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.
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!