Cece Bell, children's book author and illustrator and School of Visual Communication Design alumna, earned the Geisel Honor Award for her early childhood chapter book Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover from the American Library Association (ALA). The Geisel Award recognizes authors and illustrators for "the most distinguished American book" for beginning readers. The award is named for Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. For her book El Deafo, she won the Newbery Medal and Honor and the Eisner Award
Bell's other books include I Yam a Donkey, Chuck and Woodchuck, the Inspector Flytrap series (with Tom Angleberger), Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit, Crankee Doodle (with Tom Angleberger), Bug Patrol (with Denise Mortensen), Itty Bitty, two chunky board books, the Sock Monkey series and Bee Wigged. Bell named her character, Jerry Bee from Bee Wigged, for the School of VCD's own Jerry Kalback, former professor and undergraduate coordinator.
Bell lives and grew up in Virginia, where she also completed her undergraduate degree at the College of William and Mary. She met fellow art major and future husband, writer Tom Angleberger, who is responsible for the Origami Yoda series, at the College. Bell earned a graduate degree in illustration and design at Kent State University and went on to do design work for a company that sold exotic pet products before establishing herself as a freelance illustrator.
Bell explains, “Children's books just seemed like a good fit for the kinds of illustrations I was creating. And since no one would hire me to illustrate their books, I started writing my own and illustrating those.” She now works as a full-time author and illustrator and lives with her husband, two children and three dogs.
Bell says being a self-employed author-illustrator has its advantages and disadvantages. “The best part is being your own boss, deciding how hard to work each day (or how hard not to work each day). The not-so-wonderful part is also being your own boss, hearing that little nagging voice saying, 'you should be working today' on the days that you decided to not work so hard.”
Work as a children's book author-illustrator demands not only a strong imagination but meeting deadlines, facing the editors' criticism, a good deal of waiting, and having work rejected from time to time. What starts as a curious and silly idea that comes to Bell during a dog walk may eventually be written on a slip of paper and tucked away in a drawer. Later, when searching for a concept for a new book, that small idea may be chosen, proposed, and if approved, will be edited repeatedly until the final illustrations are complete. From start to finish the whole project, Bell says, can take anywhere from three to nine months.
“The most difficult step for me is always the edits. The best part is the beginning, when you're figuring it all out and making that first dummy,” Bell adds, when the brainstorming takes place and the concept is still fresh.
Bell attributes her thick skin to the School of VCD program, what she considers a valuable step in developing her skills as an illustrator. “The design classes were a must for me. I owe just about everything to that program, I really do,” Bell says. “Everyone wants to see the students succeed, and those tough critiques were probably just tough love. Super-tough love.”
Having endured these critiques, Bell feels she was better prepared for a career in illustration, where the ability to sacrifice many ideas in order to arrive at the most successful one is crucial.
“If you're meant to do it, you're meant to do it. Perseverance is a must. Be prepared to do a lot of waiting. And while you're waiting, go ahead and start new projects!” Each rejection gives her determination and inspires her try harder next time, says an encouraging Bell.
By: Amy Breedon
Check out Cece Bell's tribute to School of VCD founders j.Charles Walker and John Brett Buchanan for our 2015 Walker-Buchanan Honors dinner, which celebrated the endowment of the prestigious Walker-Buchanan Founders Award Scholarship for outstanding students and was the inaugural VCD Alumni Awards named in honor of these industry legends.