Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Return from Rutgers: Two months later and it still feel intense

I promised myself I would write a post about my trip to the Rutgers Council On Children's Literature Conference for one very simple reason: While researching for the conference I never read a blog written by an illustrator who had applied without a manuscript. Was there anything special to know if all your mentor sees are your illustrations? I can't tell you how many times I typed that question in various forms into Google. Turns out I did get some answers to that question and on the plane home from New Jersey I started scripting out this blog post.

Then while standing in Baggage I got a text asking if I was available for a couple of new illustrations projects with a tight deadline. As should be very obvious by now, illustrators are like Ado Annie from OKLAHOMA….

Two months and two projects later here's that blog from that flight home, dusted off for punctuation:

One Intense Day
My mentor was Doris Ettlinger, an illustrator who's watercolors are simply stunning. Here's a cover from her new book, releasing in January from Sleeping Bear Press:

Beautiful right? This is a no brainer purchase for Fabulous Illustrator - I love the beach and now I've met the illustrator. One of the things Doris suggested that I've been really trying to push is using a complete overhead view at least once somewhere in the sequence of illustrations. Here are a couple of examples she showed me:
From Pilgrim Cat, by Carol Peacock
Also from S is for Sea Glass by Richard Michelson

I've always loved angles in my work but these are extreme! I'm looking forward to "tipping over the edge" and looking straight down on my characters.

The keynote speaker was, Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Her speech was inspiring, except for when she showed Nashville's embarrassing Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in her presentation.
Everyone sitting near me swiveled around to ask "is that really IN Nashville?" Yes, shudder, it is.

Lunch with the editors was the beehive of networking I expected it to be though everyone I met was surprisingly open and even expressed interested in seeing more work after the conference.

So from one heck of an intense day here's my top 5 take-aways for anyone planning to apply or doing the legwork after being accepted:

Number 5: Make sure there's a picture of each person in your research. Shortly after the morning introductions, the curtain separating the two rooms of mentors and mentees rolls back. Seeing a room full of NY editors and agents suddenly appear before your eyes can be... ah... daunting. But we illustrators are visual people and being able to recognize faces made it easier. I was pleasantly surprised how many people looked like their Linked In profile.

Number 4: Check the list twice, or 15 times. The list that Rutgers publishes of the mentors changes several times before the conference, even the night before. I also recommend starting your research even before knowing that you are accepted. It doesn't go to waste and it makes for much less cramming in September.

Number 3: Remember how way back in May you didn't feel you had a dummy worth sending and you only sent in the 5 illustration samples? I feel you, but realize that your mentor only sees your work that morning. So take your portfolio! Otherwise all they have to give you feedback on are the 5 copies sent months ago. The wireless signal in the building is not great so don't count on getting online... its best to schlep the hardcopy with you. The schlepping is worth it because I was able to show it to industry folks beyond my mentor and 5 on 5 Group.

Number 2: Leave early from the panel discussion right before lunch and stalk your lunch table. I was surprised by how many people didn't do this. While the panel discussion was interesting, if you've attended years of SCBWI conferences then I bet you've heard the same info before. The mentors are seated for lunch at the same tables they sit in the 5 on 5 groups. Its easy enough to look at the table groupings and figure out your best lunch dates, park your portfolio bag, and guarantee some networking.

Number 1: This is possibly the biggest take-away…. if I had to do it over again I would apply with a dummy. While I brought mine with me, my mentor wasn't expecting to give feedback on it. Even if its not the sterling document that you want it to be, send it in so that your mentor can be prepared. My work changed a lot from the time I applied to when I actually attended the conference. You can always bring an updated dummy with you.

Finally what I learned from the weekend was keep working.

That means in your hotel room that night. 

The conference ends at 4 pm. I returned to my hotel and worked for the next 6 hours on an adrenaline high. Don't miss the chance to use the conference as an artist's retreat because when better to work than after a day of consultation and inspiration.

As a shout out thank you to Doris Ettlinger for letting me post her work on this blog check out where she lives online:

Illustrations © Doris Ettlinger 

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