The Free Spirit
Karly West (BA ’05) left CSU with a degree in Spanish and had no intention of using it.
She’d thought that the major would have combined three of her top interests in humanities, art, and education. But nearing graduation, she met the sobering reality that it wasn’t her path.
In fact, she didn’t know what was.
“I was kind of left with: ‘I don’t know what to do,” she said.
By chance, she landed at a bakery, decorating cakes. She had a natural propensity for anything artistic. Back when she was a kid, her idol was Jim Henson. And though she lacked any experience, she took to her work at the bakery quickly.
Molding the fondant sparked her interest in sculpture, which led her to launch the Republic of Cute, where she created and sold quirky wedding cake toppers and figurines.
But Karly knew she was more than a sculptor. The Republic of Cute had amassed a loyal following, even garnering attention from American Greetings. But she knew she was a designer, too. Surely, someone would hire her as a graphic designer. She just had one problem: no portfolio.
To create one, Karly pulled from another of her interests — folklore. She loved analyzing stories like Little Red Riding Hood and would devour weighty tomes dedicated to the study of folktales. But she knew others weren’t likely to share that interest and the only other option to learn the stories were in children’s books. There had to be a way fill that hole.
Her pet project would be to repackage popular folk tales in a book for the crowd who didn’t geek out at the exploration of the witch’s motivations in Hansel and Gretel. It would also be the proof to would-be employers that she had the requisite design chops.
“In doing all of those drafts, I just got more and more into it, and it became clear to me: I really want this book to exist.”
And in the absence of securing full time graphic design work, Karly focused almost exclusively on creating this new take on folklore. She calls it “The Scholarly Banana,” because — well — bananas are cute. And the glasses give him the air of an academician.
“I try to identify the stories that I think are the zaniest, most bonkers, just crazy stories,” she said.
Add to that some of the scholarly research, her knack for sculpting wacky figures and her design skills, and the finished product is a something you’ve never seen.
“This is the ultimate of everything I love, that is so integral to who I am,” she said.
It also lifted her out of the doldrums. Up until she decided to create “The Scholarly Banana”, Karly had experienced a steady stream of rejection. But finally, she found her fit. Now, she’s produced three books in the series: “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Juniper Tree” and “Fitcher’s Bird.”
“The best therapy you can have is to find something you really love,” she said.
“And spend as much time as you possibly can interacting with that thing you love.”