.........................................................................................................The final gathering took place at SMAC - St. Mary's Art Center in Virginia City, Nevada. It was built in 1875 as a hospital and has since been restored and converted to an art and retreat center. It has approximately 16 guest rooms, a big art studio, and various meeting and sitting areas. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed and given my room assignment with fellow illustrator, Kjersten Anna Hayes, who was mentored by Laurent Linn. It was a good match.
As more people arrived, we played an ice breaker game and learned lots of useful information about one another. For one thing, there wasn't a tattoo in the bunch. What are the odds of that these days? We also learned who could fly us out of there if the roads were closed, who could light a fire without matches, and who could ride a unicycle. Despite the lack of tattoos, it was an amazing gathering of dedicated children's illustrators and writers from all over the United States and beyond.
That evening the entire group of 30 gathered in the studio for introductions and to listen to Simon and Schuster Art Director, Laurent Linn and Atheneum/Margaret McElderry Imprints Editor, Karen Wojtyla. The information was very good. Afterward, I noticed just how nervous I was getting. Without having time to step back and view my work as a whole, I didn't have a clear picture of how much I had accomplished. I was looking forward to a good night's rest.
The next morning we broke into our mentor groups to present our work. This is when we learned that, along with the three illustrators in the other mentor group, we would be making a second presentation to Laurent Linn and Karen Wojtyla. (Surprise!) We spread our work out on tables and began.
In my group were Abe Bern and Diana Monfalcone. Abe is a writer who was working on picture book text about a girl and her kite. It was a beautiful piece. Diana is an illustrator/writer working on picture book text and illustrations created from historical events of the local region. Her subject wasn't the easiest to communicate through a picture book and she had done a lot of work to bring everything together. It was interesting to see how different each of our projects were and yet how similar the overall process was. This initial session was valuable for each of us to gain perspective on our progress. We discussed our processes, triumphs, and what we needed to work on. Feedback from Yuyi was really helpful, as usual. The areas in my project that needed work didn't surprise me. One of the most valuable things I gained from this experience was the knowledge that my sense of what is working and what isn't, is on track. I can proceed with confidence knowing I'm paying attention to the right areas.
It was nice to have the first presentation as a warm-up and as Yuyi said, to figure out how we were going to present our work to an art director and an editor. You've got to be able to think on your feet! So we did. I presented a summary of my picture book along with my full size sketches, a dummy of my book, thumbnails, the start of a finished illustration, and a finished sample of my work so they could get an idea of my style. Yuyi also added information that she felt was important. Feedback was really encouraging. I'm not done yet, but I now have information from three professionals that I can use to take my work to the next level.
Picture book author/illustrator, Jim Averbeck was available later to answer questions and give insights into the writing and illustrating process. Afterward, we changed scenery and finished out the day with a tour of the historical cemetery up the road and had dinner at Goldhill Hotel, the oldest hotel in Nevada (built in 1859). There were lots of entertaining ghost stories exchanged over the weekend. As you can imagine, everything in the area is haunted.
The last day, we were able to meet in our groups again and talk about what we all needed to do next. I still have one character that I need to sit with and develop some more. As with all stumbling blocks, there is great potential to create something amazing if the time is spent to push through the difficulties. Before I do that, I will finish one of the illustrations. It's an underwater scene that I'm really excited about. After that, I will complete the changes to my sketches in order to put the final dummy book together for my portfolio and future submissions.
I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude by the end of the weekend. My mentor, Yuyi Morales, had so much to share and went above and beyond to guide my progress throughout the program. I never expected to write a picture book and I wonder if she regretted that I did. If she did, she never let on. She was very patient all the way through. Even more important than patience, she didn't let anything slide. If there was something to improve upon, she pointed it out.
Of course, recognizing one gratitude lead to a flood of others as I thought of my family, supporters, the other mentors, friends I met, Suzanne Morgan Williams for lighting the fire under me in the first place and for putting great events together with Ellen Hopkins...I went on and on. Let's just say my goodbyes were not totally coherent and a bit sappy at the end. I still well up when I think of all the people that have been a part of this segment of my journey. Would I work those crazy long hours again doing sketches over and over until I couldn't do anymore? Absolutely! It was amazing. (OK. Time to go. I'm feeling grateful again.)
If you bought shares to help pay for my journey in the Mentor Program - the next post will have all of the Mentor Program artwork in it.
The end of the Mentor Program isn't the end of my journey into children's publishing. It's really the beginning. Stay tuned!