(Written by Courier reporter Jeannie Wiley Wolf. Story originally published July 13, 2018).
Trenton McBeth is just 24, but already he’s working at this dream job as a children’s book author and illustrator in New York City.
The first book he illustrated, “Stegothesaurus,” hit bookstore shelves June 12. The book is about a family of dinosaurs, two stegosauruses and one stegothesaurus, who adventure together.
“Stegothesaurus loves to describe everything around him using poignant synonyms,” McBeth explained.
In the characters’ introduction, for instance, each stegosaurus says “hi.” Stegothesaurus, their brother, offers “Hello! Greetings! Salutations!”
A 2012 Findlay High School graduate, McBeth took as many art classes as possible during the school day, then went home and painted or worked on digital art, making animations and computer games at night. He was also involved in the music department as a member of the choir and Findlay First Edition, and performing in school musicals.
“I don’t think I can pinpoint a specific time when I knew for sure I wanted to be an illustrator, but I’ve always been interested in making things and it always seemed like an obvious career path,” McBeth said in an email.
The Mazza Museum at the University of Findlay played a role in opening his mind to bookmaking as a career.
“The whole team there is so wonderful and it’s such a great resource for people in the community interested in writing and illustration,” he said. “I think they saw that as a kid I had an interest in art, and so they involved me in their summer conferences, art camps and Funday Sundays. They definitely shaped my desire to become a professional illustrator.”
After high school, McBeth attended Indiana Wesleyan University and earned a degree in illustration.
“I had several great art professors there and I made some long-lasting connections that allowed me to move to New York after graduation,” he said.
Life in New York City is very different from that in Findlay. But the big city is a source of inspiration for him, “and there also just so happens to be lots of amazing food.”
“Life in Findlay is a bit slower paced, and there’s more space… obviously!” he said. “In New York, everything is pretty much accessible by subway or within walking distance, which is nice. The cost of living is significantly higher, but being near huge cultural institutions like the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) is great.”
New York is different from what people imagine or have experienced during visits, he said.
“I do all my work from home, so most of my time is spent sitting at my desk in my apartment,” said McBeth. “I also live in a quiet neighborhood uptown, so it’s less hectic than you might think.”
The great part about illustration and writing is that it can be done anywhere, he said. Thanks to the internet, it’s becoming easier to get a career in children’s literature – even if you don’t live in a major city.
When he first moved to New York, McBeth worked as a personal assistant for a few different artists and photographers. In the evenings, he would tinker with a manuscript and create illustrations to go with it.
“After a year or so of working for artists by day and working on illustration by night, I finished a book dummy and sent it off to a ton of literary agents to see if any of them would have an interest in representing me,” he said. “After a few months of nothing but a bunch of rejections, one agent finally responded and said she liked my work, which ultimately led to me signing with her agency.”
The big advantage to having an agent is that she matches him up with manuscripts and projects that she thinks would be a good fit for his illustration style, McBeth said.
“The first manuscript she sent me which I loved was for ‘Stegothesaurus,’ written by Bridget Heos,” he said.
He finished the art for the book in a couple of months, but the entire publishing process took almost two years.
He said it’s surreal to finally see the finished product.
“My editor at Macmillan sent me an advance copy a month or so before the book came out and I couldn’t believe it was real,” said McBeth. “An even stranger feeling I get now is when I see it for sale online or in a bookstore somewhere – whenever that happens I feel like saying, “This shouldn’t be out here – this should be at home on my computer!’ It’s crazy.”
McBeth also has a few other projects in the works. His next book is the first in a larger series called “Big Words Small Stories: The Missing Donut,” which comes out Sept. 4. And the first book he’s both authored and illustrated is a Valentine’s story called “Robot in Love,” which will be released on Christmas Day.
There’s also a sequel to “Stegothesaurus” coming, he said.
McBeth said the work he’s doing now is definitely something he hopes to continue for the long term.
“I really love making books, and I’m so fortunate to be able to do it as my day job,” he said.
“Stegothesaurus” is available wherever books are sold, including major bookstores. It’s also available online at Amazon.