Tag Archives: Illustrator

Illustrator Illuminations: Beegee Topla

Beegee

I was excited to have the chance to interview Beegee Topla. She is the very talented illustrator behind THE WINNIE YEARS series’ covers and has illustrated picture books, such as EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU and THE SMALLEST TREE.

Winnie

Middle Grade Mafia: When you get hired to illustrate cover and/or interior art, do you read the book or skim to get an idea?

Beegee Topla: If they give me the manuscript, and the deadline for the art permits, yes, I will absolutely read the book. In the case of the Winnie books (Lauren Myracle), I was hooked right from the first chapter. I’m always excited to see where her story goes.

MGM: How much direction do you get from the art director or editor?

BT: I love when I’m given a clear direction for the art. Especially with a book (as opposed to a magazine article), there are so many ways you can take the cover art. Usually the editor has an idea for the best way to market a book before they even contact the illustrator.

MGM: Have you also illustrated picture books and if so, how is that different from mid-grade novels?

BT: A few years back I illustrated a pop-up book called Everyone Says I Love You (not to be confused with the Woody Allen musical of the same name!). That was really fun because it was a true collaboration with the paper engineer. I am still trying to find a way to do another one with him soon (Michael Caputo–paper engineer extraordinaire!). Illustrating for mid-grade novels can be tricky because you are often dealing with somewhat grown-up subjects but the style needs to appeal to younger children as well. If a book is for a reading level for ages 11-13, that is a big range of maturity.

MGM: Do you have an agent or art rep? If so, where and how did you meet or did you connect online?

BT: When I decided to strike out on my own as an illustrator over 12 years ago (!), I contacted a few reps who had artists I particularly liked. I made a connection with Sally Heflin online and she graciously took me in! I’ve been with her ever since.

MGM: How would you describe your style?

BT: Playful. Colorful. Whimsical. Clean.

MGM: Where did you get your artistic training?

BT: I studied illustration at Parsons School of Design. But this was before computers were part of the curriculum. Yes, that long ago! So as for my “digital education”, I am mostly self-taught. But it just takes a lot of “doing” to finally get your style to be where it wants to be.

MGM: How do you keep your illustrations fresh?

BT: Look at everything. Find other artists whose work you admire and just soak it in. There may be one tiny thing they do that you can use and it might transform your work.

MGM: What is your favorite media to use?

BT: I use Illustrator for all my professional work. It just can’t be beat for making changes easily and that is so important when you’re pleasing a client. But I do a lot of drawing with my daughters and we usually use crayons. There’s something wonderful about the permanence of crayons. Wax cannot be undone.

MGM: Please share a little about your process with us?

BT: You know, when an assignment comes in, you just have to do it. I can’t wait for inspiration to strike or to feel “ready” to work. I have small children and my work time is limited. If a client has hired you, they already love your work, so do the job, hit the deadline and be amenable to changes. It sounds boring, but that is honestly the best way to get hired again.

MGM: Where do you like to work or what is your studio space like?

BT: We just moved to a new home, so right now my studio is in the dining room! I’m looking at a lot of unpacked boxes right now. I really don’t need a special space to work. Any pretense I had about “my own space” went out the window when I became a mother.

MGM: Do you have a favorite snack to nosh on while you illustrate?

BT: Not particularly. I try to stay away from soup or cereal when I work. No spoons near the keyboard!

I want to thank Beegee for taking the time to answer our questions. If you want to see more of her work, visit her website or visit the Heflinreps site.

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Illustrator Illuminations: Stephanie Graegin

steph

In our ongoing illustrator series, we had the awesome opportunity to interview the wonderful Stephanie Graegin. She has created beautiful cover art for book such as DON’T FEED THE BOY and THE ART OF FLYING.

dont feed the boy

Middle Grade Mafia: When you get hired to illustrate cover and/or interior art, do you read the book or skim to get an idea?

Stephanie Graegin: I read the entire book, first to see if it’s a book that I would enjoy illustrating.  I then read it a second time to decide what scenes would be best to illustrate. Skimming may occur during the 3rd reading, when I am looking for details I may have missed.

MGM: How much direction do you get from the art director or editor?

SG: It varies with each book. Most of the time I’m not given much direction until I turn in the first round of sketches. For a novel, I usually pick the scenes I would like to illustrate for the interior. The cover usually involves the most direction and revisions from both the editor and art director and to me is the most difficult part of the process.

