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 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.
Sculpting an Illustration with Clay Illustrator Susan Eaddy
Let’s meet clay sculpting illustrator Susan Eaddy in the first of a two part interview about her process, children’s book illustration, and licensing artwork. Susan’s illustrations are fabulously detailed clay reliefs. Each form is designed, sculpted and attached – each part becoming a facet of the whole glorious piece. But even better than me trying to describe it, watch this short time lapse video as she creates colorful tide pool creatures for a Click Magazine illustration.
OUaS: How did you get the impetus to begin making the videos of your clay process? How have they worked as a self promo tool?
SE: I took a Make your own Book Trailer breakout from Chris Cheng at the 2011 LA Conference. It was so empowering that it basically gave me the confidence to tackle iMovie. I had to keep telling myself not to get perfectionistic, that this was supposed to fun, and I should totally revel in my amateur status. So I have! And that has released me to just play with the medium. The clay is so perfect for video-ing the process, and it has been a great self promotional tool. I started out videoing with my still camera and when I saw how fun, I finally bought a video cam.
OUaS: Susan is being completely humble when she describes these as a great promo tool… in fact her videos have been shown all over the world and even landed her a feature on the Parent’s Choice blog and a TV interview with Tennessee Crossroads.
In this world where everything is more an more digital what challenges do you find working in a most non-digital medium? What benefits?
Final tide pool illustration
SE: Well, there are so many steps in my process and digital certainly plays a part. I start with drawing, then composing, then coloring, either with pencil or on the computer, to figure out my palette. Then I do the clay. The clay is the most joyful part of the process for me! By the time I start the clay, I have figured out composition and palette, and I can get my hands dirty and figure out how to construct my reliefs. I’ve said it before, but it is this discovery process that I love the most. I don’t know HOW to make things until I just get in there and play. I often redo pieces and parts of the clay as I go along. Because you don’t really know if something is working until it is made. After the illustration is done, I photograph… again playing with light and angle until I like what I see. When I put the digital files in the computer, THEN I can see how it translates to 2D and I notice things that I didn’t see before. So I usually shoot things anywhere from 5 to 15 times. I finalize all of my files in Photoshop and send digital files to my clients. Without Photoshop, I could not do my job.
OUaS: How do art directors/buyers react when you tell them about your process?
SE: Actually, it’s been a bit of a hard sell. Even the very visually oriented are often uncomfortable with a medium that is so different, and many are afraid to take a chance. Before digital was so common, art directors were confused about HOW they would get final files. But the digital age has streamlined that so easily that there is not so much confusion.
I was an art director myself for 15 years and I KNOW how tight and important deadlines can be. If an art director perceives that a process will take longer than normal they tend to shy away. When they look at my very detailed illustrations they assume that it takes me longer than other people to do an illustration. But that is just not the case. I have worked in ALL mediums through the years and the clay doesn’t take any longer than other mediums I have used.
Breaking into the Biz
For my first post for Once Upon a Sketch a couple months ago, I wrote about tips on how to build a solid portfolio (Here’s the link). With the relaunch of the site, I figured now would be a good time to continue that theme and so today’s topic will be “Breaking into the Biz”; what to do once you have that portfolio. Although, I think having a strong portfolio is still the most vital part in landing work, having the best portfolio won’t help you one bit, if your work never gets in the hands of the people who need to see it! So here is a list of ways to get your work out there and get your foot in the door:
Digitally – Your portfolio in digital format:
- Website – In today’s world, it’s practically a requirement to have a website of some kind where you can showcase your work. Not only does a website serve as a digital representation of your physical portfolio, it’s also the most efficient way to reach the masses. Here are a few general ideas to keep in mind when designing your website:
- Remember your website is merely a means of highlighting your art, so like your physical portfolio, the art is what’s important! So your site must be clean and simple to navigate. It’s okay to have a few bells and whistles to spruce it up, but keep in mind that people generally have very short attention spans (for instance, mine is about 3 seconds), so if your site takes forever to load because of a fancy animation, it’s not doing you any favors. Also, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your artwork is accessible by no more than two clicks of a mouse.
- One of the benefits of having your own website is that you are not limited to 12-16 images. So you can be more liberal about what you want to include in your site. But keep in mind that you’ll want to make sure your best work gets seen, so make sure they are placed where people will see it first.
- The style of the site matters too. Meaning the overall look of your site should share a similar style to your art. Not only does it make for a more single, cohesive and harmonious package, you won’t confuse your viewers.
- Your work should be categorized appropriately. It seems pretty obvious, but you should definitely arrange your work in a logical and orderly fashion…I can definitely spend all day talking in detail with suggestions about grouping and organizing your artwork, but that could be a whole post in and of itself. Continue reading