From Samaritan volunteer to author with a six-figure book deal: An artist’s road to success

ITV News Reporter Rupert Evelyn spoke to James Norbury about his work and newfound success


Many artists dream of making their art pay, and artist James Norbury from Swansea had almost given up on this dream, but it has now become a reality thanks in part to his volunteer work with the Samaritans.

With a six-figure book deal and published works in 20 countries so far, Norbury has managed to go from scratching a living with his brush to achieving immense success as a debut author.

“I don’t really have a word. It’s still unreal to me”, he said, while speaking to ITV News about his success.

Self-taught artist James Norbury, 44, said the success still felt 'unreal'.

Norbury, 44, attributes his success to his time volunteering at the Samaritans where his inspiration came from the callers. It was here, he said, that he was able to find pictures that captured his thoughts, creating drawings and conversations that can transform lives.

His work revolves around two unlikely friends, Big Panda and Tiny Dragon, who together help unscramble some of life’s trickier moments and overcome its obstacles.

The characters’ gentle yet inspiring approach with their words, as well as the simple paintings with which they were depicted, were unlike anything Norbury had done before, but they were such a hit that people wanted more of them.

Norbury drew inspiration for his book in the lives of callers while he was volunteering at the Samaritans.

Norbury said he drew inspiration from history for his work. “These solutions, if you like, the advice, much of it is very ancient, it’s not something I’ve just made up, it’s tried and tested ideas over hundreds and hundreds of years”.

But achieving success has taken him countless attempts and a deeper dive into himself to come to realisation.

It’s no surprise then that one of Norbury’s favourite pictures is about the value of mistakes and perseverance. ‘This Garden is beautiful,’ said Tiny Dragon. Big Panda nodded. ‘And we only found it because we went the wrong way so many times.’

“It’s extremely heartfelt, you know, it’s very raw for me and quite exposing because that book is almost like a kind of insight into my brain - or my soul, let’s say, that’s a nicer way to put it”, Norbury said.

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon will be published in the UK by Penguin Michael Joseph on 16 September.