SCBWI North/Central Illustrator Day

Two weeks ago I attended SCBWI North/Central's Illustrator Day, a day-long intensive for picture book illustrators and writers that included discussion panels, presentations, and portfolio critiques.  It was my first SCBWI event and, not sure what to expect, I went with an open (and a little nervous) mind and made sure I got there early.

It was a wonderful experience: illuminating, encouraging, and also humbling.  I presented one of my sample illustrations from Caia in Bloom for a critique held at the end of the day, and it was critiqued...thoroughly.  The main points of my critique were contrast, composition, and depth of field.  My main characters didn't stand out; background characters were painted with greater contrast and drew focus. Caia was especially camouflaged -- good for species survival in real life, bad for the main character of a picture book  -- the green of her caterpillar body blended a little too well with the grass behind her.  Also, the positions in which I drew her and other characters did not make it clear who the reader should be looking at.  And overall, the picture was pretty flat; I needed to create more depth. So, basically, I needed to redo it.

Here's the thing.  Had that critique been given earlier in the day I would have been much more discouraged and resistant.  As it was, we had just listened to Ashley Wolff describe her experience illustrating a book that was tantamount to an illustrator's worst nightmare: creating image after image, only to have it be rejected again and again because the author didn't like the result or changed their mind about the characters (or other bizarre happenings -- ask me if interested).  Her very vivid example taught me that this is part of the process, and I have to be willing to edit and re-edit, and draw and re-draw, and in fact find enjoyment in it, knowing that nothing is a waste.

Being in the midst of other illustrators and writers felt both invigorating and intimidating.  There were so many talented people with a substantial amount of work to show.  While I hadn't brought a portfolio (definitely on my to-do list), I did bring my book dummy and color samples and was proud to display them.  I made great contacts and was able to speak with both Rotem Moscovich, editor at Disney/Hyperion, and Mary Kole, agent for Movable Type Management and author of, an award-winning children's literature blog.  Best of all, event attendees have an opportunity to submit to both Mary and Rotem for a limited time (Disney/Hyperion is a closed house, meaning you need an agent to submit work to them).  Of course I'm planning to take advantage of that opportunity, which is why I am in the midst of redrawing and painting that critiqued image.  Here is the 'before':

...And the 'after' (in progress):

I think the redraw addresses the character focus and depth of field issues -- now on to the painting stage!

Finally, I'm excited to start an online art course with Dr. Mira Reisberg next week: the Hero’s Art Journey, a 6-week class designed for very beginning to professional artists, and children’s picture book writers and illustrators (it starts 6/4 if you're interested; follow the link or go through for a discount).  I hope to further develop my drawing and painting skills, especially in the areas brought up during my illustration critique: contrast, composition, depth.  Short of going to art school, taking advantage of learning opportunities like these when I can is essential to my becoming an accomplished children's book writer/illustrator.

Excited for what's to come of all this...stay tuned!