A native New Yorker, James was first introduced to figurative drawing in his teens at the Art Students' League and Hunter College High School. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1996, James taught art for the next decade at the Rubin Museum, Saint Ann's School, and various public schools while refining his craft, studying life drawing, painting, and sculpture at Pratt, SVA, and the Art Students' League. In 2003, he began his classical training in the Russian academic method at Bridgeview School of Fine Arts in New York City. Two years of intensive summer study at Russia's premier art academy, the Ilya Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, cemented James' affinity for their thorough program and their strict teaching methodology. Relocating to St. Petersburg from 2007 to 2012 and again from 2015-present, James became the first American accepted to the Repin Institute's sculpture department in over 20 years and the only one to graduate with highest honors. From 2012 – 2015, James designed a drawing and sculpture curriculum based on the Russian Academic tradition that he taught at the Beaux-Arts Academy in New York, Utah, Washington DC, and Italy. He has exhibited both drawing and sculpture in New York City, Utah, and St. Petersburg and received various awards including the Gloria Medal at the 2013 National Sculpture Competition held at the New York Academy of Art.