did a posting about Domino The Book Of Decorating HERE
I used the charming drawings from the chapter openers by James Noel Smith.
Fascinated, I found my way to his web site where there was nary a word about a book that seemed so important to all of us. There were many beautiful drawings, but nothing about James when you clicked on "About Me" - no bios or credits, but thankfully there was contact information.
So I shot off an e-mail and asked him if he was indeed the artist.

He answered me:

JAMES: Well, I DID do a Domino decorating book recently but I don't know what they decided to call it...Yes, indeed, I am the guilty party that produced those illustrations...If you've perused my web site, you probably realized that the Domino stuff isn't really typical of my style or what I normally do, but I like the challenge of something different.

VV: How did you get to do the Domino book?

JAMES: I just checked out your blog, and it is Tres Kool. Do you by any chance know Joanna Goddard, who also does a really neat blog called A CUP OF JO? VV: I know her blog, and she's fabulous!

JAMES: She used to be editor at a wonderful (unfortunately now defunct) magazine called BENE, about all things Italian. I loved working for that magazine--the subjects were always fun and they really let me have a lot of freedom and use my sense of humor. That's how I met Stella Bugbee, who used to be art director there and who then went to DOMINO, and it was she who recommended me to do the book. She's a terrific art director and great to work with. Doing the book was intense because because it was a huge amount of work in a short period of time but a good experience because the DOMINO folks are so appreciative and pleasant.

VV: Isn't it amazing how generous people are, how connections are made. I find the blog girls (and guys) so supportive. Do you have a blog?

JAMES: Actually, I am going to start a blog...well, I guess you could call it a blog. It will be called PAINT THE DAY and will feature oil paintings of whatever I happen to be interested in at the moment. I'll do the paintings in series, and when one is over, I'll start another. The paintings will of course be for sale...reasonably priced for the average art lover, and small enough to fit on my scanner. My son has designed a very cool-looking masthead for me and it will have its own 'store'...Anyway, with two kids in college right now, the emphasis is on making lots of money, so I can't really get much into 'painting the day' until next year, after kid #1 graduates and gets a job, my house will also be paid for by then, so the pressure will be off and I can start doing what I want to do & less of what other people want me to do. What a concept!
JAMES: On a side note, I'm reading A WHOLE NEW MIND by Daniel Pink, a fascinating book that theorizes that the future of work belongs to creative, empathetic right-brained people--industrial design and nursing are very high on the list...yessss!

VV: Are you working on any projects?

JAMES: I am really into landscaping and creating outdoor living spaces...this winter I hope to create a patio, etc. for my wife Michele's studio which will be like a little corner of Provence and Tuscany. Let's say it's right on the border between the two...if you take out a large chunk of northwest Italy and the Alps. I'm also beginning to mess about with creating a Japanese garden in an isolated part of the yard with it's own tinkling little stream and koi pool. With 10 acres to play with, one can procrastinate forever before remodeling parts of the INSIDE of the house. Winter is mild here, so that's my fave time for doing this stuff...too hot and humid to do anything but mow grass in the summer. I just bought a new camera, so my thought is that I will document all this and who knows...maybe it will turn into a book or something.

VV: You said your were making a patio for your wife's studio. Can you tell me more about her?

JAMES: My wife has 4 chihuahuas and 3 cats in her studio. Oh, and 3 horses in the barn. Some day she will be one of those cases you read about in the oddball news...'elderly woman found in filthy house with mountains of newspapers and 835 starving cats and dogs'...her website is ...she does lots of portraits of animals and people and their pets, etc....She's a pretty wonderful painter. And good lookin' too!
VV: By the looks of the drawing Gabrielle did of you for your web site, you're kind of cute yourself, and of course you're a pretty wonderful painter too! Any upcoming painting projects?
JAMES: Right now I'm working on some illustrations about Hungarian wine for CONDE NAST TRAVELER, an executive portrait of a dead guy, and an architectural rendering of, believe it or not, a 'green' National Guard armory. Grass on the roof, solar panels, the whole deal. Who knew. OH, and I'm writing a hillbilly detective novel, set in the fall of 1960, during the month of the Kennedy-Nixon debates. It involves UFOs, drug smuggling, the CIA, the civil rights struggle, and a small town sheriff..the character is based largely on my dad, who was a military cop.
VV: Since I have a decor blog, may I ask you what your house is like?

JAMES:'s really a construction zone right now, so not really too picturesque. It's a big plain-looking brick rancher, a realchallenge to make look interesting, but it's on 10 acres in next to the National Forest and surrounded by the spectacular mountain scenery of northeast Tennessee. We're getting ready to enter "Phase Two" after raising two kids (who are away at college) in our now empty nest. My wife works downstairs & I work upstairs. She really has the decorating knack and has collected a lot of nice antiques and art over the years. We're planning to remodel the kitchen, re-do all the hardwood floors and a lot of other projects. Hopefully, we will have enough energy to tackle it all.
VV: It sounds lovely!

JAMES: If you want to see what it looks like here, check out a zombie movie my son Daniel (who is a 2nd year industrial design major at SCAD) did with his film major friend, Trevor Wild. It's called 8 DAYS can see it on the Vimeo website ( a search for Trevor Wild and you'll find it. They wrote, shot and edited it over a weekend on Christmas break last year...That's my house (including the sink full of dirty dishes) in part 4, where it's snowing. About 10,000 people have watched it on Vimeo so far. While you're at it, look at Daniel's site called MEEDEOR ( which is sort of a Facebook / Myspace on steroids. I'd better not leave my daughter out--she's in her final cycle of nursing school, doing her med surg and clinicals. At least one member of the family is sure to have a steady job!

VV: You are so interesting! I love all the stuff you are working on, and your entire family is wildly creative. I'd love to hang out with you guys! Is there anything else you'd like to say?

JAMES: This is probably way more than you care to know, but let me know if there's anything else you need. I have tons of jpgs of drawings and paintings too.
VV: James you are incredibly generous to share your work and tell me all about yourself!
You know I love your work, and especially the watercolor of the dress shop that you sent. It looks like a walk in closet and dressing room any girl would love to have!
Did you see the wonderful one that Patricia Van Esshe, of PVE Designs did for me?
I hope you feel you've made a geeky blog friend, and that we stay in touch! Thank you so much for your time!

JAMES: Luego!


pve design said...

This is why I love blogging, you lead me to James and I in turn bought one his illustrations, a tree. I love it and loved the e-mails we sent back and forth. As an artist, I am addicted to those that pursue their passion while living life. And for what it's worth, I thought he was like fresh out of college from his e-mails. He has an ageless spirit. His work is amazing. Thanks for the intro.
Love my package!

Swank Lighting said...

What a wonderful interview with a very interesting man. After spending 27 years in the mag publishing business myself before finding my real calling, it's funny to hear someone use print terminology "masthead" really took me back. Thanks Vamp, really great to get to know a little about this very talented man.
Ed at Swank

Joanna Goddard said...

yay!!!!! i adore james!!!! this was such a great interview.

beachbungalow8 said...

this is a FANTASTIC post. having an illustrating background, I loved this. While the book didn't impress me the art stood out. I'm so glad you tracked him down and now I'm going to go email my industrial designer brother and let him know he is the future.