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!
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.