Friday, February 29, 2008

Illustration Friday - "Leap"

I created this illustration today for a new portfolio piece based on Illustration Friday's prompt of "Leap." I'm adding black & white pieces to my portfolio that would work for chapter books and middle grade novels. I like adventure stories, so I'm using these two characters in a number of additional pieces. What do you think?

Friday, February 15, 2008

SCBWI Winter Conference Trip - Sunday

Sunday started off with the Portfolio Exhibition awards. Tomie dePaola had a short list of illustrators he liked: Sandre Griffin, Larry Day, Jim Carroll, Andrew Mitchell, and Sarah Stern
And the winner of the Tomie dePaola Award of $1000 art supply gift certificate was Heather Powers.
The winners of the juried exhibition were:
Honorable Mention - John Rocco and John Deininger
3rd place - Alan Witschonke
2nd place - P.A. Lewis
Winner of a full-page in picture book and a trip to NY to visit art directors - Jim Carroll

Susan Patron, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal for The Higher Power of Lucky, gave us a hilarious list of how she went about winning the Newbery and what she's been doing this whole past year as the Newbery winner. One tip from her list, "Words for body parts may be used where needed if they are of service to the story." In case you haven't heard what was all over the media this past year, Susan used the word "scrotum" in numerous places in her book and many people wanted to ban the book because of it. Ridiculous. It was referring to a snake biting a dog's scrotum and the main character asks an adult what the word means. The adult gives a nice, scientific answer. I think that shows kids that it's ok to ask adults about words that you hear and don't know what they mean. Now that the 2008 Newbery winner has been picked, Susan's husband calls her an Oldbery.

Next was a panel on the path of the picture book. It included Arthur Levine (the publisher/editor), Jonah Winter (the author), John Mason (sales at Scholastic), Tracey Van Straaten (publicity at Scholastic), and Bob Brown (bookseller). But sadly, no illustrator was on the panel. Jonah talked about how he got his idea for the picture book, Dizzy and how Arthur signed it up. The editor helps to focus a book. Sum up the manuscript in one sentence and parts that distract from the main point needs to be cut for picture books. Eliminate extraneous material. After the art layouts were created by Sean Qualls, Arthur showed them to Jonah. Jonah thought the art looked too somber for such an exuberant story, so some changes were suggested to the illustrator and it made the book much stronger. John Mason talked about how wonderful Jonah's reading of the text was, so marketing decided to make a recording of Jonah reading the book and sent that out to reviewers and librarians. Tracy used the starred reviews to market the book further through magazines, newspapers, and the media. Black History Month provided more marketing opportunities. Bob talked about why he bought this picture book for his store and how excited he was about it.

The last speaker was Richard Peck, a novelist. "Our readers are looking for themselves in our books." "Fiction is not real life with the names changed." "If you can't find yourself in the pages of a book early in life, you'll go looking in all the wrong places."

After the conference was over, we all said our good-byes. Here's a pic of my roommate Susan and me:

I stayed for four more days after the conference to sight-see in New York with my husband and to drop off portfolios at various publishers. It was a fun week!

SCBWI Winter Conference Trip - Saturday

"Fire in the chute!" That was Lin Oliver merrily shouting in response to the alarm system going off for probably an hour on Saturday morning in the Hilton and delaying the conference a bit. She said she's always wanted to yell that, even though "it's a boy thing to say." Apparently there was a small fire on one floor of the HIlton.

Lin greeted 1064 conference attendees from 45 states and 10 countries. Yep, it's a big conference.

The first keynote speaker of the day was Nikki Grimes who spoke on the power of poetry. "Poetry is the place where words and music meet." "Poetry at its heart is about painting a picture with words."

