Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Getting closer to my essence: my story of the SCBWI 2011 LA Summer Conference

If you are able to be yourself, then you have no competition. All you have to do is get closer and closer to that essence. ~ Barbara Cook

Last Thursday after packing high hopes in my suitcase and the kids off to school, Jim Dear dropped me off at the airport for my trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. The conference is a 3 day extravaganza of publishing stars and schmoozing. It was my first time going and I had been working feverishly for the last 7 months perfecting my portfolio so that I might also perfect my stranglehold on the children's book illustration industry.

Stranglehold or not, I did have a good time, met several new very cool people (including roomies Kay and Renee) and got to shake hands with and hand cards to all of the people on my list. What follows are my high points of the conference and the sketches that accompanied them.

David Small gave a keynote on Saturday centered around his riveting graphic novel, Stitches. Its the story of his harrowing childhood that set him on the path to art and illustrating as a saving grace. He took the audience from a wide eyed horror at some of the depictions of his child hood to foot stomping, hand clapping, singing along to "How Sweet It Is." I'm definitely buying this book. Later I introduced myself at one of the workshops and as he shook my hand he said, "I can feel your illustrator power, you'll be ok." David Small and his co-creator wife Sarah Stewart were probably the highest of highlights for me. This sketch of him is small simply because most of the time I spent listening and gripping the edge of the seat instead of my pencil.

Then, as if the cosmos in the ballroom couldn't bear to be let down into the ordinary, SCBWI Exec Lin Oliver introduced the next guest .... Judy Blume! OK so just about every girl my age, especially if she was not beautiful and vivacious poured over the words of Judy Blume's books as if the author was speaking directly to us. Lin Oliver interviewed her for about an hour and she was just as sparkling funny as her books.

Saturday night was the 40 Winks Ball, the theme was anything having to do with sleep or dreams. All of us Mid-southers went as a slumber party, in matching pajama shirts. We didn't win but it was fun. I had neither camera or sketchbook with me but you can see videos here.

Here's a smattering of sketches from keynote speakers over saturday and Sunday, which included John Scieszka, Norton Juster, Gary Paulsen, and Mary Pope Osborne.

Now I have to include this picture of the dessert from the Golden Kite Awards dinner on Sunday. While it did not have any industry connections or insightful commentary on creating kids books it did look pretty rad. And it was delicious, I couldn't even eat the whole thing.

Portfolio review and epilogue:
The amazing Dan Santat critiqued my portfolio on Friday. Immediately before the critique I found myself sitting next to Tammi Sauer, author of uber-funny Chicken Dance, and a dadgum nice person. When I told her that the illustrator of Chicken Dance, Dan Santat, was about to critique my work she said "oh! you'll love him! Tell him Tammi says hi!" Dan turned out to be a very low key. While he had compliments for my work and a couple of suggestions, I was a little baffled by his lack of enthusiasm, especially when he "said your work is fantastic" Notice no exclamation point. I ruminated on the whole experience for the next 3 days.... until I climbed into the airport shuttle and was once again sitting next to Tammi Sauer. We exclaimed hellos and chatted about the conference and children. I debated bringing up the critique but didn't until she asked how it went. Well, I said, he said my work was "fantastic" but he didn't really sound excited. "Oh" said she, "that's just how he is, trust me if he doesn't just say that about everyone. That's high praise."


Years ago when my mom was a librarian, she would return from ALA conferences, suitcases heavy with treasures inside. One after another she would pull out books, posters, artwork, and more books out for us to salivate over. Often they were signed copies. Monday night it was my turn to recreate the scene with Fry and Sprout. As they swarmed around me, I handed them book after book. Sprout summed it up when she said "Mommy went away, but she brought us better books!" I hope that this trip will one day yield better books for Mommy.

1 comment:

Julia Kelly said...

I was there too- 180 portfolios is a little daunting, isn't it!
Santat is right- your work is fantastic~!