Monstrous Honesty

By Jamie Degraaf

Bethany Barton dreams of having a pet dinosaur. “It would probably smash my house,” says the 30-year-old artist/illustrator/Angeleno, “but it would be awesome.” We like Barton because she draws robots, writes about monsters and unearths big emotions with concise free-form poetry.  Also, she was born in Chicago. Barton calls her aesthetic fun, messy, emotional, childlike and expressive. “I want to say what everyone is thinking,” she says. “I want to show how completely unique and original we are, and yet as just-plain-human as the person next to us.”

On August 8, Barton’s work will be featured as part of the EFFEN Art of Design mixology contest in Los Angeles. She is currently finishing up three exclusive prints for this event and is extremely excited. “I think what EFFEN is doing is great; artists and boozing go hand-in-hand,” says Barton. “And my mom never thought I could get paid to make art and drink vodka!”

The progeny of creatives—her mother an actress and father a journalist—Barton has dabbled in the arts her entire upbringing: singing, acting, art—the works. In college, she was artistically indecisive and changed her major some five odd times before ending up with a theatre degree from California State, Northridge.  Post-grad, Barton made the move to live the artist life. “I had been speaking other people’s words, singing other people’s words,” she says. “I just wanted to make my own work and say things in my own words.”

So Barton decided to live in her car, “because that is what artists do.” At that point, she lived what she calls a “buy sandwiches and pay bills kind of life.” It was her husband who encouraged her to make something more of her talent. “I was rolling around in the napkin scheme, always sketching here and there. He was the one who said ‘Maybe you should hang these napkins on the wall and tell people to look at them.’” Soon after, she bought her own gallery and began painting sets and making custom art work for commercials. She began blogging and posting new work on a daily basis, which is how her agent discovered her in 2010.

Currently, Barton is getting a lot of love for her newest project, a self-written and illustrated children’s book, This Monster Needs a Haircut (Dial/Penguin). She calls this her debut into the “kids-book –please-buy-me” world, and credits her agent for seeing protagonist potential in her drawing of Stewart the monster. With her first story, Barton aims to imitate her favorite children’s books: those through which readers can see the author, not those that try to do what they assume kids would like. She wants readers to say “Hey, I want to get a coffee with that author!”

Looking back from where she is now, Barton admits to having wanted to give up on her art, which her friends bring up periodically, saying, “Hey, remember that one time you were going to become a nurse?!” Barton remembers, and is sure it won’t be her only grapple with doubt. “I’m making loads of things and really putting myself out there, but then one day I ask ‘Is this working?’” she says. “But I continue to make art every day, terrible art, too. It’s how I figure out what is going on inside my brain. I have to get all the images out of my head or I can’t sleep; my brain will be like ‘Hey, you should get up and make this…right now.” We are glad that Barton listens to her brain and would be more than happy to grab a coffee with her.

EFFEN Art of Design takes place at Marvimon in Los Angeles on Wednesday, August 8 starting at 6 PM.