Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

Every year I look forward to the SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) Summer Conference, knowing it will be the highlight of the writing year. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with friends and hopefully meet new ones. Coffee is typically consumed in vast quantities and sleep is a rare commodity. Since I am now the illustrator coordinator for our region, this conference began early for me. At pre-conference meetings, I learned about the SCBWI website revamp. Let me sum up by saying that there are going to be some wonderful improvements, and if you’re reading this and not a member of SCBWI already, you’re missing out. Nowhere else will you be able to find a better resource for children’s book writers.

The main conference began bright and early Friday morning, August 3, with over 1200 in attendance representing 15 countries. It ran over three days with a fourth day of intensives. Although my brain is still downloading much of what I heard, I wanted to share some of my favorite take-aways. So here they are:

ARTHUR LEVINE, Vice President and Publisher of his own imprint, Arthur A Levine Books, led off with the first keynote, and spoke about some of his most memorable books and what in his mind makes them timeless.. He said that a book becomes timeless when the author and reader can share an authentic experience. He cited examples of books that do just that, including Lisa Yee’s MILLICENT MIN GIRL GENIUS, Shawn Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, and HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR’S STONE by J.K. Rowling. He reminded the audience that great writers use anticipation instead of surprise, citing Peggy Rathman’s GOOD NIGHT GORILLA as a brilliant example.

TONY DiTERLIZZI, New York Times Bestselling author and illustrator, took the stage next. He is hilarious, by the way, freely covering the stage and at one point crawling on his knees to imitate a child. His pithy take away for me was that when an illustrator reads a manuscript, they are not reading the words; they are reading instructions.

As usual, it was difficult to choose between all of the notable workshops. I opted to sit in onLISSA PRICE’S talk on how to use screenwriting techniques to make your YA novel better.  Using her new novel STARTERS  as an example, she explained that High-Concept books are often an easier sell. She also stressed that a good logline creates emotion, gives an idea of what the protagonist wants, hints at the obstacles to be faced, and spawns an emotional response, often with irony. All this happens in one sentence! Sounds easy, right? Not so much, as was demostrated by many of the volunteers who offered up their loglines.

Following lunch, PATRICIA MACLACHLAN, best known as the author of SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL and winner of the Newbery Medal, the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award,  entertained us with anecdotes about her grandchildren and how they influence her writing. She said that every concern we have now, we had in preschool. I would only argue that I appreciate naps much more now than I did when I was four. Her advice to writers was to remember that character is plot and all plot emerges out of character.

Earlier this year I read TROUBLE by GARY SCHMIDT and marveled at the way he was able to weave thematic significance throughout the book and to surprise me along the way. I was thrilled to see he was on this year’s faculty and made a b-line to his workshop on Layering a Character. What rung true most for me was when he said that speed is never the friend of the writer; we must embrace the time it takes to create. This prompted a giant “note to self,” since I find it a challenge to let ideas percolate and projects to ripen.  He also emphasized that setting should not be merely a stage; it should be a reflection of the character.

The speeches and workshops of the first day were followed by a social for traditionally published authors, and once again this year I had the pleasure of sitting beside Sue Fliess who had her new book, TONS OF TRUCKS, on display. Her energy, warmth, and generosity are contagious, and I am just grateful that our last names fall one after the other and the organizers saw fit to arrange us all alphabetically.

Me with Sue Fliess, and no, we are not in a brothel. It was just really funky lighting.

Imagine a hundred or more amazing and gifted artists all eager to meet more of the same and you get a glimpse of of the social for illustrators organized by the wonderful Priscilla Burris together with SCBWI board advisors Pat Cummings, David Diaz, and Cecilia Yung.  When it was all over , I collapsed back in my room to catch what I could of the Olympics and consume my daily ration of dark chocolate courtesy of Alexis O’Neil, our regional advisor extraordinaire and my roomie for the conference. By the end of the Day 1, my head was brimming over with ideas for new projects, ways to resurrect abandoned ones, and enough inspiration to last me the year. I realized that like the athletes in London, I would need to pace myself or I was never going to make it to the finish. (Read faculty party here.)

Next Week I will be posting Part Two of my conference takeaways. It will feature more insights from the conference along with some incriminating photos from Saturday Night’s festivities. Stay tuned.


