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Kids Book Art: Celebrating Our New Look for Turning 10 by Beth Spiegel

GOOD READS WITH RONNA
GETS A 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY MAKEOVER!
MEET AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR BETH SPIEGEL
WHO DESIGNED OUR NEW HEADER

 

Good Reads With Ronna blog header artwork by Beth Spiegel

Good Reads With Ronna Blog 10th Anniversary Header by Beth Spiegel ©2019.

 

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.

Rosa's Room book cover art by Beth SpiegelBETH: 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

First Grade Stinks! book cover illustr by Beth SpiegelNext 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.

Will It Be a Baby Brother? book cover art by Beth SpiegelI 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?

Author and illustrator Beth Spiegel Photo credit Susumu Tokunow ©2019.

Author and illustrator Beth Spiegel in her studio. Photo credit: Susumu Tokunow ©2019.

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.

illustration of lady in hat with mice on top by Beth Spiegel

The Hat Fit Everyone Quite Well illustration by Beth Spiegel ©2019.

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.

Read more about Beth at her website www.bethspiegel.com and follow her on Instagram at BethSpiegelIllustration.

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
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Soaring in the World of Illustration and Falconry

 An Interview with Illustrator Tim Jessell

After reviewing hundreds of children’s picture books here at Good Reads with Ronna, we’ve seen the best in illustrations. Occasionally an illustrator stands above most others and really wows us. After reading and reviewing Tim Jessell’s wonderful book, Falcon, Debbie Glade was hooked. She was eager to ask the author/illustrator some questions about his spectacular gift of illustrating, what inspires him and what it is that he loves about falcons.

Tim Jessell is a master of illustration, having completed many illustrations for corporations, magazines and books. Among his many credits are the best-seller series Secrets Of Droon, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for the reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. Tim has been the recipient of many art awards including the Gold Medal Award and numerous Best in Show Awards from the Society of Illustrators and the Illustrator of the Year by ADWeek Magazine.

  © Tim Jessell. Tim Jessell’s love for falconry led him to pen and illustrate the children’s book, Falcon 

You attended The University of Tulsa where you earned your degree in Fine Arts. How old were you when you first got interested in art?

Ever since I could first hold a pencil I was drawing when the mood struck me. My mom tells the story of challenging me when I handed her a drawing of a stick figure on family vacation …in the car, on the way to Florida via Indiana. When I was three years old, she asked me to draw something I was excited to see from our Florida trip. I liked the show “Sea Hunt,” so I drew a scuba diver. The lore is after she questioned my stick figure (she was an ex math and art teacher – dual brain hemispheres) I grabbed the drawing back in a huff, and proceeded to draw and articulate a figure complete with diving tanks, bubbles, fins, etc. She was stunned when I handed it back to her.

What a great story! It sounds like your mom deserves a bit of credit for encouraging you to draw. When did you first realize you could make a living as an artist?

I wouldn’t say there was a first piece that proved I could do it. I just knew from an early age that I was born with an innate skill beyond most kids and that somehow, someway I was going to make a living doing it.

Amorak, another of Tim Jessell’s books – a story about how the wolf and the caribou became brothers

Can you describe your art style?

Realism with a bit of a twist.

Can you briefly explain to our readers the process of creating your art graphically using a drawing tablet?

I use a Wacom Intuos4 tablet. That is the real key hardware interface to drawing and painting digitally. It makes painting with a mouse feel like a painting with a rock dipped in paint. It’s very pressure sensitive and is wireless with no battery. It takes little time to get used to, at least for me. You follow your cursor on the screen with the pen on the tablet.

Have you always illustrated digitally?

No, I’m in my  ’40s! I switched to digital around 2000.

Does it often surprise people when they discover your art process includes using a computer, since your illustrations do not look “graphic?”

Yes. I fooled an art director just this past week. Looking at my web site he had no idea I was digital. I spent many hours tweaking brushes and textures to make it look “analog” when I sit down to paint.

© Tim Jessell. From his book, Falcon

It is truly amazing. I am impressed by your art for so many reasons and in particular wanted to ask how you accomplish such great success and realism with your use of light in your illustrations?

