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Highlights from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference

Over the weekend of September 12-14, Nashville Tennessee hosted the Midsouth regional SCBWI conference. The faculty included editors, agents, and art directors from a variety of publishing houses plus writers and illustrators from the kid lit world. I always sound like a broken record but I really think joining and participating in SCBWI conferences are a must for illustrators trying to break into the kid lit biz. From all my pages of notes here are my top 5 from the sessions I attended:

1) Pay attention to all your characters and love your villain. Don’t relegate the secondary characters in your story to props. This was from keynote speech by Gennifer Choldenko, author of Al Capone Does My Shirts. From an illustrator perspective this means give the secondary characters just as much detail and expression as the main character.

2) Every tweet is in the Library of Congress. Whoa, what? This was from a session on social networking and building your brand with literary agent, Lauren MacLeod. What does it have to do with an illustration career? It means what you tweet could literally last longer than what you say or write anywhere else. Just something to keep in mind as we network online.

3) From Workman publishing director Daniel Nayeri’s session on “How To Make Interesting Art” I wrote down “nearly everything is art but not everything is interesting.” Nayeri urged artists to determine for themselves what the conversation of our age is (consumerism? sensationalism? meta-theism?) and have our art inform one side or the other of the conversation. This session was intense, almost like a college art and philosophy class. Now that I’ve had a week to mull over my notes I believe this goes back to the concept of ‘voice’ in art. Is for own voice shaped enough so that your art looks like no one else’s?

4) On Sunday I attended a panel with agent Rosemary Stimola, author illustrator Amanda Driscoll, and editor Kelly Delaney of Random House where they discussed the spark and creation of Driscoll’s debut picture book Duncan the Story Dragon. While little of the text changed from acquisition through edits, Delaney urged Driscoll to push Duncan’s character through some extreme changes. Duncan started as a more “traditional” looking dragon but evolved into a more childlike character, which resonated with the story better. In a study in editorial revision, almost every page of the original dummy was changed dramatically… but for the better. Another thing I noted from this panel was that one of reasons Stimola was initially drawn to the story in order to offer representation was that she appreciated the real world solution to the problem even though the characters were magical creatures.

5) My last session was with Simon and Schuster art director Lucy Cummins who discussed “How To Get Work, Agented Or Not.” The number one thing she looks for in illustration submissions are memorable characters. Postcards are still a great way to get the attention of an art director, and they don’t get as many as some illustrators might think. Cummins mentioned that she is always looking to add to her to go-to stable of artists who are excellent draftsmen – they can draw anything. And, it bears repeating, they never miss a deadline.

 

Read more about other sessions panels at the conference blog. Publishers Weekly also covered the conference for Children’s Bookshelf. Check it out here.

About the author

  • Mary Reaves UhlesMARY REAVES UHLESContributor

    Mary Reaves Uhles has created award winning illustrations in books and magazines for clients such as Cricket Magazine Group, McGraw Hill, Magic Wagon, and Thomas Nelson. Before beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A PAL member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mary calls Nashville home and spends her free time behind the wheel of the family mini van.

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