Before you read that, I want to mention why it's been four years of me doing essentially nothing to move forward in this field after attending the 2008 conference. See, I've spent that time fighting cancer. I've had several major operations, radiation and chemotherapy, and months of physical and mental recovery. I'm better now and I want to get the ball rolling again. I may tell this story in more detail one day, but for now, here's the 2008 conference.
SCBWI 2008 Summer Conference : What a weekend! First off, let me say to anyone who wants to write and/or illustrate for children or young adults... join SCBWI and go to the conference! You will find a wealth of information and inspiration that you just can't get online or from books. So, what did I learn and who did I meet?Thanks for reading!
I met Adam Rex, and if you don't know him you should. He's written a couple children's books and a young adult book, but he is best known for his illustration for which he's received numerous awards and recognition, illustrating everything from his many children's books and magazines, to his prolific career in fantasy art. I took his workshop and heard his keynote speech and I learned a ton and found a lot of inspiration (and a little despair - be prepared to work hard if you want to make it in this business). Adam Rex was the nicest guy (which is saying something when there were about a thousand really nice people there). He talked at length with me on a few occasions, was kind enough to praise my work and he introduced me to a few editors, agents and publishers (who I don't remember and I'm sure don't remember me). I don't necessarily expect anything from those meetings this year (I will in the future) but it was a great experience. I am so grateful to the incredibly talented and enormously funny Adam Rex.
I also met Dan Santat. You may have seen Dan's blog - he's got several picture books out and a new one coming that I predict will be very popular. He's also the creator of Disney's The Replacements. Nice guy, ridiculously talented.
I met fellow Illustration Friday artists David Billings and Deborah Mori. David was great and I love meeting artists whose work I admire. I also admire Deborah's work and ended up hanging out with her all day Sunday. She was wonderful and we had great conversations - I can honestly say I have a new friend with her. [edit: yes, still friends with Deborah!]
Now, a quick run-down on what I learned. First off, submit your portfolio to everything! I didn't do this because I didn't think I was ready. Turns out that I would have done well and my work would have been seen by more key people. No, I wasn't ready, but you can get such valuable critiques and connections. So, sign up more than a week [make that 2 months] in advance and bring this: A nice portfolio highlighting your ten [to 15] best pieces - remember that your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece. Bring postcards [or nice business cards] highlighting your best art with all your contact info for people to take while viewing your portfolio. Bring a book dummy - a book mock-up featuring pencil drawings (and one or two finished pieces if you like) - if you don't write, use a story in public domain like Aesop or Grimm. And finally, bring courage! You paid a lot for this and everyone there is expecting, even hoping, that you will talk to them. There are no dumb questions. Approach everyone you need to [or want to] with confidence.
Now, some things I learned from speakers and presenters...
Bruce Coville: Why are you doing this ? Keep asking yourself this answering in more detail each time. Children find their role models in books - remember that. Stay fresh", do only your very best, don't hold back for fear of not being perfect, start with passion, share your wisdom in your writing and illustrations, humor is most valued, proceed without fear and with great joy.
Mark Teague: The greatest rewards in the business come from kids - do it for them first, for you next, for money last. When illustrating, do lots of doodles before beginning, set the story and construct the storyboard and keep in mind: expression, body language, interaction, scene selection, perspective, positioning, direction, format, and transitions.
Adam Rex: If you want to make picture books, study a lot of them. See how they are made and formatted. See the different sizes. Check out the end-papers, the paper that forms the inside covers and sandwich the content - self-ended end-papers are included in the total page count, are the same paper as the rest of the book, and have illustrations on them. Look up these terms: spot gloss, spot varnish, foil, die cut - these make the production more expensive - front matter, back matter, byline, colophon, half title, and spread. Picture books are no less than 32 pages - for more, add 8 (40, 48… 56 or more are unlikely). Make a great dummy, pencil sketches, work the images with the text, include one finished image, make a great cover design.
I also learned a lot from Dilys Evans, Melanie Hope Greenberg, Cecilia Yung, Leonard Marcus, Diane Muldrow, and a whole lot more.
These are just highlights. I urge you, if you are interested in Children's Literature, to join SCBWI and attend these events. And remember - every artist and writer has their own unique style and there are never enough books - we are not in competition with each other so we should help each other without fear.
Previously: SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference