Meet The Artist: The Eye-Popping Pencil Drawings Of James Ma
The Toronto-based illustrator on bringing horological universes to life.
While the detailed, figurative drawings of James Ma seem a million miles away from action painter Jackson Pollock’s drippy abstractions, they do share an important characteristic in that the physical act of creation is a crucial part of the finished artwork.
Ma is a full-time, self-employed illustrator. We first became aware of his watch-influenced work on Instagram where he goes by the handle @jamesma.illustration. He also has an influential YouTube channel that chronicles his process with time-lapses of his work as well as behind-the-scenes videos of his daily life.
As a crowd gathered to watch Ma at work, we were also impressed by his focus. He fielded questions while drawing. The most popular query was how long it takes him to complete a piece. “It depends,” he replies, briefly looking up from the 8x11 paper in front of him. “Something like this takes about 40 hours.”
There’s something immensely satisfying about watching Ma’s process live or on video. The works are so detailed that it’s a bit like watching a high-wire act — one slip of the pencil and hours of work could be lost. And if you’re into ASMR, there’s the gratifying sound of perfectly sharpened pencil lead scritching against the tooth of the Arches paper.
Ma is also the sum of many decisive actions. A native of Great Britain, he grew up in many places in the south of England. His fascination with timepieces began when he was around nine years old when he became fascinated with an Omega pocket watch at his grandparents’ house.
“At first I just liked to open it up and then it just kind of spiraled,” he says. Throughout his teens he was into watches, but mostly the cheap and cheerful variety. About five years ago he got more interested in higher-end horology and decided to draw watches for a university project.
“My first drawing was my TAG Heuer,” says Ma. As he became more interested in watchmaking he also became aware of other artists who work with horological themes. “I saw Julie Kraulis doing these drawings on Instagram and that inspired me to [explore] social media.”
Ma’s posts quickly gained a following of watch enthusiasts and insiders. This led to him participating in many live drawing events for clients such as Breitling. Popularity means more practice and the more illustrations Ma creates have made his subjects more meaningful. “I’m drawing it physically,” Ma explains. “But at the same time, I’m discovering it.”