Sunday, April 17, 2011


Every year I put the SCBWI Summer Conference dates on the calendar. Every year, at some point, I cross them off. Maybe next year. The reasons for crossing off the dates? It's a long way to travel, a chunk of change and a lot of logistics, but even more importantly - it's a huge commitment I don't want to make unless I'm ready and the conference line-up fits me.

This year my portfolio is more ready than ever. Never have I anticipated the opening of SCBWI Summer Conference registration the way I did this year. I was so eager to see the line-up. Would this be the year? April 15th was the day to find out.

That morning I went about my business, but had my eye on the clock as it ticked closer to opening time at 10:00. The conference web page was already on my computer. Twitter was alive with the same kind of anticipation. And then…finally…it was 10:00. ACK! Nothing happened. I stared even harder at the screen while clicking refresh. Refresh! Refresh! Nothing. With some navigation I finally got to another page with the information I was waiting for.

The workshop that immediately jumped out at me was Creating Book Cover Art by Laurent Linn. Exactly what I've been looking for and as a bonus I know how great Laurent Linn is at presenting his expertise in an encouraging way. There were also speakers like Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky and Richard Jesse Watson - all illustrators who have elements in their work I greatly admire. As if that weren't enough - the list of illustrators, authors and publishers went on and on to fill up 3 full days. It was an amazing line-up, but I knew it would be the fourth day of optional illustrator intensives that made the final decision.

Clicking to the Intensives Page I found that 7 illustrators would be giving 7 hours of demonstrations with time for questions. HOLY SMOKES! As I saw the names, the dates etched themselves deeper and deeper into my calendar. For me, Kadir Nelson topped the list. His illustrations in Ellington Was Not a Street, Coretta Scott and Henry's Freedom Box are favorites of mine. If he alone were giving a demonstration, that would have been enough, but Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky, Richard Jesse Watson, Marla Frazee, David Small and Denise Fleming would also be giving demos. But wait! The list of demonstration moderators was equally impressive with E. B. Lewis, David Diaz, Priscilla Burris, Pat Cummings and Cecilia Yung.  I couldn't see straight!

Everything about the conference fit, just how the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program fit two years ago. And everything about the cost didn't fit. Just like the Mentor Program. Money can always be a reason for not doing something, but I don't think it's a good enough reason to give up before even trying - especially when the opportunity is so great. I pondered this as I stared at the registration form on the screen. It auto-filled from my SCBWI membership information. Just for fun, I clicked the conference options I wanted - Individual Portfolio Consultation, Juried Portfolio Showcase, Post-Conference Intensive for Illustrators. The cursor flashed, the submit button loomed large. I closed the window and walked away…four times. But I came back. And although I could feel that I was beginning to hyperventilate slightly, I hit the submit button, made sure my email receipt arrived and shut the computer.

A sense of elation filled me, along with a woozy hot feeling and the continuing urge to hyperventilate. (I think that woozy hot thing was because I was actually sick.) I still have to figure out how to pay for the conference, travel and lodging. Am I worried? Judging by the way I didn't sleep, yes. I was crunching numbers and formulating plans all night. I have some ideas and a month to figure it out before the penalties of canceling become too great.

So, here I am once again approaching a stream crossing like I did two years ago. Is it time to turn up the volume and take another chance on the unknown? Or will I dip a toe and go back to what's familiar? Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Overall, the 2011 SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference was excellent. As usual - our North Central California team did a great job. Here is a summary of the day.

There was never a dull moment during Bruce Coville's talk. He moved around animatedly, kept the crowd laughing and at one point enthusiastically jumped up on a chair to make a point. He was definitely a dynamic speaker with a lot to share about his journey as a writer.

The Magazine Workshop with Appleseeds editor, Susan Buckley and illustrator, Domenic Catalano was excellent. The editor and illustrator processes for a project were seen side by side from start to finish. What a great idea. It was an excellent opportunity for illustrators to see another part of the industry.

Picture Book Master Classes I and II by Domenic Catalano were very good. He didn't jump up on any chairs, but he was engaging and humorous in all the right places. It was very course-like in structure, but I enjoyed the academic points he brought up and he made me want to revisit Joseph Campbell's work on archetypes.