Next was my favorite speaker of the whole conference, David Wiesner. I just love his books! Here he is talking about his young days of drawing disconnected arms (you can see his artwork on the screen):

David said that early in his career he became known as the cute lil' animal guy, illustrating books like Owly. He wanted to do more in the line of folktales and fairytales, so he redid his portfolio to show the kind of work he'd like to get. In 1983 he started working on his own wordless picture book, Free Fall, filled with all kinds of imagery he had been working on for his own personal pieces. That book was published in 1988 and won a Caldecott Honor. He's won 3 Caldecott Medals (Flotsam, The Three Pigs, and Tuesday) and 2 Caldecott Honors (Sector 7 and Free Fall). For references, David likes to build models of the characters or buildings in his artwork in order to experiment with lighting, shadows, and perspective. He showed us slides of model frogs, pigs, and buildings. Here are some photos of his process (click them to see them bigger):

The choices for the breakout sessions were all editors, no art directors. I was disappointed in this because the editors seemed to speak only on writing and just skimmed over the illustrators, basically giving the publisher's guidelines for submitting illustrations which we could get online.

For the morning breakout session, I saw Anamika Bhatnagar, a Senior Editor from Scholastic. She's looking for books with unique writing and a strong narrative voice. Picture books need to make her laugh out loud. She likes short, simple, alliteration, rhyming, fun sounds, satisfying, strong verbs and actions. Some picture books she likes: A Birthday for Cow, I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, and Jane Yolen's dinosaur books. She wants chapter books starring characters she wants to be friends with. She loves school books, grounded in reality for either gender, humorous and satisfying. For illustrations, she likes everything, paintings to cartoons, graphic novels, very realistic to simple, black and white illustrations in books like Clementine. Anamika seems like she would be a fun person to work with.

At lunch I sat next to an illustrator, Carrie Harman, and an agent who spends her time between England and the U.S. The luncheon keynote speaker was Carolyn Mackler, a teen novelist. She was funny, but since I don't have any desire to ever do teen novels, I didn't get anything out of her speech.

For the afternoon breakout session, I saw David Gale from Simon & Schuster. He said he's best known for teen novels (wish I knew that ahead of time!) The few picture books that he does, he wants to be as short as possible, just one line per spread, and he despises rhyme. He wants kid-friendly books with a beginning, middle, and end. His list is full with previous authors and big sellers, so if he takes on a new book from one of us, he would have to take off one book from his list. He said to send manuscripts to the general submissions pile, so that junior editors can pick them up. For illustrators, he basically just read the guidelines from the website. No insight for us.

Last on the agenda for the day was an agent panel. Again, nothing really helpful for illustrators. The agents pretty much addressed the writers. For picture books, we heard character-driven picture books with clever plots that are short, simple, and easy to read, get great reactions from kids.

So overall, this day was for writers. David Wiesner was the only super helpful speaker of the day for illustrators.

SCBWI Winter Conference Trip - Friday

Friday I attended the Illustrator’s Intensive, an optional part of the conference that we paid extra to attend. It was a day fully focused on illustrating.

Jerry Pinkney spoke first. He has illustrated over 100 children’s books and won all kinds of awards, so you’d think he would be super confident. But it was a relief to hear that even he has doubts at times about his artwork. In his early artwork, he received one critique saying that his people were stiff compared to his animals. He said it was true, he used models as reference for his people but for his animals, he looked at photos, then used his imagination to pose them. I was recently told the same thing about my artwork and that makes so much sense. Using my imagination to pose my figures instead of relying on true photographic poses, offers so much more energy and kid-appeal.

An agent, Holly McGhee, spoke on stepping out of your comfort zone in order challenge yourself and make leaps in your writing or illustrating. She seemed to give a lot more examples of writing instead of illustrating to this group of illustrators. Oh well.

Tracy van Straaten & John Mason, both from Scholastic, acted out meetings on publicity and promotion of various kinds of children’s books. We heard about some of the ways that the publisher will promote, publicize, and market our books. Before our book is published, we can ask our publisher what we can do to help. Speak to the Author Appearance Coordinator at your publisher to let them know that you’d like to do school visits and such and detail what you do in your presentations. Timing is especially important in promotion.

Next was a panel with Arthur Levine (his own imprint at Scholastic), Bob Brown (bookseller), Kate McClelland (librarian), & Cecilia Yung (Penguin):
What is overdone in picture books: pirates, series based on a formula and gimmicks, sugary sweet books
What is selling: very simple art style with limited text, also beautiful books
What you want to see in picture books: books that build character in the reader (Bob), new baby joining family (Bob), folklore and fairytales (Kate), hard issues and special needs (Kate), minority and diverse characters in contemporary culture that kids can relate to (Arthur and Cecilia)

Terri Goldich presented handouts and spoke on archiving everything from sketches to finals. The Thomas J. Dodd center has an amazing collection and it was fun to see her slides of sketches, notes, dummies, and paintings from various artists. She also addressed how important it is to save digital files correctly and have backups. I work pretty much all digital now so the handout on that was interesting to me.

