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Catching Up with Charlie Mackesy, Author of “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse”

You’ve seen the art, now meet the artist!

Illustration by Charlie Mackesy, image courtesy of Penguin Random House UK.

Chances are, you’ve seen his work on social media – distinctive ink drawings featuring an inspirational quote and a cast of characters made up of a boy, horse, fox and mole. Maybe you’ve heard he’s releasing a book soon.

Either way, you’ve probably encountered UK-based artist Charlie Mackesy’s work recently. But, what do you know about the artist himself? We caught up with Mackesy via email and discussed how he started, his future plans, and more!

When asked how he got started in art, Mackesy said, “I have always drawn. I drew horses when I was six. It has always been there, it was never a career option and it’s never on the smorgasbord of choice at school, is it? Either you’re going to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or a teacher, but you’re never going to be an artist. I still don’t think I’m [an] artist, I still think every day I’ll have to do a proper job tomorrow. But I got started [when] my best friend Jamie was killed when I was 18, and I just decided to start drawing because it helped me. Like Forrest Gump, I didn’t stop. So, it’s quite a strange way to start, I suppose.”

Illustration by Charlie Mackesy, image courtesy of Penguin Random House UK.

On horses and whether or not he’s horsey, considering his work features horses, Mackesy said, “I shared a horse with my mum when I was about 10, called JohnJo. He was really kind, the kindest animal. I always assume that dogs, a Labrador was kind, but Jo had that temperament of softness and kindness. He also went like a rocket. I loved riding him.”

On riding Mackesy continued, “My sister is a brilliant equestrian, she trains horses. I loved it when I was little and then I saw my sister really excel in it and I suppose I did less of it and went into art.”

“I draw her horses,” he added. “I’ll sit in a field and draw them and photograph them and sit with them. Especially when they are lying down, I really love lying down next to a horse. There is something really beautiful about all that power just resting horizontally. I think horses remind us, in this serious world as adults, how to play and be free and to move within landscape. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and be part of and experience.”

Mackesy started drawing the characters featured in “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse” two years ago. “I have illustrated a lot of books, and I’d just finished illustrating a book,” said Mackesy, “and I’d gone back into that mode of ink and watercolor again, after making sculptures and big, surly, rough things. So, I thought, ‘I’ll just give this a whirl’ and slowly they emerged as I was drawing.”

“Then a vague narrative happened around them and I was processing a lot of questions at the time about life and existence and I decided to put those thoughts into conversation,” Macksey continued. “They were generally questions that we don’t necessarily talk about. What’s the point of life? Why are we here? What do you think success is? All those things. I thought, ‘if I got run over tomorrow, what would I like to say?’ So I made the book.”

Mackesy has worked in a variety of mediums, but for books he mainly works in ink, saying, “I think for me it’s just the best way of illustrating. I like the certainty and darkness of ink, the clarity of it, the fluidity of it and the variation of thickness in a line. It can be very delicate and then suddenly thumping thick, so it’s quite an expressive medium for me. It’s great to put color over the top of, too.”

Illustration by Charlie Mackesy, image courtesy of Penguin Random House UK.

When asked why he believes his work has become so popular, why it resonates with people, Mackesy said, “Maybe it helps people remember what it’s like to be a child. Maybe the world is complicated and quite frightening and there is a simplicity to it perhaps, and some people can take comfort from it. Politically and environmentally we are in a very precarious place and fear and uncertainty are louder than they have been in a long time. I genuinely don’t know. I think that’s a question for other people to answer.”

On the popularity of his work, Mackesy said, “It feels quite strange and surreal,” adding, “I still haven’t quite connected with the reality of it. A lot of my working life, I’ve illustrated books for other people, so to suddenly see my name on a book is very odd. It makes me wake up in the middle of the night feeling scared, but also excited. I have no idea what people are going to think of the book at all. But I hope some people like it, I hope they are not disappointed by it!”

Finally, we discussed what Mackesy has in the works; he’s putting prints online. “I’m really slow at getting prints online,” Mackesy said. “It’s unbelievable how long it’s taken me – years!”

Future works, he said, will include “a mix of drawings, some from the book, some other ones that are not in the book, some that I made prints of years ago but haven’t yet put online.”

“It will be a variety of things, but I’m not exactly sure – it will all be around the four characters,” he continued.

As for “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse?“I think the four will stay as a four,” Mackesy said, “but they’ll meet other characters, like a Penguin or a Polar Bear. Hopefully, I’ll do another book. I think that they might meet a lady who denies them cake and they’ll make friends with her, I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

The US edition of “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse,” will be released October 22. You can follow Mackesy’s work online at charliemackesy.com or via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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