2011 SCBWI Oregon Conference recap

Day 1


Over this past weekend I went to my first SCBWI conference here in Portland Oregon at the Shilo Inn and met a lot of great illustrators. It was a weekend full of ups and downs. Lots of great information with a few duds thrown in as well.


Friday started out promising enough, it was a bright and sunny day here in portland with a nice complimentary continental breakfast for the attendees. That was followed up by learning they had split up the illustrators and writers for the first day. It was a good feeling to know today was going to be all about us illustrators. Leading off the day was a keynote from Susan Sherman, Art Director of Charlesbridge Publishing. Susan talked about her process for making picture books and she spoke about how her career started and all the amazing artist she has worked with. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak I definitely would do it, lots of good info. But the real jewel of the talk for me was towards the end when she showed us how she dummies up a picture book. The mock up showed how she thought the type might flow on the page so the illustrator can rough out their sketches around the text. Very cool stuff, even though it was an aha moment and a duh moment at the same time.


After Susan was finished we heard from a wonderful illustrator animator here in portland named Ward Jenkins. Ward had a wonderful talk about his process for making his illustrations in Photoshop. A lot of things I already knew and a few I didn’t. It was great to see how another illustrator set up his files and his work space in PS hilariously named “wardspace” (You know, its a play on workspace but its wardspac… Nevermind). After such great talks from Susan and Ward, comes our first dud presenter of the day and that’s really sad for me to say because it was the thing that I was most excited about all weekend. Interactbooks gave us mostly a sales pitch for their company’s new product as opposed to the promise of being able to make simple interactive books quickly and easily. I did hear a little excitement from some older ladies but for me I felt with such a great idea the product was not yet there. More on this in my day two recap.

Next was lunch. Sandwiches, fruit and pasta salad nothing too exciting, but it did make for a great time to network with other illustrators like Aja Wells, Mike Lawrence and Erin Koehler. Follow the links to see their awesome work.


Proceeding lunch was a WOW session. In this session the SCBWI Oregon staff gave us illustrators homework. Create three picture book illustrations showing a sequential story. The WOW session was a chance for editors and art directors to critique the three pieces you submitted on stage in front of your peers. I get sweaty palms again just thinking about it. My three submissions are below. Each time they would come to the end of an artist’s 3 images I would get really excited that I might be next, but no. Then after 20 or 30 minutes of amazing art, great art, and ok art, finally, BAM! My work was on screen for all to see. I guess The overall reaction was okay, no ouhhhhhs or ahhhhs like I had hoped, just silence accept for a few laughs. After 10 seconds or maybe it 20 minutes the panel gave their critique saying I need to work on my character’s faces but not much else was said. Well here, listen for yourself. I recorded the audio with my iPhone. Enjoy in my discomfort.


WOW Session Critique Audio

The day finished up with the last artist work being shown on screen and a “thank you and see you tomorrow.” Lot of hand shakes and handing out business cards before we all went our separate ways.


Day 2


Day two was definitely not as good as the first. First off, it was back to it’s normal overcast Portland weather. Its seemed right off the bat that today would be more about writers than illustrators. Both the illustrators and writers were combined for two keynote sessions leading off with a keynote by the editor of Golden books, Diane Muldrow. It was interesting to hear about the history of Golden books. Diane was followed by someone that I didn’t get to hear any of because I was headed to my one on one critique with Susan Sherman. For me this was probably the shining moment of the weekend. Lots of good information, good criticisms and most importantly a lot of good information on how to fix her suggestions.


After such a great critique, sadly I went to that interactbooks day two workshop on how to build an interactive book hoping for a better presentation than the day before. Uummm no. Their software for building books kept crashing when I started to make a new page and their iPhone app kept freezing on me. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that interact builders software has the proper UI for the beginner user, which 80% of our class was, and I don’t think it’s powerful enough for the power users to build amazing interactive books. I feel interact books rushed out their product with a very soft launch of only three books in their bookstore and a product that just was not ready for prime time. I hope, hope, hope that they figure this out because it is such a great idea. Good luck interactbooks team, I want you to pull this off!


The day was finished up with lunch and then a “networking session” with Susan Sherman, which ended up being another chance for Susan to answer our questions. The conversation started with a few stories about art directors she had worked with and a few interesting stories about artists. After that she opened up the floor for questions. Most of the questions were about digital books and where they would take the world. After that I thought the day was winding down and decided to pack up my stuff. Took one last look at the artists table where people had displayed their portfolios and left.


All and all the conference was good but not a A+. There were a few thing holding it back from being great but over all I enjoyed the experiences. Wow, that was long.


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