Telling Tales

children’s book illustrator Peck puts career on display

Haley Wright

THE KID CAN HIT. Illustrations from a number of Beth Peck’s books, including Just Like Josh Gibson, are part of a new exhibit of her work at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center’s Janet Carson Gallery.
THE KID CAN HIT. Illustrations from a number of Beth Peck’s books, including Just Like Josh Gibson, are part of a new exhibit of her work at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center’s Janet Carson Gallery.

Beth Peck, a well-known children’s book illustrator who lives in Menomonie, is showcasing some of her best work in an exhibit at the Eau Claire Regional Art Center’s Janet Carson Gallery called Tell Me A Story, which runs weekdays through March 10.

“I think people don’t realize how much planning and sketching goes into making a picture book. I think this is what is so much fun to share with people.” – Beth Peck, illustrator

Peck has illustrated more than 20 children’s books by a variety of authors, including the likes of Truman Capote and Edna St. Vincent Millay. “I often chose the pieces for the show based on how much I learned doing them,” Peck said. “They are the ones where I learned the most. Where the journey and the process was the most interesting. I think people don’t realize how much planning and sketching goes into making a picture book. I think this is what is so much fun to share with people. And, it isn’t just me. All illustrators put an incredible amount of research and planning and thought into making a picture book.”

The process of becoming a working children’s book illustrator was not a one-step process for Peck. “I did not feel ready to be an illustrator right out of college – I had graduated Rhode Island School of Design in the Illustration Department,” she explained. “I grew up just outside of New York City, so I continued to take classes. I took figure drawing classes once a week for 10 more years at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. I studied for two years with children’s book illustrator Uri Shulevitz, who taught from his New York City apartment. I also studied painting and drawing for two years in the private home studio of Burton Silverman. I did all this to become better at drawing. While I was doing this I started to bring my portfolio to publishers and Harper and Row gave me my first children’s book, Sarah and the Dragon. I also started to freelance for a children’s book publisher doing work that was called paste-up and mechanicals—when everything was done by hand, not by computer.” After the success of that first book, several others followed.

There is an interesting story behind the favorite book Peck has illustrated. “I love the Truman Capote stories – they are so well-written – but I also had so much fun doing a book about baseball,” she said. “Truman Capote was no longer alive, but I can tell the story of how I came to illustrate two his stories. Just after college I took a night class at the School of Visual Arts in N.Y. The teacher gave us an assignment to read The Grass Harp by Truman Capote and illustrate a scene from the story. I absolutely loved the story and on my own I went on to read everything by Truman Capote. The only thing I had read by him was In Cold Blood. Well, I read A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor and fell in love with these stories. And because these stories were about childhood, I thought they would be wonderful to illustrate. Ten years later, when I had more practice being an illustrator, and my first full-color picture book had been so nicely reviewed in the New York Times, I think it gave me a little courage to ask the publisher if I could illustrate these Truman Capote stories because no one had ever done so. So that is how I came to illustrate two of Truman Capote’s stories.”

Peck is not currently working on any children’s books, but you can learn about her and the classes she offers at bethpeckillustrations.com.

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