As a contemporary artist, he questions what his ancestors, both Tangata Whenua and Scottish, would have used to make their marks and what was the significance of the visual symbols they chose to depict. Research is an integral component in his practice, he spends many hours studying and interpreting ancient sketches and documents. His works make reference to history and religion. In an era when artists are increasingly experimenting with new technology, Ormsby prefers to work with the organic. Again, he goes back to research and sources traditional or natural materials that his ancestors would recognise and associate with, such as natural ochres and pigments.
Curator/Art historian Ngahiraka Mason writes: "James' visual language shows his personal evolution as an artist prepared to seek out his full potential. His restrained yet voluble pencil and brush marks are complex studies. He has a capacity to make his art reappear as if it struts and strides into traditional and mathematical systems that interconnect with culture. He has a joyous approach to colour and uses natural pigments and oils, graphite and ink materials." James received a Master of Fine Art from RMIT and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Melbourne, and has been a finalist in both the Waikato National Contemporary and Wallace Art Awards as well as the New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Awards.