Guest Post-Aja Wells recaps the SCBWI Portland Conference

In this guest post, Aja Wells returns to give us her insights and review of the 2012 Portland SCBWI Conference that she recently attended.  SCBWI is an organization that hosts conferences throughout the year across the country.  The goal of these conferences are educating writers and Illustrators and giving them the tools and opportunities they need to break in to the Children’s Market. So let’s see what she thought!


This is a little bit late, but on May 18th I attended the “Inspiration Station” SCBWI Portland Oregon Conference. This was my second local SCBWI conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, for the uninitiated), and my fourth SCBWI conference overall. I have to admit, I was a little bit worried about attending this year. The previous year was a bit of a bust for illustrators in my opinion, with very little usable or interesting information given out that applied directly to illustrators. However, I am pleased to say that this years conference was a wonderful experience.

Attendees were invited to choose from four intensive tracks to follow through the conference. The choices were Picture Book, Middle Grade, Novel, and Illustration. I decided to follow the straight Illustration track, because the Picture Book track focused more heavily on writing (though many illustrators decided on Picture Book and enjoyed it).

The first session I participated in was a workshop focused on character design. A lecture led by Art Director Laurent Linn explored contemporary children’s books, and we took a look at raw sketches with art direction notes. It was wonderful to see how the characters evolved, and how a healthy relationship between an art director and illustrator can create a beautiful unified vision. When we first registered for the conference, were were invited to participate in an assignment to provide multiple character sketches of either Puss in Boots, Rapunzel, The Mad Hatter, or another character of our choosing. I decided to do Puss in Boots. Mr. Linn gave brief critiques and suggestions to create stronger characters. It was an excellent, engaging lecture and I think everyone got a lot out of it.


Along the same vein, following was a lecture on putting emotion into our illustrations. Robyn Waters and Robin Koontz, both illustrators, went over some of the most famous children’s books and reviewed how the emotion behind the characters keep the story fresh and relevant for audiences over generations. Remember: Without emotion, there is no connection or payoff.

After a brief break, Ward Jenkins, another Portland illustrator, animator, and most recently a college instructor, gave us an overview of how his career has developed over the years. He also shared a few Photoshop techniques with attendees who were unfamiliar with digital tools. This was met with great excitement by many, and a lot of illustrators left with a better idea of how Photoshop can enhance their work. I have to say, Ward is just a delightfully kind person and if you do not know his work, go check him out immediately!


Next, illustrators volunteered to have their work publicly critiqued by the intensive panel. While many were nervous to have their work shown on the large projected screen, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and constructive. The idea of course is to recognize an artists strengths, and to help them discover ways to enhance their work.

I also signed up to have a personal critique with Laurent Linn which went very well and was quite helpful. Some suggestions that he had for me (which I agree with entirely) were to 1) add more detail to costuming and clothing, 2) Show more varied compositions, and 3) Include at least one sample of the same character from multiple positions. I have to admit I am embarrassed that I do not currently have #3 on my website! I have done multiple projects that have involved the same character, but I have not been able to share them yet. No more excuses! Time to make more. Remember to cover your bases with your portfolio: prove to whoever looks at it that you are competent in not only drawing, but color, composition, and storytelling.

The evening ended with a panel discussion on the changing market, along with book sales, critique group networking, and a lot of wine, cheese, and bread. This was also a time to share and hand out postcards, business cards, and the works. Here is a glance at my materials I brought. ALWAYS bring some sort of take away item to a conference.


There was a second day to the conference, but I felt that I had gathered enough information from the first day to mull over for a while. I am very pleased with how much our local SCBWI chapter has improved and I hope that I can participate at this conference for years to come.

If you are interested in learning more about SCBWI, please visit If you are a current SCBWI member, make sure to log into your account to discover what regional events are happening in your area.



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  3. Chris Jones

    Great recap, and I love your promo materials. I just recently attended my first SCBWI conference up in Canada and got a lot out of it


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