MGM: Have you also illustrated picture books and if so, how is that different from mid-grade novels?

SG: I’m currently working on my 7th picture book. Picture books are very different to illustrate than novels; the text is always less specific than a middle grade novel, so with a picture book there is more creative freedom to make the world of the book and the characters look any way I want them too. There is also room to add secondary story lines within the art of a picture book. With a middle grade novel, you have less room in interpreting the text. To be honest, a picture book is usually a lot more work! There is also the issue of color- a picture book being full color and a middle grade novel usually being black & white art. I do love it when I happen to be working on both a picture book and a middle grade novel at the same time- it’s very nice to be able to go back and forth between two different ways of working.

MGM: Do you have an agent or art rep? If so, where and how did you meet or did you connect online?

SG: I am represented by Steve Malk at Writer’s House. I am very fortunate that Steve saw my art work a few years ago on an Illustrationmundo blog posting and contacted me.

MGM: How would you describe your style?

SG: Classic, with a modern twist.

MGM: Where did you get your artistic training?

SG: I studied Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore MD.  I later got an MFA in Printmaking from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.

MGM: How do you keep your illustrations fresh?

SG: I try to do a sketchbook drawing of something that is just for me (not a hired project) every day.

MGM: What is your favorite media to use?

SG: 2B .05 graphite mechanical pencil on a Moleskine sketchbook.

MGM: Please share a little about your process with us?

SG: I draw in pencil on paper, and scan those drawings into the computer. I then make lots and lots of texture layers on frosted mylar using crayon, watercolor, colored pencil and ink. I scan those in and then assemble and color everything in Photoshop. For black & white art, I work in pencil and sometimes ink on paper.

MGM: Where do you like to work or what is your studio space like?

SG: My favorite place to draw is my kitchen table, there’s great light and it’s easy to make tea. My apartment is pretty much all working studio space – I work out of both my living room and kitchen.

MGM: Fun Question: Do you have a favorite snack to nosh on while you illustrate?

SG: Back to Nature Peanut Butter Creme cookies. They are addictive, I always have a box at home.

I would like to thank Stephanie for taking the time to answer our questions. You can see more of her work on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Illustrator Illuminations – Gilbert Ford

Gilbert

The Mafia’s resident illustrator, Alison Hertz recently had the pleasure of interviewing the great Gilbert Ford. You may have seen his artwork gracing MG titles such as THREE TIMES LUCKY, ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, and PETER NIMBLE & HIS FANTASTIC EYES.

3timeslucky1

Middle Grade Mafia: When you get hired to illustrate cover and/or interior art, do you read the book or skim to get an idea?

Gilbert Ford: I take the weekend to read the book, jotting down notes that may be relevant as I read.

MGM: How much direction do you get from the art director or editor?

GF: They usually tell me what pieces of mine they like from my website when they hire me. Since I am known for reading the manuscripts, I send initial sketches of three or four ideas. The first idea is what they requested and the other concepts are my ideas only for the eyes of the editor and the art director. Then we do the “official sketches” once they have seen my ideas and approved a direction. Sometimes I’m micro managed, other times they give me more space, depending on how much is riding on the book.

MGM: Have you also illustrated picture books and if so, how is that different from middle grade novels?

GF: I have three picture books published and a few in the pipeline. Every picture book is its own beast and often times I find myself reinventing the wheel with each one, depending on subject matter and the age group being targeted.

With middle grade, the stakes are high but in a different way. Sales and Marketing have a tremendous amount of pull over a cover. If the book doesn’t sell, then the illustrator gets blamed for the book’s failure, not the author. So it’s always a struggle to give 17 voices ranging from editor to author to sales and marketing, a cover that we are all happy with. It’s also hard for me to create a new cover that isn’t like one of my old ones, especially if a lot is riding on the book being a hit. Everyone wants a cover like the New York Time’s bestseller.

MGM: Do you have an agent or art rep? If so, where and how did you meet or did you connect online?

GF: In 2007 I was designing and illustrating educational toys for Galison/ Mudpuppy while also illustrating freelance editorial assignments at night. One day I got an email from Steve Malk asking me if I would like to illustrate children’s books. He had found my website at the suggestion of one of his clients. He has represented me ever since.

MGM: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing more of your incredible work in the future.

You can see more of Gilbert’s portfolio on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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