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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.

What to put in your Children’s Book Portfolio

Every now and again, I get asked the question, “What should I put in my portfolio?”.  So, I wanted to take a moment and share some tips and suggestions you might consider when putting together an illustration portfolio. Specifically, a portfolio of illustrations catering to children’s publishing; although websites and social media play an ever-increasing role in promoting your work, having a physical portfolio will still come in handy the next time you attend a nearby illustration conference or if you find yourself lucky enough to be given some face time with an art director. So let’s get started… First off, let’s get the basics out of the way; a typical portfolio should contain anywhere from 12 to 15 images, bound in a nice, clean, and simple, 8″ x 11″ portfolio. The thing to remember is this: showcase work and talent, so the portfolio itself should NOT distract or compete with the artwork. So rule of thumb …keep it simple! Be sure to include pocket at the back of the portfolio with postcards and/or business card for someone to take. Now for the most important parts of any portfolio, the ARTWORK! Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Order & Pacing: Typically, a portfolio should open with a sample of your best work! The point of this is pretty obvious, you want to WOW your viewer and grab their attention right from the start. Once you have it, it’s a matter of sustaining that interest throughout the entire portfolio. To achieve this, you want to space your artwork out evenly and build a rhythm between some of your good/solid pieces and some great/better pieces. And to end it on a high note, you’ll want to include another one of your best illustrations. Ideally, this will leave them with a lasting impression of your work, or even better still, leave them wanting more!Below is a quick diagram to better illustrate this. One thing you will notice is that depending on the quality and the number of pieces in your portfolio, as well as the fact that you will be constantly update your portfolio, we will have some variations, but the basic structure should still be followed.
  • Consistency of Quality: Your portfolio is only as good as it’s weakest piece. So if you have an illustration that you are not sure about, it’s best to leave it out. To a potential client, a weak piece will also have the potential of leaving a lasting impression, but for all the wrong reasons. Your portfolio should only contain your best work, so in some cases, less is more. So remember, even if it means a thinner portfolio, only include work that you are actually proud to show off.
  • Consistency of Style: Along with demonstrating a consistent quality of work, you also want to define a consistent style in your art as well. A big mistake you can make is filling your portfolio with work in several different styles and techniques. Below are several scenarios someone might decide to do this with their portfolio. In each case, first, I’ll give the rationale behind these choices followed by reasons why you shouldn’t.
    1. By showing a wide range of styles, there is a belief that you are showing the art directors that you are versatile and capable of handling multiple mediums and styles. Instead, what ends up happening is that you’ll leave them thinking, “What kind of art will I expect if I hire you?” And this is not what is desired.   
    2. By including a portfolio with different styles, you are hoping this will help you land more jobs because you are in essence casting a wider net. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that you are also diluting your portfolio in the process. So instead of having a full portfolio of 12 solid pieces highlighting your individual style, you are only able to show potential clients 4 or 5 pieces. This will make it more difficult for them to accurately assess your skills and make them reluctant to hire you.
    3. Let’s face it, sometimes you just need a filler. You might run into a case of simply not having the number of illustrations to fill up your portfolio. So you decide to round out the 12 pieces with an illustration that’s different just to bulk up your numbers. The thing to remember is that any capable art director will see right through this as well, which will lead to them to question your experience. And just as bad, this misplaced illustration will stick out like a sore thumb and disrupt the flow to the rest of your portfolio.

    At the end of the day, the person looking at your art needs to be able to associate your name with your work. So the clearer and simpler you make it for them and yourself, the better.

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