Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Thoughts on the Austin SCBWI conference

A little over a week has passed since the Austin SCBWI conference, enough time for me to mull it all over, and I'd like to share a few thoughts. First off, a shout-out to my friend and conference buddy, Marsha Riti, who won the top prize for her portfolio. She is one of the most talented and hard-working illustrators I know, with a style that's fresh while it has the warmth and charm of vintage children's books. And you can read about her take on the conference here. Congratulations again, Marsha!

Okay, my highlights from the conference:
  • Friday night, after some socializing, we gathered for some book readings. My favorite was Carolyn Coman's performance of her story The Memory Bank, accompanied by wonderful rough drawings that brought this alternate world to life.

  • Saturday morning, Arthur Levine and Julian Hector discussed the author/illustrator relationship for Monday is One Day. Since they had only met in person the night before, there were discoveries made LIVE, right on stage. Kind of exciting and made for some funny banter. And, despite Levine being such a huge name in the industry as an editor, he was as heartwarmed as any first-time author upon seeing his work in print. Plus, it seems like he went out of his way not to have on his editor's hat in this process. Julian Hector showed his sketches and the transition of the book from the dreamy story of one father and son to the story of several diverse family groups.

  • David Diaz (he of the Caldecott for Smoky Night) presented a series of handmade books he has made over the years as promos. In this age of quick email links and easily ordered postcards, making something "precious" that an Art Director won't be able to bring him or herself to throw away is genius. Diaz' books are handbound collections of his xeroxed illustrations, found paper, lines of text, and whatever else might work and be cost-efficient; but they are visually and texturally appealing gems. So, do make something handmade or unique in your style that catches the eye of an AD; don't forget that this is marketing, so find ways to keep the cost in your budget.

  • Saturday afternoon, Julian Hector spent an hour showing his drawings and projects to a small but packed room of illustrators. Some were children's book related, like the behind-the-scenes on a book that's currently in progress. Interesting to see editor and fact checker notes on visual consistency and the like. He also showed us some of his grown-up work, insect and rodent characters not too unlike his children's characters, but less sweet (the bugs are definitely less huggable). And the story lines have a good dose of dark humor (think Gorey). It was quite a treat for us to look into the sketchbooks of such a talented and productive illustrator!
The SCBWI organizers did a great job on the conference, and St. Edward's University was a pretty awesome venue. Thanks!

Now, what I took away from the conference. I have been to my fair share of SCBWI conferences since I started trying my hand at illustration in 2006: a couple of local ones, a couple of LA summer ones, and a couple of winter NYC ones. I've been asked before if the cost is worth it for an illustrator, especially for the national conferences. And it all depends on what you expect to get out of the experience. If you expect to walk away recognized by all the big guns for your work, illustration contract in hand, well, the chances aren't so great for that (a gal can still dream...). But if you want to be inspired by the work of colleagues and by industry leaders, if you want to learn valuable information on the business of children's book illustration (understanding this is crucial to success), if you want feedback on your work, then these conferences are gold. And it can take a few to really absorb it all.

Now I feel like I have gotten a good feel for the industry and some positive feedback on my work. So, my post-conference focus is marketing: website, postcards, handmade something-or-others. Because sometimes you just have to be proactive and go after the work you want.


Marsha said...

Awesome post! It's great reading the conference's key points. Because it's very hard to get it all in while you are there. BTW, thanks for the shout-out.

Diandra Mae said...

(Yay conference recap!)I think I'm going to have to go buy The Memory Bank now. That plot sounds so creepy and suspenseful!
Marsha did a great job recapping Levine/Hector's presentation. I found myself laughing while I read it.
Totally agree w/ Diaz on the handmade promo. A small group of us on Twitter have slowly come to the same conclusion:personalization and effort are everything now. EVERYONE does promos/postcards, and they're necessary, but delivering them in a clever package doesn't hurt!
I so agree with you about conferences. I always find little nuggets of gold to at every one, and sometimes I've heard it before, but because of the timing I will only GET it the second or third time around.
Good luck on your website/marketing! Those are at the top of my list this year. I'm designing my website right now and hope to send out spring mailers in April. Hurray for proactive illustrators! go, go, GO!

mark mitchell said...

Really well-done recap, Amy.
Thank you for getting such apt words around those group intensive sessions with Diaz and Hector -- and assessing the value of a conference like this for aspiring illustrators and author illustrators.


Thanks Amy for this recap. It was great to get to meet you and Marsha in person and be inspired by your wonderful work. I'm an old art director so I know about those direct mail pieces. The hand made promo is a great idea. I'm certain you'll come up with a swell piece. Keep up the beautiful work!

tiffannysketchbook said...

thanks for the recap!

Michaele Razi said...

Great post! And I love your plan of action. My SCBWI conference is next month (Western Washington) and it's a mad dash for me and my pals. But your observations are really inspiring. Thank you!

Heather Powers said...

Awesome Amy - we should pair up to push each other to do those marketing tasks. I think we are in the same wee boat. Send me an email. :)

Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

Wow Amy! I really like what you have expressed here. I think sometimes the smaller conferences is where is learn the most. It's where you really get to meet people around your area. Mr. Levine lives right around my neighborhood and is having a book review at our public library. I have always wanted to meet him. Seems so very nice. I love what you said about being inspired all. These conference are golden. Feed back is a must and the craft has to be honed and just when you think you have it all together it must be honed again and again and again. I was asked, by a few people at a dinner what I did for a living. I hate sometime being asked because of the crazy responses I get. People don't hear themselves sometimes. When said that I as an artist and they asked what kind? And then I told them that I was an illustrator. Then someone said, ' Oh get a real job." They don't understand that illustration to hard work at times. YOU and I make it look so darn easy, but it takes time. Keep pushing and pressing towards your goal Amy! Aim high cause you are one of the best out here!