Robin Galender spoke on copyright for artists. The copyright owner has exclusive right to derivative works. You can't take someone's art and change it "enough" to call it your own. Even in collages, you technically need to have the right to use any small piece in your collage. Wow. She stunned the audience with that one. She told us what things aren't able to be copyrighted (ideas, historical & biographical facts, names of characters, US Government works, etc). She listed what items are in public domain (anything before 1923, and some things published 1923-1964 if the copyright wasn't extended). She gave us examples of the Fair Use Exemption. The copyright office is working on their website to allow us to register online soon. Very informative talk.

Next we had a surprise speaker - Tomie dePaola! He was filling in because one of the speakers was delayed in arriving. Tomie had just come from viewing our portfolios and he gave us his first thoughts on them - both positive and negative. He said a fair number of the portfolios looked "the same." He didn't like the art that looked too much like Bratz characters. He was looking for art that stood out from the crowd. Here are some questions he said to ask ourselves:
Is there too much in my portfolio?
Is it consistent quality?
Have I included any student work? Take it out.
Is it different than everyone else's?
Don't put your strongest or weakest piece first. If you put your strongest first, it's all downhill from there. If you put your weakest first, the reviewer loses interest already.
Tomie said some of the attendees didn't follow directions and brought large portfolios for the exhibition. I was surprised they were still allowed in the show. It created a problem because the space was already too limited for 200 portfolios.

Harry Bliss arrived from snowy Vermont. His showed slides of his cartoons, his New Yorker covers, and his picture book work. He was funny and very real, telling things how they are, but he seemed burned out and a little down too. He said he puts his all into everything he does and now he's going to take time off indefinitely from illustrating picture books because it's taking too much out of him.

Last up was a panel on marketing and publishing. Here are a couple tidbits from that:
Publishers set up author tours, but if you publish at a bunch of houses, one publisher may not want to send you to promote books from other houses. So it seems better to build a relationship with one house instead of being too spread out.
Your book may win an award, but the publisher has a short list of which award stickers they're going to spend money putting on book covers.

Friday night was the private portfolio exhibition for Publishers, Art Directors, Editors, and Agents. I'm glad that they didn't allow all of us illustrators to be there to distract the publishers from seeing the actual portfolios. Hopefully, my work was noticed, but who knows?

After we picked up our portfolios from the exhibition, a group of us illustrators met up at the Marketplace restaurant in the Hilton to see each other's work and chat. It was: me, my roommate Susan Eaddy, Adrian Tan, Jeff James, Priscilla Jo Neilson, Mary Uhles, and Amy Cerny. I think there were one or two more, but those were the cards that I got.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

SCBWI winter Conference Trip - Thursday

I had in-person portfolio reviews with two different publishers on Thursday: Henry Holt and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Both went well. As always, the Michelle sketches I've done were popular and it was suggested I do more black and white drawings that could work for trade middle grade books and chapter books.

I also had great reactions to my animal illustrations, especially the dancing penguins that I revised quite a bit last week. Here they are:

This is the Flatiron Building where those two publishers are located. What a cool building!

I dropped off a portfolio at Viking and did a bit of shopping for cute shoes. I also bought a sketchbook at A.I. Friedman (great art store) and visited a children's book store called Book of Wonder. Books of Wonder had signed originals and prints on exhibition in the back of the store by some mighty illustrators including Hilary Knight, Graeme Base, Mo Willems, David McPhail, and Uri Shulevitz. Thursday night, my roommate at the conference, Susan Eaddy and I, had dinner and a fun girly night with Linda Ragsdale, Kristin Tubb (who has a new book coming out soon called AUTUMN WINIFRED OLIVER DOES THINGS DIFFERENT, and another illustrator named Marie. What a fun day.