A few weeks ago I was able to attend a wonderful SCBWI, which had some very enriching sessions for illustrators, leaving me feeling inspired and excited to create new pieces and to apply what I learned to clients’ work! If you are not involved with your local chapter of SCBWI or other professional organization, I encourage you to do so. Attending national conferences, while obviously very great opportunities, can be difficult to attend, depending on your financial, traveling and other personal needs/situations. Local conferences can be a great alternative, and can offer a more intimate experience for the attendees. For example, in addition to participating in the sessions for illustrators, I was also able to volunteer as a reader for a picture book manuscript critique session, which was a fun additional way to connect with the staff and members and be more involved with the weekend experience. Here are some highlights from my favorite sessions.
Keynote Speaker LeUyen Pham
LeUyen Pham is an award winning illustrator and author who works in many diverse styles. If you haven’t seen “Big Sister, Little Sister”, you should check it out. My own daughter loves this book, written an illustrated by Pham. In addition to talking with us about her history and journey into the publishing world, she spoke about strategies she has used to stay fresh and relevant in the constantly evolving world of children’s book publishing throughout her career. Pham style is constantly in a state of evolution, and she likes to very her technique and look, sometimes drastically, from book to book. She encouraged illustrators to take on projects with which they feel a connection, to create samples that reflect the types of projects they would like to work on that year, and to send those samples to a small targeted group of art directors. Most of all, Pham spoke about the importance of making personal connections with clients, and allowing clients to see you as a multidimensional person rather than just a work source. IN noe of her breakout sessions, Pham talked about how she goes about constructing a picture book. We looks at the development of visual hierarchy to facilitate storytelling in each individual scene, as well as how that hierarchy fits into the overall scope of the book, creating a natural flow between page turns. She was such an inspiring and engaging speaker, and this particular session on picture book construction was so enriching!
Maria Middleton, Associate Art Director
Two of my other favorite sessions were offered by ABRAMS Kids Books associate art director Maria Middleton. The first few illustrators who signed up for the conference had the opportunity to work with Middleton on a “homework project” in which we had to create character and place them in a situation where they will encounter conflict, great or small. We got to send her our sketches, which she reviewed ahead of time, and then created final art to be reviewed during a session at the conference. This was so much fun! I love seeing everyone’s interpretation of the theme, and the evolution for sketch to final. Here is my artwork that I created for the assignment.
In a separate session, Maria talked about the makings of great cover design. She encouraged us to think about the spine, which is often the only part of the book that is visible on bookshelves, and giving attention to typography. For those illustrators who feel comfortable doing so, she suggested hand-lettering the title text, so that the cover has that added touch of image-text unity and customization. She also walked us through the many stages of some of the book covers that she art-directed, explaining how the team arrived at the final cover design for each book. It was intriguing to see the thought process behind each revision, and to see how those changes drove the cover towards a stronger design.
Like many of us at the start of a year, I always take stock of the year before and the year to come. And like most professional artists part of that evaluation is examining how and where we presented our work. One of the best ways I’ve found to connect my work with potential clients is at conferences. As a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators I’ve attended SCBWI conferences for many years and can’t speak highly enough of them. However for a few years I’d been hearing about a conference called Rutgers One on One Plus. It’s put on by the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature and it is what it says – one on one time with a professional from the publishing field.
Rutgers attendees wait to find out who their mentors are.
The conference is held on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus in New Jersey and attendees must apply with their work to be accepted. It’s only a day long but they pack a lot into that day. In the morning mentors and mentees are paired up and then grouped together into 5 on 5 sessions .
These are groups of 5 attendees and 5 mentors in a round table discussion. Mentees have the chance to ask questions of and present work to any of the editors or art directors at their table.
A group of 5 mentors and 5 mentees get to know each other
Equally important, the industry professionals are seated at the same tables for lunch and attendees are encouraged to find art directors or editors they are not paired with and network, network, network. After lunch each mentor/mentee pair is given 45 minutes together. During this time the mentor reviews the materials submitted and the attendee has a chance to ask questions and pitch other projects. Each attendee is given submission information about every mentor for after the conference.
An illustrator mentor reviewing submitted work
At less than $200 to attend, I found this conference to be a significant value. The submission process starts in the spring. There’s about 70 editors, agents, and art directors who agree to be mentors (with a handful of authors and illustrators agreeing as well) and only one attendee for each mentor. Visit the Rutgers Council On Children’s Literature to get submission information. I posted about my personal experience on my own blog here. Be aware that if your work is chosen it’s highly recommended to research every mentor prior to the conference. This is a hugely valuable but VERY time consuming process. It’s valuable because it makes it very easy to start up a conversation in the sandwich line. However having crammed it all into the 6 weeks between being accepted and attending the conference I highly recommend starting the research process soon after submission closes and Rutgers posts the list of mentors. Then you’ll want to recheck the list a few times as the names sometimes change. At the end of the day Rutgers is an easy train ride from Newark Airport or New York City. Taxis and hotels were very reasonable and you can usually hook up with other attendees before or after to share notes.
Part of what we want to do here as a group is expose the vast number of resources that are available to those wishing to break into the Children’s Market. There are a number of events and organizations that seek to do this and open up opportunities for not only exposure to the greater intricacies of the community but also great networking opportunities. One such group is the IRA (International Reading Association).
Since 1956, IRA has been a nonprofit, global network of individuals and institutions committed to worldwide literacy. More than 70,000 members strong, the Association supports literacy professionals through a wide range of resources, advocacy efforts, volunteerism, and professional development activities. Our members promote high levels of literacy for all by:
* Improving the quality of reading instruction
* Disseminating research and information about reading
* Encouraging the lifetime reading habit
They have annual conventions as well that feature multiple authors/illustrators from the Childrens Educational Market. Please go their site and consider membership and research what they have to offer to you as an author/illustrator within the Children’s Market. This year the International Reading Association 56th Annual Convention will be in Orlando, Fl. from May 8-11th. Publishers represented include but are not limited to; Scholastic, Mcgraw Hill, Pearson and Simon and Schuster.
Visit their site for more information about the IRA in general.
Visit this site for more information regarding the convention.