Thank you. Lighting to me is like the melody to music, it’s just about everything in my view. It can create mood, atmosphere, and point of emphasis. When I look at the world around me, I constantly asses light and shadow color, low light effects, etc. But ironically I look at Norman Rockwell, and virtually all his lighting is flat and camera-like, yet it is gorgeous. It just goes to show you in art there are rules and no rules.

How do you know when you’re “done” with an illustration?

Ahh, I guess one can get “OCD” about many details in a piece, especially when not being known as a “loose” painter. I can honestly say looming deadlines often are a big help in knowing when to stop.

© Tim Jessell. From the book A Night in Santa’s Great Big Bag  

I was so impressed with your recent book, Falcon and was fascinated to learn that falconry is one of your hobbies. How on earth did you get interested in falconry?

In the summer of 1986 my family and I took a vacation to New York (had our car stolen, so we got the full NY treatment). My younger sister and I were to meet our parents at a concert in Central Park. I thought I took a short cut to the park, but instead stumbled upon a statue called “The Falconer.” I had an epiphany right then and there that that was what I wanted to do – become a falconer.

Wow, that’s really quite a story – that a statue inspired you to that degree. How does one go about training a falcon, and what exactly do you train the falcon to do?

The training is basically the same for most raptors, but can be different according to what type of bird you are flying. The knowledge and much of the equipment design has been passed down for thousands of years, despite modern advances. This helps greatly, as one doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

As for training, birds of prey are like bird dogs in that what you ultimately want to do (hunt live wild quarry) is already inside of them. The falconer is really teaching them to allow you to be a partner and where to direct it, like with bird dog training.

© Tim Jessell. Look twice – Tim Jessell’s illustrations are not photographs, from Falcon

Where do you get your falcons and is there a specific age of a falcon that is ideal for training?

I get mine from falconers who are also breeders. Many falconers don’t like to train young birds. They like to start with birds that are several months old (chamber birds, we call them). Thus, they avoid all the bad manners of downy birds who tend to make screaming noises at the falconer. This can eventually lead to a falcon treating his trainer like a mate or sibling. But these “imprints” can make for very aggressive hunters. I tend to take the hard road sometimes so I like training imprints.

Can you explain a bit more what you mean by “imprints”?

Imprint means it was raised by a human, and the bird sees humans as either its parents, sibling, or eventually its mate. This makes the bird tame and relaxed around people. But there is a trade off – they tend to be very vocal (annoyingly so). This is a deal killer for quite a few falconers.

That is fascinating. Does training require any certification on your part?

Yes, I am state and federally licensed (passing written tests and facility inspections) and served an apprenticeship under a master falconer.

Tim’s book cover for Racing the Moon

Can you tell us anything interesting or surprising about falcons?

The females are all bigger than the males in virtually all raptors, and in general the males are not more brightly colored like in other bird species.

Do your children share your love of falcons?

They share an appreciation, but to the level of my passion, the answer is no. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt with many falconers’ children?

Hahaha! What advice do you have for our readers, one of whom may be interested in falconry?

Study and know your wildlife and the natural world around you. Know that it is a hunting sport at its core. If you are not able or have the desire to regularly hunt your bird, or have access to places to hunt, falconry is not for you. We are not mere “pet keepers”, though we love out birds like pets.

 

© Tim Jessell. Incredible attention to detail – from Falcon

And what advice do you have for someone who is just starting out and wants to become a successful illustrator like you?

Work hard. Have a well-rounded education in graphic design. There’s always room at the table for someone talented and dependable.

Can you tell us what book art projects of yours we may look forward to seeing soon?

I have a series of books I have illustrated for Random House called “Dog Diaries,” which young readers I think will really enjoy and another couple of series for Scholastic called “Pet Hotel” and “S.T.A.T,” which are tales of NBA’s Amare Stoudemire as a young boy.

Thank you, Tim, for sharing your expertise and illustrations with us as well as your fascinating passion for falconry. Your art is extraordinary, and we all look forward to seeing all your future projects. Any author who has his or her story illustrated by you is indeed fortunate.

Visit Tim Jessell’s website to view more of his art work. Click here to contact Tim.

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