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.