Fine artist of 35 years, Charly Palmer, does not believe he has yet created a masterpiece, and that is what drives him. His work has been both privately and publicly commissioned by many including the 1996 Olympics; McDonald’s Corporation; Coca Cola Company; the Green Bay Packers; Maya Angelou’s estate before being auctioned by Swann Gallery; and universities (i.e., Howard, Fisk, and Vanderbilt). In 2018, he was awarded with the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017); and has furthered his career in illustrating children’s books with the likes of the forthcoming My Rainy Day Rocket Ship by Markette Sheppard and the republishing of There’s a Dragon in My Closet (both via Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, May 5, 2020). The award-winning illustrator was also recently honored at the UCLA Regents Lecture Series.
“I’m driven to create a masterpiece and I’ve not done that yet,” Palmer tells So Booking Cool. “And so, my desire is before I leave this earth, is to create a masterpiece. That’s kind of the driving force because I have a vision in my mind of what this piece, whatever piece I’m working on is gonna look like, and I’ve never felt like I’ve reached what that vision was.
“But instead of scratching it out or cutting it up, I move on to the next one because I know what I produced is a strong piece of art and I know on many levels are pieces that will inspire and move others, but for me it wasn’t what I saw in my head, so I’m going to keep digging until I pull out something that absolutely wows me and I can say this is a masterpiece…but I hope that that doesn’t happen until I’m, like, on my deathbed because a lot of the times when you get to that point when you’ve created the best you absolutely can, where do you go from there? So that driving force is to keep creating until I create something absolutely great. But if I ever do that, then there’ll be no reason to do this anymore. So I’m okay with doing that for the rest of my life until I can get there.”
Palmer grew up in a household that prized drawing and painting. Because the talent ran in his family, he didn’t consider art to be his calling and even says one of his siblings could outdraw him. But Palmer would be the one to commit to art. When he discovered the book, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, he felt represented for the first time and marveled at the illustrations. High school was when he took art seriously and gained a mentor in one of his teachers. He would later enroll at American Academy of Art and School of the Art Institute, where he studied Art and Design.
When asked what draws him to projects, the Alabama native says, “It’s like, can I wrap my mind; can I wrap my heart around it? Money can be an incentive for some people, but there are lots of things that I will turn down because I’m not moved by it or I don’t think I can give my soul or my spirit to it.”
Check out the interview to learn more about Palmer including his thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic; why black people, especially black children are his muse; misconceptions about artists; whether he thinks trusting the ancestors is the same as trusting the universe; his thoughts on My Rainy Day Rocket Ship and There’s a Dragon in My Closet; other upcoming projects; his advice for aspiring artists; how he illustrates the same character(s) for a continuing series; and more! For more information and/or to connect with Palmer, visit his Instagram and his official website.