I spent last week in a place I had come to “know” only through TV. (Thanks Monica, Rachel, Phoebe–and Jerry Seinfeld!)
It took me almost an entire day to get there, thanks to our sub-zero Montana winter weather, but I made it!
I still can’t believe it, but this farmgirl just
spent survived! four days in New York City!
And I learned a whole lot more in those four days than I ever expected I would.
Here are a few takeaways from my first ever SCBWI national conference. I was honored to be there on behalf of Montana, and I can’t wait to visit with any of you who want to dive in deeper to any of the topics I mention here. Which is the perfect segue into my first point. . .
- The best part of SCBWI is the COMMUNITY.
I left for NYC focused on my own artwork, my own “next book,” my own goals, and how this conference could help ME become a better illustrator and storyteller.
After spending three days with my fellow Illustrator Coordinators–from all around the world–I came home with a completely different mindset. I realized that all of a sudden, I had NEW goals. Rather than diving back into another book project of my own, I was inspired to build the kind of community back home that I got to experience in New York. A vibrant, creative, collective “hive” of fellow artists, creators, and lovers of KidLit! I know there are artists all over the state who may already have dreams of children’s book illustration, but don’t know yet just how to get started. SCBWI is the perfect place to start, and I hope to help increase the number of “I”s in our Montana SCBWI! I have some great ideas for new events and activities to implement, while we build our community of illustrators in Montana.
2. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.
SCBWI both encourages and celebrates the great achievements of its members. The climate of SCBWI in general–and especially at events–is collaborative and supportive, not competitive or cutthroat. I was privileged to attend several deep-dive workshops with master illustrators, who generously shared their processes, tips, and best practices! I was blown away by how willing they were to share their creative processes, and how genuinely helpful they were to even the newest of members. No question was a “stupid question” and every question discussed was extremely helpful to all attendees. I took notes as quickly as my pen could write, and I was immensely impressed with all the amazing illustrators in attendance who were able to not only listen to the workshops, but do it while SKETCHING the presenters! Talk about multi-tasking!
It also impressed me that I did not meet one person at the conference, whether attendee, volunteer, published author/illustrator, or faculty, who gave the impression that they were more important than anyone else. We were all learning together–no matter our level of expertise or place in our careers.
3. Get Feedback. Get Feedback. Get Feedback.
My most helpful workshop was with the incredible Cecilia Yung, Art Director at Penguin Random House. Cecilia had us swap our portfolios with several different attendees and give feedback on the work for those artists to consider. We chose what we thought to be their strongest and weakest pieces; we then gave feedback on how effective their illustrations were, what aspects of their artwork were effective, and what areas could be improved.
In this workshop, I got some really helpful constructive criticism. And even better–I AGREED with every suggestion I read from my anonymous peer-reviewers. They told me things I knew (deep down) about my work, that I just didn’t KNOW I already knew.
As artists–and as writers too–we spend so much time working on our images or our stories that our eyes can become blind to them. Cecilia’s exercise helped us to see our work through new eyes. Once I read the suggestions on my portfolio pieces, then looked at them again as if I were critiquing a stranger’s work, I saw my own artwork in a completely different light.
We may think our illustration or our manuscript is finished after the first or second stab at it, but I have learned how important (and how HELPFUL!) external feedback can truly be in our creative process. If I had to choose one most salient point from all the knowledge I gleaned from this conference, this is definitely it. THIS is why critique groups are so important. THIS is why I want to work on setting up a better illustrator network in Montana, with regular “Meet-Ups” to share work, get feedback, and discuss best practices. THIS is why we should all always strive to get feedback from our fellow writers and artists in our awesome KidLit support system before sending off a pitch or a manuscript. The feedback someone gives you may be something you already know, or it may be the suggestion that makes a good piece of work great! Get feedback. Get feedback. GET FEEDBACK.
4. GO TO CONFERENCES ANY TIME YOU POSSIBLY CAN.
Lastly, I realize getting to a national conference can be expensive, logistically tricky, and take you away from your families, jobs, and obligations for 3-4 days. That said–if you are serious about your path as a writer and/or illustrator, an SCBWI conference is well worth the investment. There is nothing quite like the feeling of solidarity and kinship I felt in the grand ballroom last week, listening to one powerhouse speaker after another who both encouraged and inspired us. There was not ONE single keynote speaker who didn’t make me cry!
Books bind us together. Let’s keep doing whatever we can to keep making good books!
Please send me a message if you want to hear more about SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC! It was magic!
Here are some photos of all my NYC fun!