Monday, December 13, 2010

Words of wisdom from the inspiring Sheilah Beckett

Canadian artist Sheilah Beckett is one of the great female illustrators of the mid-century. Entirely self-taught, she became the first female illustrator at Charles E. Cooper, a highly respected advertising art agency in New York in the '40s and '50s. Today, at 97 years old, she is still drawing (with a Wacom tablet no less) and, in 2005, she published "The Six Wives of Henry VIII". Among her other published works are included several Little Golden Books, a series of Gilbert & Sullivan illustrated songbooks and a paperback printing of Voltaire's 'Candide'. If you are curious to learn more about the career of Sheilah Beckett, I recommend this four part post from Leif Peng's wonderful illustration blog.

I first discovered Sheilah's art when I picked up a copy of John Fowles' Cinderella (Little Brown & Co., 1976) at my favorite Half-Price Books in Redmond several years ago. Upon opening it, I discovered the sweetest most elegant black and white line drawings I'd ever seen in a published work. I have studied her use of patterns and her characters' gestures endlessly (I especially love the way she draws hands) and frequently find myself referencing this book in the same way one references an anatomy drawing text.

So, even though her card came back without art, I love that she replied because I consider her something of a personal hero. And because her answer to the question was so lovely.

Sent: "What advice would you give a young illustrator?"


"Skip the waiting.
Drop the knitting.
Take your dreams to the drawing board.
And work, work, work.
Enjoy the battle!
You'll reap the rewards.

The very best of luck,

You're well on your way."


  1. you know.. those are the exact words i needed to hear right now. thanks so much for posting this.

  2. Hey Sarah,
    I need to talk to you about Sheilah's note above. Nothing big, but totally cool. Please email me at and I'll let you know what's up.