Sunday, September 18, 2011


In my past portfolio critiques I have received nice compliments on my technique, composition and palette. In the end I usually hear something like this, "Keep doing what you're doing. Soon you will be published." I must admit - I float away from critiques like this with a special shiny feeling, but that soon gives way to the nagging feeling that something fundamental is missing from my illustrations for the children's market and finding "IT" would set me free...

A good start:
My critique with Marla Frazee at the SCBWI LA Conference was different from any other critique I've had and it was by far the most useful. In 20 minutes Marla learned about my illustration background, assessed my work and gave me direction.

The tip of the iceberg: 
Marla said, "If you hear something 3 or more times about your work, really pay attention to what's going on." I hear over and over that my palette is unusual, unique. I heard it again from Marla. It's always a relief to hear that my palette is alive and kicking. The many color theories I studied in college totally confounded me - as did every other art theory. Thankfully, my palette is a completely intuitive part of how I speak visually. Chalk one up to my quest for "IT".

The gift:
Marla went on to talk about the same aspects my other critiques have in the past, but then she gave me a priceless gift. She identified the best pieces in my portfolio (seen in this post), why they were the best and why I needed to do more pieces like them. She saw a departure from generic character development in them and said, "Elevate the rest of your portfolio to the level of these pieces." It was then that I realized what these three pieces had in common. I hadn't relied on photo references to develop the characters. I was inside every one of the characters as I drew them - making the movements, feeling the emotions and making adjustments until - as Marla puts it - I recognized them.

I left my critique with a little bit of that special shiny feeling, but it was different this time. I wasn't floating away. My feet were firmly planted on the ground. I received confirmation on my movement away from photo references and into a new world that resides solely in my head. I love this place, but I had no idea anyone else would enjoy it too. There is something fundamentally solid and comforting about that that isn't in the least bit shiny. In fact, it is a well weathered place with a rather unusual patina and the most interesting cracks. It's a place I want to hang out in...and draw...

Saturday, September 3, 2011


"Anyone seen my voice?"
My big unexpected takeaway from the LA conference was clarification of what voice is in illustration. Exploration began in a conversation with another illustrator on the hotel shuttle and it continued with every single speaker at the conference. I observed examples of voice over and over from every angle imaginable and it finally began to sink in. Although no one came out and said these exact words, I came away with the idea that voice transcends style. Style can be emulated, but voice is the soul of the illustrator's work that is totally unique.

In my portfolio critique Marla Frazee singled out my four best pieces and the departure she saw from generic character development to a deeper love and knowledge of the characters and their environment. This distinction made it clear that the way I use my materials defines my style, but my voice is just beginning to develop.

In so many ways I heard, "voice involves doing what you love and loving what you do". Especially important are the things we persist in doing, beyond reason, because they nurture us. I saw a wonderful example of this at the illustrator intensives when Marla Frazee applied color to an illustration background with a tiny tiny brush. Murmurs went up around me. "Why is she using such a tiny brush?" Her answer - "because". She said it's a bit like "emptying a swimming pool with a spoon". There are tools which would get the job done faster, but they wouldn't feel right and none would create the feeling of meditation that accompanies her tiny brush.

No amount of technique, palette or composition can take the place of the elusive voice that bubbles up from deep inside the illustrator. Can I illustrate without it? Absolutely, but I was craving to understand what my work was missing and this conference supplied that knowledge. My quest for voice has just begun.