This Kansas City artist’s love letters helped launch a career as a children’s book illustrator KCUR 89.3 – 71Bait

Charlie Mylie is in the middle of his next big adventure. Don’t wander around Kansas City – he did. Not even going on a 38-state drawing tour — that happened a few years ago. Not even in parenting, which he has been doing successfully for four years. Mylie’s newest endeavor is writing and illustrating children’s books.

Many Kansas Citians may have encountered Mylie during the decade he dubbed himself “Pop Up Charlie,” attending First Fridays and other local events to sell his sketches for a small sum or a good joke. His spectacle featured a grubby table, a cone-shaped gold hat, a sequined cape, and a cardboard sign that read, “Yes, it’s true! Pop Up Charlie can draw anything for you!”

While touring with the show in 2017, Mylie wrote scribbled letters to Sondy Bojanic, now his wife. This led to the concept of his debut book – 2019’s Something for You from Macmillan, a major New York publisher.

Made of soft watercolors and thoughtful outlines, both Something for You and the 2020 sequel Anything for You follow the journey of a mouse trying to express love for a partner through gifts and eventually learning that it’s the care we give another that really matters.

Mylie’s most recent project, Out on a Limb, released by Abrams in mid-February, was written by fellow Kansas writer Jordan Morris. The illustration style differs from Mylie’s first projects, this one being drawn in a moody charcoal gray palette with bright yellow accents. The story of Morris follows the story of a young girl with a broken leg, a letter lost on the way to her, and how she finds courage after a long convalescence.

The back and forth of working with Morris was a welcome experience for Mylie, who says it fueled his critical thinking in ways solo projects don’t, an opinion Morris shared.

“One thing Charlie says to me while we’re working together is, ‘You don’t have to say that because I’m going to put it into the drawing,'” explains Morris. “I think that makes the job better. It felt good (to work together) because writers and illustrators in the industry don’t work together very often. They are chosen by the publisher and each have their own vision, so it’s fun to develop a project together.”

“Out on a Limb” was inspired by the experience when Morris’ eldest daughter broke her leg and Mylie sent her a get well soon letter that got lost in the mail. When the letter arrived, the leg had healed; but Mylie’s letter provided Morris with a valuable opportunity to reflect on this disheartening experience with her daughter.

“Not every book should be read over and over again,” says Mylie. “Sometimes it’s nice to have a book to hand when you need it. Some books are tools, and the best are subtle tools.”

Kansas City-based children’s book illustrator Charlie Mylie is working on a new project at his studio.

Morris and Mylie are collaborating on another play, though they’re unwilling to say anything other than that it’s a lighter-hearted and humorous book.

Mylie sees herself as a creative person first and an artist second. Like many art school graduates, he is deeply disillusioned with an art world fueled by profit and replication. But that’s how the picture book industry works, which is why Mylie may not consider his illustrations art. Based on a term used by Aldous Huxley, he defines art by its “actual being”.

“You see an oil painting and it’s not just the image, it’s the texture of the paint and the feel,” he explains. “The size of the canvas in relation to your body, its presence. Illustration isn’t about presence, it’s about reproducibility, printability.”

However, illustration was not always his focus. Mylie entered the Kansas City Art Institute’s interdisciplinary arts program, then directed (and since discontinued), by Julia Cole in his junior year. Cole emphasized the idea of ​​art as a social practice, understanding it as a vital, community-building function that artists are responsible for thoughtfully sharing with the public. Cole became one of Mylie’s most influential mentors and was the first person to encourage him to combine his hobby of doodling with his desire to become a dedicated, community-focused artist.

Shortly after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2009, Mylie became friends with Debbie Pettid and Peter Cowdin, owners of the children’s book store Reading Reptile, where I met him because Cowdin and Pettid are my parents. In the bookstore, I watched Mylie undergo a thorough education in children’s literature. After Reading Reptile closed, Mylie worked part-time for six years as senior conceptual artist for Rabbit hOle, Pettid and Cowdin’s still under construction Children’s Book Museum (scheduled to open next year). There he met Morris, who was hired as a graphic and web designer at Rabbit hOle in 2015, and began collaborating with him on creative projects. After completing his final projects with the museum last spring, Mylie officially left the museum in June 2021.

When COVID-19 hit the US, Mylie’s biggest lifestyle adjustment was ending his personal pop-up act, which was a relief.

“Sometimes you just want to chat with someone and don’t want it to feel like a job,” he says.

Mylie finally had enough time to focus on his own books, and after the release of Something for You he decided to devote himself to bookmaking full-time.

“It seems really brave for an artist to stretch when they’re successful,” he muses as he creates the concept art for upcoming projects.

Self-described as a “people pleaser,” Mylie seems oblivious to his own independent streak. When he takes draft after draft out of his cabinet, the work spread out on his table is striking in its stylistic incongruity. Whether through pastels, watercolors, charcoal, pencil, ballpoint pen and paint, it seems that everything Mylie touches tells its own story.

Gloria Cowdin is a Kansas City-based author. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she is passionate about real estate sales. You can reach them at gcowdin@gmail.com.

Leave a Comment