The path wasn’t always a smooth one from dream to reality. While pursuing a B.F.A. in college, he was discouraged from portraying nature and realism by his professors. After completing his degree, he served as a combat officer in Vietnam for 14 months.
Eventually, James ended up teaching back in Minnesota, but he still dreamed of painting. With a lot of outside encouragement, he gave up teaching and six weeks later won the Minnesota State Duck Stamp Competition for 1980. His career took off from that point garnering numerous awards including over 15 Best of Show and Popular Choice awards at major national shows around the country.