THE SMALLEST SNOWFLAKE Written and illustrated by Bernadette Watts (NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages…
GOOD READS WITH RONNA
GETS A 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY MAKEOVER!
MEET AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR BETH SPIEGEL
WHO DESIGNED OUR NEW HEADER
I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Beth Spiegel in 2018 at a children’s picture book study group. She told me she was participating in an upcoming artists’ open house close to where I lived. Curious about what she had produced over the years and keen on supporting a local woman artist, I stopped by to see her work. I was instantly struck by an illustration of a woman seated at a table in a bird’s nest hat. It could have been me if she’d had curly hair! Right there and then I told Beth that I had been eager for an illustrator to redesign the Good Reads With Ronna header for its 10 year anniversary and wondered if she’d be interested in creating something with a similar aesthetic.
I asked Beth if she could personalize the header with things I love including books, cats, travel and tea so they’d feature prominently in the new artwork. She agreed so we met and discussed the particulars of the image and the final version of Beth’s beautiful watercolor now graces the website, much to my delight. I’m thrilled to share the following interview highlighting Beth’s artistic journey and I want to give a great big shout out of thanks for her spot on interpretation of a kidlit book reviewer on the job.
AN INTERVIEW WITH BETH SPIEGEL:
GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Did you always plan to be an illustrator?
BETH SPIEGEL: Funny you should ask because I still have a book I made as an art project in the second grade and in the “back matter” I wrote …
“When I grow up, I want to have lots of pets and make lots of books.”
GRWR: What artists have influenced you or had an impact on your approach to illustrating?
BETH: There are so many. Looking at my bookshelf I see books illustrated by William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, Roger Duvoisin, Mary Blair and Hillary Knight alongside the contemporary illustrators, Matthew Cordell, Melissa Sweet, Sydney Smith, Erin Stead, Benji Davis, and Hadley Hooper. There’s great illustration happening now. It’s inspiring but also intimidating.
GRWR: Please tell us about the books you’ve illustrated.
BETH: My first book was Rosa’s Room written by Barbara Bottner and published by Peachtree Publishing Company. The opportunity came about because Bottner saw an exhibition of my watercolors of abandoned buildings at the Pasadena Museum of History. She says they inspired her to write a story.
“Bottner offers a heartwarming story of a young girl moving to a new house and a too-empty room … Spiegel’s softly colored watercolors are the perfect complement to the text, showing the transformation of both Rosa and her room … A welcome addition sure to calm the worries of youngsters facing a similar situation.” – Kirkus Reviews
Next was First Grade Stinks! written by Mary Ann Rodman, and also published by Peachtree. The story of a frustrated first grader pulled me in because I sympathized with the main character Haley from the start.
The third book I illustrated was written by Eve Bunting Will It Be a Baby Brother?, published by Boyds Mill Press. This came about because the art director saw my work on the “Picture Book Artists” website.
I got to meet author Eve Bunting a year after the book launched. I was a host illustrator for the Mazza Museum’s Studio Tour. Each year they travel to a different state and visit picture book illustrators that live there. I’ll never forget watching their giant tour bus pulling up in front of my studio house on my tiny street. Then 40 picture book enthusiasts getting off and amongst them was a special guest … Eve Bunting. I felt honored to be part of the Mazza tour and very happy to spend time with Eve. She’s very charming.
GRWR: What is in the pipeline?
BETH: To be honest I don’t know. Since the last book I illustrated, I’ve also started writing. In fact, I snuck a few of my titles into the painting I did for your banner. Look for Almost Flying, Excuse Me Mr. B., as well as The Yellow Umbrella, all of which I am writing and illustrating. It feels good to be doing both and am excited to start submitting them to agents and editors.
GRWR: What do you do when you’re not working on children’s books?
BETH: I take long walks. I recently moved near downtown L.A. so there’s new territory to explore. I love to get out to sketch and people watch. Travel is a passion.
GRWR: You’ve also worked on films over the years. How has that informed your children’s book art and writing?
BETH: I’ve been lucky to have received offers to edit documentaries for film and television. The majority were about subjects I care about … animals, artists and the environment. The most recent was “Pandas 3D” for Imax.
I liked editing films for Imax. The audience is young and one is challenged to find a way to express complicated ideas in a clear way fun way. While editing I also learned about pacing, and how to recognize those “story telling” moments. I think about all this when I work on illustrations.
Fortunately I’ve never stopped working on picture books. I joined a talented writing group a few years ago, that’s helping me develop my story ideas. I’ve also been working in my studio further developing/finding my “voice” as an illustrator.
Editing has been a great experience but now I’m excited to focus solely on making books. I love the picture book format. At best they are both simple and profound. To get that right, even a little, is a dream for me.
GRWR: What medium/s do you create with and does your process involve many steps and and any digital work?
BETH: I like to work in many mediums. Often I use pen and ink with watercolor, but recently started to paint digitally, which I like more than I thought I would. The important thing is that the medium suits the story.
I start every day journaling using pen and ink. Sometimes I write, sometimes I draw. Those messy marks help me start an illustration or a story and often get me going when I’m stuck. The painting of the lady reading, you liked for your banner, started as a morning doodle. As you see the bird’s nest was originally two mice nibbling some decorative fruit. Not sure why I changed it.
Here is what it looked like:
GRWR: What are some of your all-time favorite children’s books?
BETH: Oh there are so many, but a few are: Amos and Boris, Olivia Saves the Circus, Iridescence of Birds, Lost and Found, Little Gorilla and Hello Lighthouse.
My heartfelt thanks again to Beth for sharing her candid and interesting replies today. I’m looking forward to seeing what new books she will be writing and illustrating so watch this space!
- Interview by Ronna Mandel