For Kyle Hilton, a little bit of magic was always in the cards. Growing up as an only child, Kyle used his imagination to keep himself entertained – especially through drawing. “I actually had a little drawing room under the stairs, kind of like Harry Potter,” Kyle said. “I could create my own world.”
That love of creativity followed Kyle, a Jackson native, to the University of Southern Mississippi where he studied art with a focus in graphic design. After graduation, he sought out freelance jobs and found himself – “sort of accidentally” – falling into illustration work.
A move back to Jackson and seven years later, it’s clear that Kyle fell into the right career. With clients like TIME, the New York Times, Nike, ESPN and Entertainment Weekly, Kyle has made a name for himself with his comic-book inspired illustrations. Kyle credits his national success, in part, to the power of the internet.
“I put my work online and an art director would see it, and then a small job at one publication would lead to a job at a bigger magazine, and it snowballed,” he said. “I’m still shocked when I get a national job.”
While he found success online, his artistic method is decidedly old-school: Kyle’s preferred medium is pen and paper. While he might use digital tools to color in an illustration, he enjoys the challenge of drawing by hand. “It’s so easy to fix mistakes and tweak on the computer to make your work look better, so it can be frustrating trying to draw with just pen and paper,” he admits. “But, there’s a quality and an authenticity in hand-drawn stuff that I like. There are imperfections – lines and ink spills if the brush isn’t brand new – and there’s something great about that.”
Kyle also thinks there’s something great about working in Mississippi. Like many, he was initially reluctant to move back to the place where he grew up. However, after making an effort to get to know Jackson in a different way than he had known it in his childhood, he finds Jackson, and Mississippi in general, to not only be a unique place to be from, but also a unique place to stay.
“It’s neat to have roots in a place and to grow with it,” he said. “Creatively, you feel like you’re a part of something that’s taking off instead of being just another person in, say, New York City.” He attributes Mississippi’s history, as well as its incredible potential, as providing the canvas for a creative hub he wants to be a part of. “There’s a lot of art from here – and there’s room to add to Mississippi and to discover.”
With his latest project, Kyle is certainly adding to Mississippi’s artistic prestige. Having previously authored and illustrated two books of his own – Literary Paper Dolls and Art History Paper Dolls, both from Chronicle Books – Kyle was asked to send some illustration samples for an upcoming young adult book. He was in for the shock of his career when he received an email back with notes from the book’s author – none other than award-winning actor Neil Patrick Harris.
“I was stunned – the pressure definitely doubled,” he said. “But it was a fun project and it’s a really good book. Harris plans to make it a series, so we’re already working on the second one.”
The book’s subject matter?
“It’s about magic.”
The Magic Misfits is available now wherever books are sold. You can learn more about Kyle at kylehiltonillustration.com.