A Farmgirl in The Big Apple: SCBWI Winter Conference 2019!

Art, Illustration, KidLit, We Are In This Together

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. . .

  1. 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!

The Magic of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Art, Illustration, KidLit

This past weekend, I had a dream come true!

I got to fly to Traverse City, Michigan, to accept a beautiful bronze medal for The Spill with its incredible author, Author Jacqueline Leigh! The book won the medal in the Picture Book – Preschool category of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.

What made this trip even more special was getting to take my biggest supporter–my amazing mom Cathy–on this adventure with me! We had so much fun exploring the beautiful town of Traverse City and celebrating one of our favorite shared passions–books!

My other favorite part of this amazing trip was getting to finally MEET Jackie! She and I had so much fun working together over the last year and a half to bring Faye to life, and we never imagined we would be meeting for the first time at an AWARD CEREMONY! (We went through the entire illustration process for The Spill living on opposite ends of the country in two different time zones! Thanks to technology like texts, emails, Skype, and Dropbox, we never missed a beat!)

Meeting Jackie was like meeting up with an old dear friend!

At the Moonbeam Awards ceremony, each medalist got the change to speak about their book for a minute or so, and I cannot put into words how inspiring that part of the evening was! (Maybe that’s why I’m an illustrator, and not an author?) 😉

The award-winning books covered a wide range of meaningful topics, across all age levels and genres. Tears were flowing at tables across the room after many acceptance speeches, and the feelings of solidarity and camaraderie among the authors, illustrators, publishers, and their special guests was contagious!

Here are some more fun pictures from the ceremony and our day exploring Traverse City!


Print Making with Julie Sola

Art, Illustration, KidLit

This week at my favorite Indie bookstore, This House of Books, we had a very special guest! Julie Sola, author and illustrator of RUN FAST, MILO! and Possum Dreams, was in town to sign books. She also gave a fantastic demonstration on print making.

Both of her books were illustrated with hand-pulled linoleum cuts that were carved and printed by hand at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee, on a 1968 Vandercook proofing press.

I have never hand-printed anything before, so this demonstration was absolutely fascinating to me!

Here I am, giving it a try! I am using a spoon on the back of my print, making sure all the ink gets spread onto the paper evenly. I was surprised at how little ink I needed to make such a bold print!

Here are the two prints I “pulled” from Julie’s original hand-carved blocks:

I was completely enamored with this method of illustration, and I can’t wait to go find all of the odds and ends I need to start experimenting! I learned what “brayers” are, (the rollers) what kind of ink to use, how to keep from cutting your hands while cutting away your shapes, and how to “think in reverse!”

The icing on the cake was all the fun we had meeting Rod Stewart’s band/road crew! (Julie is also his costume/wardrobe manager, when she isn’t busy making amazing art!)

Please take a minute to go check out her awesome website:

Fat Crow Press

Thanks so much, Julie Sola, for sharing your art and teaching us a fun new skill!

How Do The Pictures Get In The Book?

Illustration, KidLit

I had the pleasure of teaching a kids workshop on illustration a few weeks ago at my favorite Billings bookstore, This House of Books!

In a wonderful summer series the bookstore hosted for children featuring workshops from different STEAM careers, I was honored to fill the slot for the “A” with some Art. I am a firm believer in the importance of the arts in our lives, and even more so in the lives of our children and students.

I brought my sketches, my storyboard, and my final watercolor paintings for The Spill, so I could show the kids my process from start to finish.

I even brought my light box along, which was a huge hit! All the kids got the chance to trace Faye, just like I did so many times throughout the six months it took me to finish all the artwork for the book.

The kids learned about basic story elements like setting, characters, and plot; they learned how to show emotion and action through body language in illustrations, and they even sketched their own storyboards!

I was thrilled to see such amazing little budding artists, who will be the storytellers of tomorrow! This event made me even more grateful for a life involving books, art, and children. What a beautiful combination!

Thanks so much to This House of Books for inviting me to come present this fun workshop! We will ALWAYS need stories and stories are so much better with pictures. I felt so lucky to get to share the wonderful world of illustration with such creative little minds–our authors and illustrators of tomorrow!

**Draw something everyday!**

~Erika

(Huge thanks also go to Rosanna Buehl–one of our amazing bookstore volunteers–for all of these awesome pictures!!)

Thank God for Digger Books. (I Can Do Hard Things)

Hank Humor, KidLit, Life Lessons from a Three Year Old, Motherhood

I thought I was a boymom before. . .but today, I officially earned my “boymom” card. What for, you ask?

Today, I successfully assembled a CAT loader from a million individually packaged plastic pieces and several bags of super cheap hardware– All. By. Myself. (Daddy, you see–our regular handyman–of course just happened to be out of town for work the day the huge, exciting box showed up.) And who could make an adorable 3-year old wait ANOTHER whole day? Not THIS mom!

So, I persevered. I squinted at the diagrams that included ZERO EXPLANATIONS. I tried not to cuss. And I thanked my parents silently in my head, over and over, for raising me on a farm and teaching me that I. Can. Do. Hard. Things. (Even if they take a really long time to do.)

Which in this case, it did. But I did it. As I high-fived my extremely-excited little boy, I asked him if he was surprised that Mommy was able to build his loader for him. He shook his head no and said, “I knew Mommy could do it!” I realized that I had never seen a look quite like the one he gave me just then. It was pure admiration shining in his big blue eyes.

I am awful glad I savored that moment, because the look changed drastically after I explained to the patient 3-year-old that he had to wait 12 MORE HOURS for the battery to charge.

(Yep–that part was rather anticlimactic.)

Tonight, we wait. And we will cope by reading all of our favorite digger books in anticipation. (Thank God for digger books!)

Tomorrow, WE DIG.

Every Town Needs a Library

Illustration, KidLit

Last week, my dad’s hometown of Hobson, Montana celebrated its “100-Year Class Reunion.” Hobson is a bustling town (of just over 200 people!) in central Montana, and it has always had a special place in my heart!

My folks drove up for the festivities, and they made my day when they sent me some very special pictures:

Right there, as they walked in, was my book on display! I was thrilled because I am so honored to have a book with my name on the cover in the library of the tiny town where my grandmother was a schoolteacher!

The librarian of this amazing little library is my dad’s cousin (Kimberly Baumann) and when she contacted me to order a signed copy, I had no idea it would be finding such a wonderful home!

The Hobson Library is both vibrant and cozy at the same time; it is an absolute gem that is cherished by its community.

Hobson is proof that a town can get by without a stop light or a gas station–but every town sure needs a library!

Here are some pictures of this adorable library!

It even has a fireplace!

As Albert Einstein said, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”

And in Hobson, it isn’t hard to find!

***Thanks so much Kim, and the Hobson Library, for making room on your shelves for The Spill!