Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m a kid’s book author and illustrator, with a “day-job” in film & TV. (Because one career isn’t enough, so I decided to have 2? haha) I’ve been fortunate enough to have written and illustrated 5 picture books so far, as well as occasionally illustrating for other authors and commercial clients like Starbucks.
I’m passionate about creating books that help kids address and discuss fear using superpowers like facts and humor. My 2015 book I’m Trying To Love Spiders won the 2016 Children’s Choice Award 3rd/4th Grade Book of The Year. And my 2017 book Give Bees A Chance was a SCIBA Award finalist, was listed in Scripps National Spelling Bee “Great Words, Great Works,” and was featured in the New York Times.
But don’t let that stuff fool you— I still pretty much I have no idea what I’m doing… ha!
Can you tell me about your new book coming out?
Heck yes I can! My newest non-fiction picture book addresses a subject that terrifies kids (and adults) the world over: MATH! It’s called I’m Trying To Love Math, and it hits stores in July. It’s chock full of space aliens, electric guitars and cookies… you know, math stuff.
Do you actually hate math in real life?
You know, writing this book really changed my relationship with math. It all started as a joke with my agent. My husband is getting his masters in physics (!) and keeps writing giant, rambling equations on our sliding glass door with dry-erase markers. I joked that I should write “I’m Trying To Love Math” to understand what the heck he was writing, and then my editor (the talented and wonderfully patient Tracy Gates at Viking) LOVED the idea. In the course of the book, I had a mathematician/friend answering all my stupid questions and explaining concepts to me (a genius named Erich Patrick Enke) — and he was/is so in love with and excited about math that I started to love it as well! Seriously! Math is so much more creative then I’d ever realized! Great teachers absolutely make the difference, and Erich was/is a fantastic one for how my brain works.
Did you always want to be a children's book writer and illustrator?
You know how Pete the Cat was walking down the street… and he just kept stepping in stuff… and then BAM - he had super sweet shoes? That’s basically my publishing career.
I knew I wanted to be a working artist. I wanted to “Wake Up and Make Stuff” and then be able to trade that stuff I made for goods and services. I had stories to tell, and images to make, and thankfully I also had great mentors in my life. But I wasn’t particularly choosy about which field I ended up in, as long as I was creating things, telling stories, promoting honesty & empathy, and in doing so, was able to pay my bills.
It was actually my agent (big hugs to Stephen Barr at Writers House!) who found my art and stories on a blog I used to have and told me they could be children’s books. He saw it first, and I was overjoyed with the idea.
It’s like Jim Henson said about working in the arts, “You have to be very very prepared… and very very flexible.”
How did you come up with your style of splotchy watercolor backgrounds?
Honestly, I made my first few books with all-white backgrounds because that’s what I find myself drawn to visually. My editor & art director wanted more color for Spiders, but just filling the background with a solid color seemed lifeless and not-in-the-same-world as the messy, gestural, energized artwork of the book. So I made a happy watercolor mess — a bunch of them, really— laid them into the background of the files, and VOILA! I liked the tone it set; it seemed really happy and full of life.
Can you tell us about the process of creating your books? Do you write the stories and then sketch them out or do the images come to you first?
For me, since I’m making non-fiction books, it starts with research. LOTS of research. There’s so much competing information out there, so getting to the truth is important to me. Then I start typing and doodling. I draw with ink on paper, but I also draw digitally in Photoshop.
I make DOZENS of extra pages — with full-on text and illustration— that don’t end up in my books. If I try to edit as I go I’ll overthink myself into stasis. So I just create, create, create. Then I’ll go back and edit. My agent knows about this process, so if he doesn’t like an idea he’ll ask, “Is there something else you made for this part that ended up on the cutting room floor?” and usually there is. There’s probably a more time-saving process out there, but this one seems to work for me.
Who is your favorite picture book illustrator and why?
Oh man, this changes all the time, there is just so much to love out here. But as of this moment? Everything Oliver Jeffers creates is inspired and filled with the most delicious layers. Kathryn Otoshi is able to evoke so much emotion within such a clean, simple, visual world… I really love what she’s doing.
Where can we find you online?
NEW Daily Art Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bethanybartonart/