This Is My America by Kim Johnson is one of the most-talked-about books of the season and we can’t stop staring at the gorgeous cover art created by artist Chuck Styles.
This gripping mystery tells the story of Tracy, a young girl who is racing against the clock to save her father, an innocent Black man on death row. When her older brother becomes the main suspect in the murder of a local white girl, it is up to Tracy to seek justice for her family.
In this Q&A we are going behind-the-scenes with Chuck Styles, who tells us about his process and his advice for aspiring artists….
This is My America is the first YA book jacket that you illustrated. What drew you to the book?
What drew me to This Is My America was the amazing story it was telling and the book’s main character. I have a nine-year-old daughter, Nala, and we make her aware of her history, social climate, and the injustices that she may see and need to understand. I was most definitely happy to be a part of this project, especially in today’s climate.
Your art is so detailed and beautiful. How do you decide the subjects of your art?
Thank you! I choose my subjects based on what story I want to tell at the moment. Sometimes I go by what the world needs in order to heal, feel empowered, feel loved. Channeling those emotions and needs first often helps direct me in discovering the subject for the art.
What is your process like?
My process always begins in research and energy. I like to learn about whatever the content is by doing historical research to get a better understanding. From there I begin curating a musical playlist of sorts that helps keep a specific energy for the duration of the art process. This greatly helps, especially when days have passed or my mood has changed and I can harness that energy to put inside the art.
What made you want to be an artist?
I decided to take my art gifts seriously in my early twenties. Having the gift to create visual artwork at an early age gave me the advantage to pursue a career in which I never saw creating as work. It was pure enjoyment. Not having any Black art role models to look up to growing up was another reason I wanted to be an artist. To give hope and inspire not only my children and my family, but to show my community that following your dreams is possible, even as young black creative who grew up in poverty with five siblings.
While you were creating art, you also became a barber. How did you get into it?
Barbering was a profession to which I gave more than ten years of my life. From age thirteen, I practiced cutting my little brother and my friends’ hair until I was able to work at a shop at eighteen. This gave me insight on being an entrepreneur and marketer. I began to build my barber career and win multiple competitions around the county, have celebrity clientele, and appear on television. Many of those soft and hard skills I learned as a barber helped me become the successful artist I am today.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Urban Art Gallery’s Art Buds Program and how you got involved with it?
Art Buds is a nonprofit program that offers free art classes to children ages seven to fifteen within West Philadelphia’s Urban Art Gallery, home to my first gallery show. The owner and those involved became family, and I made it my mission to give back to the gallery and the community that it served any way I could. I began volunteering as an assistant teacher to Shanina Dionna, artist and director of the program. Every eight weeks we would tackle both fundamental lessons in art and social topics to help give our children the problem-solving skills necessary for a better future. It has been an amazing four years dedicating a few hours of my Saturday mornings to these talented leaders of creativity.
In 2019, you started creating paintings digitally. Why did you decide to use this method?
My experience showcasing in New York and Miami and trying to sell $10,000 paintings opened my eyes to my purpose. My audience and the individuals who supported me, looked like me, spoke the same visual language, and were not necessarily in spaces and opportunities to financially support those kinds of works. I wanted to give my people art they could take home. Art that reflected our beautiful culture. Art that would not need any experience in the art market as a beginner collector. My decision to try the digital medium allowed me to create beautiful pieces at a faster pace and reproduce canvas prints that would be of quality and yet affordable. It was my way to provide artwork for my family and community and to help provide positive black images for households around the world.
Will you be illustrating any other book jackets in the future?
Yes. I most definitely hope to do more book covers. Visual art and other art forms help create iconic moments in history. Visual art with a great compelling story can live for lifetimes.
What advice do you give to aspiring artists?
Promote yourself as best as you can, as hard as you can, and as much as you can. The world and its opportunities for you are so much bigger than your neighborhood or city. Always stay open to creative paths that may open new possibilities and partnerships. Lastly and most importantly, move with purpose.
What would readers be surprised to learn about you?
I never wanted to be an artist growing up. And when I decided to pursue a serious art career, I was conflicted. Trying to be accepted in the large art world, I initially chose not to paint many African American people or faces in hopes of being accepted as an artist and not a “Black artist.” It was a period of self-discovery and reflecting on the kind of artist I wanted to be, who my art was helping, and what legacy I wanted to leave for my family.