James E. Walker is a Houston-based designer, artist, and illustrator who is best known for his album cover artwork, logo design, typography, and layout design work.
He has produced work that has been displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Printing Museum, and the Houston Museum of African American Culture.
Balance the Grind spoke to James about running his own design business, a typical day in his life, meditating to stay grounded, cultivating a support system and more.
This conversation is brought to you by Teachable, a powerful yet simple all-in-one platform to create and sell beautiful online courses.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
I currently work as a designer, artist, and illustrator. I was led to this career path through my background and relationships within the independent hip hop music scene, where I worked as a recording artist, songwriter, producer, and engineer.
As I evolved into the role of art director and designer for my own music projects, I eventually earned the trust of other artists and labels to design their visual artwork and merchandise.
Over time, more established companies and organizations began commissioning me for creative services.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
It’s funny how everything that I’m passionate about seems to come back full circle, so to keep it simple, I would say that my current role is that of an artist—in every aspect.
Throughout my body of work, I have been able to merge many of the disciplines I’ve studied.
On a daily basis, I usually kick the day off with client or commissioned work. This is usually in the form of graphic design, illustration, photography, branding, or public artwork, which is my bread and butter.
From there, I will move on to creative works that spark my soul.
This entails personal projects where I take the role of creative director and entrepreneur, such as developing products for my pop up shop, screen printing and selling t-shirts, prints, fine art, and home decor.
The other half of that is spent developing inspirational content for my YouTube channel, educational content for Skillshare classes, blogging, or making music.
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
A typical day starts off with me charging up my inner-being and atmosphere through meditation, prayer, and reflection of my previous day. Basically setting my intentions and aligning myself.
Once I’m fully charged, I then have the capacity to go into “Head Down, Sleeves Up” mode. The key to my day-to-day tasks is deciding which hat I need to wear.
In general, it could be anything from:
- sketching up design concepts
- research and development
- exploring ideas
- designing vector layouts for logos, album covers, posters, or apparel
- screen printing
- taking photographs
- consulting with clients
- sending proposals, or
- running errands to pick up supplies.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritize your workload?
Meditation is key to me grounding myself to assess what is top priority. Whenever I’m dealing with resistance or struggling to stay on task, I’ll take frequent breaks.
Sometimes, I’ll squeeze in room for a creative itch, but for the most part, I’m pretty disciplined in avoiding instant gratifications.
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
Family is first, so I have to cultivate my support system to keep the energy flowing. It’s challenging at sometimes because my work has become such a lifestyle, so I have to consciously stop and smell the roses.
When my family, team, and support system is strong, I perform better, and I make a bigger impact. Therefore, I can achieve more in less time. To ensure this, I have to work when it’s time to work to afford the privilege of playing later.
6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?
My family loves outdoor activities like going to the beach and to the park. This relaxes me and makes it worthwhile to see them enjoying our time together.
I also enjoy sports games over cold craft beer, bowling, billiards, and family barbeques. When alone, I entertain myself with documentaries or learning about things outside of my expertise.
7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
Holding myself accountable is one thing. The other is learning how to do the cool things everyone wants to know how to do, but usually don’t have the discipline to do it, or the willpower to apply it.
I think about all of the skills I’ve developed, and then I think about the growing pains I went through to accomplish them. I always remind myself that the temporary pain that I put myself through separates me from most.
8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?
I have plenty but I’ll name five for now:
- The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
- Understanding Your Potential by Myles Munroe
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns
- The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardener
9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Set my intentions, write them down, and go down the list.