VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bethanie Murguia

I'm really happy to present Bethanie Murguia as our featured artist this week.  Bethanie's picture book, Buglette, the Messy Sleeper, has just been released by Random House. It's about a little bug who tosses and turns while dreaming big dreams. I can't wait to read it! Bethanie has sent along some art from the book as well as other fun illustrations. Be sure to check out her website www.aquapup.com and her blog Bethanie Murguia: Sketchpad for more art and news!

How did you get started in illustration?
I have always liked to make pictures. As a young child, I spent hours constructing makeshift books and filling the pages with words and drawings.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
I love watercolor. I stretch 140# paper onto boards (either hot or cold press, depending on the project). I begin my sketches as thumbnails and gradually increase the size and detail. I transfer sketches to the watercolor paper with transfer paper. Then, I do line work with a speedball nib and waterproof black ink. I paint with Winsor & Newton, Holbein and Daniel Smith watercolor paints. I have favorite colors from each. I really love to do big, juicy washes. I continue to be surprised and amazed at how the colors and water work together. For better or worse, it’s different every time. 
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
Yes, I do both. I suppose the ideas come first. Then, they tumble out of my head in a mess of words, sketches and thumbnails.

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I am a stay-at-home mom. I have a few hours of childcare each week. In addition to those precious hours, I write and illustrate at night and on the weekends. It is difficult with children because their schedules are always changing. Just when I think we’ve found a rhythm, summer vacation comes along or someone starts at a new school with different hours. I think the key is to balance the “planning” and “doing” time. Planning time is essential, but it’s also really important to be 100% present during “doing” time, no matter which hat I’m wearing. I do not have this mastered. Yet (always the optimist).
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
I live in Sausalito, California, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I am about a block from the beach and bay. My studio is one corner of my kitchen. I do most of my writing at the local coffee shop.
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I followed various paths during my undergraduate days: engineering, architecture, psychology and statistics. After graduating, I moved to NYC and found a job in publishing. I became very interested in the MFA in Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts and enrolled. My SVA education was not exactly what I had expected—I had anticipated more formal art training. Instead, it taught me how to think visually and how to find my own voice. The amount I had learned wasn’t obvious to me at the time. With each year that goes by, I am more and more aware of how that education prepared me to be an illustrator. I’ve learned plenty outside of school too; I spent many years working as an art director.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My website is www.aquapup.com. My picture book, Buglette, the Messy Sleeper, has just been published by Random House Children’s Books.
Tell us about your current project.

I am working on a book for Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic for the summer of 2012. The working title is Zoe Gets Ready. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to reveal at this point. I’ll just say that I’m super excited about this one! (Perhaps that is always the case when I’m in the middle of a project.) As well, I am beginning on a companion book for Buglette that will be published in 2013 by Knopf.
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Lisbeth Zwerger, Jon Muth, Sergio Ruzzier, Ian Falconer, Mo Willems and Grace Lin to name a few.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Olivia (Ian Falconer). I love the world that she—and she alone—lives in.
What inspires you?
Writing is a great way to get your aggressions out. Is it better to stew over having to make the messy bed every day or to write a book about it? My kids along with my kooky sense of humor provide plenty of inspiration.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress, an architect, a scientist, a diver, a ballerina, a gymnast, a calligrapher, a city dweller, a mountaintop dweller, a treehouse dweller. And, of course, I wanted to make books.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I ride bicycles. For now, I just have an old beater that gets me around town. I also love to walk around Sausalito. It feels like a mini-vacation to go out and get lost amongst the tourists.

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
I’m pretty happy with my other job: Mama. Someday, I’d like to go back to school to study neuroscience.
Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
It seems that people get very hung up on style in the beginning. (I definitely did). However, I think it’s much more about figuring out what you want to say than about how you want it to look.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know? 
Yes! The pronunciation of my last name: it’s mer GEE ya (with a hard “G” as in “glee”). I think having three vowels in a row really throws people. It is rarely pronounced correctly. On the upside, it helps me to weed out telemarketers very quickly. There is a small town in Spanish Basque country named Murguia.


  1. wonderful interview, Congratulations on new book, Bethanie, love your illustrations,
    Kit Grady

  2. This has been a delight in words and pictures. Congratulations on your success and for using your talent for the enjoyment of so many others.

  3. Your work is so much fun. Congrats on your book being published. :)

  4. What a wonderful interview. I'm so inspired!