Artist Journey: James Rey Sanchez
last updated 15 October 2021
Though today wraps up Latinx Heritage Month, we celebrate each of our Latinx artists everyday here at Bright! Today we are celebrating the lovely James Rey Sanchez. From a young age, James knew he wanted to be an artist. Inspired by the colors of his culture and encouragement from his family, Sanchez was able to overcome obstacles that led him to be the admired and successful artist he is today. Read along to hear about moments he thought about quitting, Grandma Lola’s kitchen, and see some spooky Halloween art. Enjoy!
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be an artist. As a child, I carried crayons at recess and drew comics where I was Batman’s sidekick and my grandpa as he “rested his eyes” during our movie sessions. My favorite memory was when some high school teachers got mad at me for dropping all my classes in order to fill my schedule with different art courses. My classmates and teachers thought this was foolish, but now there is a display case in my alma mater’s library featuring my picture books along with a dedication plaque. Art has always been my passion, and I knew from a young age that no one can take away your dreams as long as you chase them with enough tenacity.
Who inspired you to choose this career path?
The single biggest inspiration to my art career is my mother. She has always believed in me and my dreams. She would show me her old art sketch books and charcoal portfolios while telling me how she wished she had pursued her love for art. That gave me a purpose to fulfill not only my dreams of becoming an artist but hers as well. I am forever grateful for her love and willingness to believe in my goals long before I knew I could make them happen.
Tell us about a time in your career you wanted to give up. How did you push through to get to where you are today?
There have been a couple of times throughout my career where I wanted to give up, but I knew I had to push on and break down those walls. A moment that comes to mind was about a month before college graduation. I was signed to a small agency that promised exciting projects and financial stability. But for reasons I still don’t know, I stopped hearing from the agency after signing a contract with them. I thought it must have something to do with me not being good enough and a waste of their time.
After about six months into the contract, and still no word from the agency, I decided that if they wouldn’t help me then I would help myself. I used this silence to revamp my portfolio. I learned new techniques and taught myself how to develop art at a faster pace. I got a part-time job working at a gas station to pay the bills, and when I got home, I would work on my portfolio. I wanted to give up badly and had so many negative thoughts I had to fight against. I became a work horse and developed a portfolio that got the attention of my dream agency, Bright. After sending my portfolio, my agent James, came figuratively knocking at my door with an offer to join the Bright family. Times get tough but with the right attitude anything can be changed in your favor. All you really need is hard work and some grit! You can pull yourself up from the dirt and make your dreams come true.
Tell us a bit about your growth as an artist! What have you learned along the way as you’ve worked up to bigger projects?
Bright has nurtured my growth as an artist tremendously. I often look back at my work pre-Bright and think how I could have drawn something better or could’ve approached a scene differently. I knew very little about art when I first started with Bright and now, I know what to do for certain spreads or where to put in spot illustrations confidently. I now know how much work I can put on my plate and how to manage my time. The small projects were so necessary, maybe frustrating at times because as people we just want more and more, but without them I would never have been able to attack these big projects I’m working on today. It took a lot of time, patience, and small jobs to grow into fun picture books and graphic novels.
As you know we are celebrating Latinx History Month! Can you tell us a bit about how your background inspires your art?
My Hispanic background inspires my art in so many ways. I think the biggest take away from being Latin and loving the culture is colors. I try to express myself through color for the most part and my heritage has a huge impact on that. If you look at Mexican culture, you’ll see a tremendous amount of color. From clothes and street vendor items to kitchens and food, I try to make my work pop and look as beautiful as I can with the use of color. I draw inspiration from my memories of looking at books and food in my grandma Lola’s kitchen as a kid or listening to Vincente Hernandez and walking into a taqueria with my Pop.
I think that my heritage helped me become an artist through the simple fact that being Mexican means that you work hard for what you want, and you always find a way to get it done. I have heard “you are a Sanchez” since childhood and I know that means my family and I have had to work hard. My heritage and family instilled a work ethic in me that is second to none. If I must work two jobs again, feel weak from my Lyme’s disease, or even if I get rejected for projects I will keep working hard. That’s why I am the artist I am today.
Tell us a bit about what we can look forward to from you in the future!
Recently I had the chance to work on a book called This Magical Musical Night (Little Bee Books) and it has been getting amazing praise! It currently has Kirkus and School Library Journal starred reviews. I did my first ever book singing in Ann Arbor and cannot wait for more opportunities that come with this amazing project.
“Sanchez’s gently humorous animation-style spreads suggest a 21st-century Fantasia with a chubby, White Toscanini-like conductor and a highly diverse set of instrumentalists whose playing moves the audience out of the concert hall and into a variety of settings.” - Kirkus Reviews
I am currently working on a couple of big projects that I am in LOVE with! They are taking up my time in the best possible way. The first is a cute story called, Battle of the Books (Little Bee Books). It’s about picture books that argue over who gets to be picked for the nightly bedtime read. I am particularly looking forward to this release because I had almost full control over what goes on the pages!
The second is a set of graphic novels from HarperCollins that have me laughing every time I open the files and read the pages that I’m working on. Super Serious Mysteries is a tongue and cheek “who-dealt-it mystery” in which four friends aim to find out who laid the stinky toot that knocked out the birthday boy, Nicholas Fart, right before it was time for cake! These titles will be released in 2022 and 2023.
Outside of those projects, I take on a couple of smaller jobs here and there, one I am working on right now is a board game from Ravensburger. And I am always revamping my portfolios for more work and opportunities to work at some of my favorite game studios as a Character Designer.
James is represented by James Burns at the Bright Agency.
Missed the last Artist Journey blog? Click here to learn all about Stephanie Laberis! Check back each month to learn more about the featured artist, and how they came to shine so Bright!