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Have you ever noticed how time tends to sneak by us when we’re not looking? Our work seems to swallow us up. I used to know what day of the week it was. Not so much any more.  The other day I wrote the wrong month down on a check (Yes, on rare occasions I still write checks). And now and then I can’t remember what year it is. Now that’s sad, but also a symptom of not taking the time to, well, mark the time.

As an illustrator, though, my job is to be observant, and sometimes within my work, I need to illustrate time-or at least it’s passing. But how DO you show the passing of the years, months, and hours?

The first step is you actually have to stop long enough to note its earmarks. Take yesterday. I went for a brief stroll though my garden, something I do every day. At first it appeared to be still in the hard grasp of winter, but when I stopped long enough to really look, I discovered nature was providing all sorts of clues that a new season was at the door–unfurling nectarine buds, rain-kissed iris, absent birds returned. It made me realize that, while time is a man-made contrivance, I can draw it IF I see it .

I started thinking . It’s too easy to incorporate clocks into my art. That always feels like a cheat. How else can I illustrate time? I looked around and found a well-worn corner on a patio seat cushion, the pool level had dropped, clouds had moved across the sky, the fire pit cover was rusted, termites had gone to work on a piece of firewood. That’s when I realized TIME is PROCESS. That I can illustrate.

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Wish You Were Here

Ever feel like your creative system has crashed? I do. Sometimes I need to sit down and be inspired, but nothing is coming. The day to day grind is the way to get things done, but it eventually saps every last bit of creativity. So how can you reboot your creative self? Here’s some suggestions.

1. In her book , The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests that instead of trying to think something up, we try to get something down. In other words establish a connection with the ideas that are already out there, just waiting for us to listen and discover.

2. Look a different way. Turn the piece you are working on upside down. Look at it in the mirror. Read the sentences backward. Do anything that puts the piece in a new light. For that matter…change the lighting. If you are inside, go outside or vice a versa. if you are working in your office, try working in a noisy cafe. Do it differently and you will see it differently. Often that is all it takes to get that new idea that will make it sing. Why settle for the ordinary.

3. Do something that makes you feel insecure. Take a risk you might not have considered. Maybe you don’t work at all. For some of us that may be terrifying, present company accepted. When you turn your computer off in a crash, you should let it set a moment before rebooting. Why should your creative self be any different? Let the dust settle before giving your project another try.

4. Ask for insight. Sometimes we are so locked in on our goals we lose perspective. Have someone else read your work aloud or comment on what they see in your work. This isn’t about critique so much as translation. What is it you are saying to others? Can you say it another way, in a fresher way?

These are just a few suggestions. Do you have some of your own? I would love to hear them.

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The page turn is one element that separates  children’s book from other book forms. It’s that magical moment when the reader is forced to ask, What is going to happen next?” I asked three people I respect what they think makes a great page turn. Here are their responses.

Naomi Howland: (author/illustrator) I want anticipation on the right hand page, then the answer or surprise on the following page, the left hand one.  When I am laying out the thumbnails and especially the dummy, I move the words around so that I get that delicious sense of “what’s coming next?” before as many page turns as possible.

Ann Whitford Paul: (author) In Her Book WRITING PICTURE BOOKS Ann writes that picture book texts usually occur when one of the following elements of a story changes: 

1. Location – Your character moves to a new location

2. Character – A new character enters or leaves a scene

3. Actions – a significant change in the charater’s action

Carol Heyer: (author/illustrator) In my current writing and reading I consider the page turn like a cliffhanger!  Ending with something that niggles at the reader.  It’s a satisfying chapter ending, but just opens enough of the door into the next chapter to make you want to open it wider and look inside!  I don’t think it necessarily needs to be big either, just something that makes the reader need/want to get that answer before they can shut the book.

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I remember creating some of my first drawings and paintings when I was three. Making art is an interest that has stayed solidly with me ever since. My parents validated these early efforts by providing art supplies and on occasion hanging select pieces prominantly over the family room sofa. They didn’t proclaim my creative efforts to be anything other than what they were, but that was enough.

A few years ago my mother gave me back some of the pieces she had kept in assorted boxes under her bed. These tattered and yellowed sheets of newsprint  adorned in marker and crayon are a reminder of how far I have journeyed on this road to being an artist and of  their unfailing support.

So my advice is, if you are interested in supporting the arts, start at home. Thanks Mom and Dad.

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