My Social Media Critique with Greg Pincus gave me excellent information on all my social media venues with solid next steps. It resulted in a quick and painless launch into Twitter. I love it. More on Twitter in later posts. (In the meantime...follow me on Twitter!)

And of course, as usual, it was great to see old friends and meet great new people - SCBWI veterans and newbies alike.

Portfolio Review:
I already paid for a written critique with illustrator/instructor, Domenic Catalano, so I was looking forward to hearing what the editors had to say about my portfolio. That was where all my anticipation was. I had worked on my portfolio for several months with this in mind. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for me in the group portfolio review. There were just too many cooks in the kitchen. It was a great line up with Random House Editor, Christy Webster, Appleseed Editor, Susan Buckley, Grosset and Dunlap Editor, Eve Adler and illustrator, Domenic Catalano. I was on the edge of my seat as they went down the line of portfolios, but there wasn't enough time for them all to speak. Dominic Catalano's enthusiasm and knowledge swept up most of the conversation. Although he had great things to say, I badly wanted to hear more from the editors.

By the time they got to my portfolio, they really needed to speed things up. The pluses - I was happy I put more black and white in my portfolio and I didn't hedge on what I put in. I wanted response - good or bad. Not one of my pieces was singled out as a bad one.  That was good.

The last comment on my portfolio was from Domenic Catalano - "Keep doing what you're doing." At the time, I was profoundly disappointed with this. I wasn't given a solid task. What next? Just keep doing what I'm doing? Once this bit of advice sank in though, it was great. It became decadent permission to continue on and pursue what I wanted to do for middle grade readers.

I know most illustrators at the SCBWI conferences are exclusively picture book illustrators, but there were numerous missed opportunities for discussing publishing opportunities outside of picture books. Now more than ever we all have to be more flexible if we want to illustrate in this industry. I happen to illustrate for kids 8+ which is already borderline for picture books. I'm always looking for information that will help me illustrate for the rarely talked about "older" kids. 

What Next? 
A few books to study.
I'm going for middle grade book covers and interior illustrations. No one has been able to give me solid advice on this, so I'm doing what I did when I was studying picture books except I'm in the older kid's section at the library. I'm driving the librarians crazy by checking out 20-30 books at a time. So far, I've looked at Tony Diterlizzi, Bagram Ibatoulline, PJ Lynch, Christian Alzmann, Sal Murdocca, and James Gurney because they are masters at what they do in middle grade books and their styles resonate with me. (Where are the female illustrators in this mix? I'm still looking.) I'll be seeing what each illustrator does that is different and similar to what I do. I'm looking at techniques, what POVs are successful, what reads best on the type of paper used, etc.

The Projects: 
Six years ago I read the Unicorn Chronicles series to my daughter. She was 5 at the time. I decided I wanted to make an illustration project out of it and do a series of black and white and color illustrations. I wrote out all the descriptions of the characters and set to work sketching likenesses of them from all angles in the most interesting scenes. Shortly after that, I joined SCBWI and began to realize that the focus was on picture books. I abandoned the project. Now I'm going back to it. I will also be doing interior illustrations for Ghost Writer, my 2010 Nanowrimo novel featuring my character, Adriana Fernandez. I'm looking forward to seeing where she takes me.

The Presentation Book: 
The final presentation book - an Itoya binder
What presentation book did the picky illustrator end up buying? Well, it wasn't the one I mentioned in my last post because the sleeves were too thin for the $60+ price tag. Instead I got an Itoya. I was surprised by their sleeves which were very clear and thicker than average with stiff page inserts to keep the bending to a minimum. The disappointment - the binder rings were the old style that snag pages when they begin to separate. They seemed tight at the store, but the permanent separation began after opening them the first time to put sleeves in. Because the separation was only on the top two rings, I was able to flip the book over so the pages didn't catch as badly. Of course, when I did that, there was an Itoya logo on the front. I covered it with one of my promotional postcards. Quality just isn't what it used to be...