Sheilah's husband, J Frederick Smith, was also an illustrator during the '40s and '50s (an example of JFS' artwork below).
Smith had a good client in Esquire magazine publisher, Dave Smart. Sheilah explains that this relationship resulted in her getting the opportunity to do a cover for Esquire. "And Esquire and Coronet were connected - they were from the same publisher - and the art director at Coronet saw my work and began giving me assignments."
Based on the date of the cover above (1948) this was during a time when Sheilah and Fred were both at Cooper's.
"We were living in the center of Manhattan and I would put the baby and the artwork in the buggy and walk it over to the studio," she recalls with a chuckle.
But around 1950 - '51 the couple decided to move out of town to the countryside.
They didn't move to the artist's mecca of Westport, where so many of that era's big name illustrators lived and would have been handy to socialize with, but even so, "[fellow Cooper studio artists] Joe Bowler was near, Joe DeMers was near, and Coby Whitmore and his family were here for years and we saw them constantly."
Sheilah says, "Oh, I always wished we could be in Westport, only because I had so many illustrator friends there. We didn't have many illustrator friends where we were... they were hard to find." She chuckles again.
If Sheilah's work up until this point in her career isn't already lovely enough, its clear that during the early-to-mid-'50s she really began to establish her style.
You can begin to see it formulating in these examples from the December 1953 issue of Coronet.
Sheilah says she always loved drawing children's books and fairy tales and its evident in these examples that she was meant to do work of that type.
Her clean, appealing style and sense of whimsy is perfectly suited for that sort of subject matter.
I asked if she was looking at the work of any other children's book illustrators of the time for inspiration - like the popular Golden Books artists of the '50s, Art Seiden, the Provensens, etc. - but Sheilah replies, "Not too much because I work so very differently." I think it shows in her work. Sheilah only recalls doing a couple of assignments for Golden Books... most of her projects came from other publishers.
"It wasn't dependable," she emphasizes, "but you know, I kept busy all the time."
* My Sheilah Beckett Flickr set.
* Sheilah's son Sean has just set up a Facebook Fan Page, The Art of Sheilah Beckett where you'll be able to see many more examples of Sheilah's work. Become a fan!
* Many thanks to Flickr member Pennelainer for allowing me to use her Coronet cover scans near the top of this post!