Today we’re spotlighting Beth Mills, the winner of the Portfolio Showcase at our Keep on Truckin’ conference in September! Beth is an author and illustrator represented by Painted Words and has her debut picture book coming out next year! She studied at the Academy of Art University and is also our very own North Texas Assistant Regional Advisor. Read on to learn a little more about Beth:
First off, Beth, you’ve got a book coming out in 2019 – woohoo! – can you tell us anything about it?
Yes! It’s called Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen. It’s coming Fall 2019 from Carolrhoda Books. Ella is the story of Ella McKeen, the “kickball queen” of her school. She’s the best! Her kicks never get caught! Until they do. It’s a story about losing gracefully, controlling out-sized emotions, and coming to terms with maybe not being the best.
What’s been the most surprising thing about the process of bringing out your debut picture book – anything you weren’t expecting?
Everything takes such a long time! The book sold fall 2017. I just finished final art this past July, and I turned in the cover about a week ago as of this interview. And the book still won’t release for about a year.
What influences would you credit with pushing you over the line from aspiring illustrator, to professional illustrator?
Definitely a few of the professors I had at the Academy of Art University, where I got my MFA. I went into school knowing I wanted to be a professional, but I doubt I would have even graduated without the instruction and encouragement of Sara Palacios, Victoria Vebell, and Angela Dominguez. Angela was especially encouraging and really made me feel like I had a chance at a professional career.
SCBWI has also been instrumental in getting my skills to a professional level. I joined in 2015, and have attended every conference and workshop I’ve been able to since then. It has been incredible to meet and learn from some of my writing and illustration heroes and have the opportunity to meet industry professionals, people I’d really like to work with one day.
Did you have a favorite picture book when you were growing up? (me, I read the covers off of Animalia :p)
Oh man, Graeme Base! I loved Animalia too. Also The Eleventh Hour.
My absolute favorites though, were probably Tuesday, by David Wiesner and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. I loved that Tuesday tells the whole story with nearly no words, and the illustrations are so beautiful and hilarious at the same time. The Stinky Cheese Man was the first book that showed me how interesting picture books could be–it isn’t sweet, or sappy, there are no heavy-handed “teachable moments”, and I was all about it.
I also loved all of Jan Brett’s books, especially Fritz and the Beautiful Horses. I spent a lot of time tracing and copying the illustrations out of that book.
I could give an extremely long answer to this question, so I’m going to cut myself off here.
Alright, fun question! Do you have any dream projects? Maybe a writer you’d love to partner with, a story you’d love to tell or another artist you’d just die to be able to collaborate with?
There are so many wonderful artists and authors out there that I would love to collaborate with, though by “collaborate,” I mean basically just watching their every move and trying to absorb their wisdom. Lee White comes to mind, also Adam Rex, Shaun Tan, Lane Smith, LeUyen Pham… again, I could probably go on forever.
I have so many stories I’d like to tell, some of them a little odd and probably not super marketable. I’m at the very, very beginning of my career, so I’m hopeful that I will garner enough success to eventually be able to do some of my weirder ideas. A lot of them involve monsters.
Last, but not least, if you could give one tip to all the aspiring illustrators out there, what would it be?
I don’t think I’ve done this long enough to give anyone a tip, but, I think persistence and practice are key. It’s so hard, but I think shifting focus from “getting discovered” to “doing the work” is necessary. I know it was for me. If you continuously try to do your very best work and take every opportunity to learn and improve and put yourself out there, eventually people will take notice.
Beth Mills is an author and illustrator represented by Painted Words. Her primary interest is picture books, but she does quite a bit of illustration for the educational market as well. Beth studied illustration at the Academy of Art University, where she learned how much she loves creating characters and giving them interesting stories. Beth is currently working on her debut picture book, which will be released Fall 2019. Beth lives near Dallas, TX with her husband, children, and too many cats and dogs. Follow Beth on Instagram beth.mills.illustrations, on Facebook Beth Mills Illustrator, and on her website beth-mills.com