This is my very belated post about the Minnesota SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators) conference that took place earlier this October. I’m finally able to write, after my brain has reconstituted from its state of befuddled mush. This was my second time attending the 2-day conference, which consisted of keynote presentations, workshops, and a half-day illustration intensive on character development. The conference was:
- Incredibly helpful to the further development of my craft
- Rather dispiriting regarding the further development I must undertake toward my craft
Overall, the conference was wonderful, because I was challenged. It was reminiscent of a Comparative Literature class I had in college, where the professor could see RIGHT THROUGH my immaculate, well-written essays and realized I wasn’t trying very hard underneath it all. Papers that would have pulled easy “A’s” in every other class were receiving “C’s” and comments to “dig deeper.” And boy did that suck. I was a straight-A student, but I realized it wasn’t because I was actually thinking or trying. I just knew how to write shiny essays with big words. And that lit professor could see through it, which challenged me to work harder, even though it hurt.
The conference was like getting a great big “C” on my illustration portfolio. And I felt shocked, because I could see it myself: My art fell flat. During the portfolio showcase, I was astonished to see fresh, dynamic illustration work from my peers, and the abundance of ways I could improve. I was able to get brief critiques from some accomplished illustrators: Stephen Shasken (“Three Triceratops Tuff”), and Kelly Light (“Louise Loves Art”), who absolutely blew my mind with her illustration intensive on character development. Tucked into the very back of my portfolio, crudely printed off the night before and still in black and white, she noticed my Monster Mall sketch. It’s arguably my least polished piece, but teeming with weird life and humor. Kelly noticed this right away, and encouraged me to keep moving down that path, where it was obvious I was having FUN with illustration.
Again, an overall wonderful experience, but also painful. It’s taken me a few weeks to feel competent again, to feel interested in drawing and painting again. To feel empowered by all the resources and tips and knowledge I gained, rather than completely overwhelmed and defeated. I am an artist, and there’s always room for improvement. It’s a life path that’s truly all about the journey, not the destination, not the big red “A” on the top of my work. At the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis (a remarkable resource for writers, if you haven’t checked it out), one of my instructors gave me a mantra that’s always stuck with me and pulled me through these murky times of self-doubt. She said, “You are uniquely qualified to tell your story.” I think I just need to get back to the roots of my story — adorable/quirky monsters buying bug smoothies. Or as my partner Alex would say “mice flying planes.” I’m good at those, too.
Again, overall a very positive experience, and as always, such a wonderful networking experience. I found myself hunting down fellow illustrators like a bloodhound, because the conference in primarily geared towards writers, and when I approached someone with the “illustrator” name tag, I found it was David Huyck, who illustrated “If Kids Ruled the World,” a magical picture book I’d JUST picked up from the library a week ago. He became my “doodle buddy” and spent the conference drawing away with me in our notebook’s margins. I also met Drew Brockington whose “Catstronauts” are the freakin’ cats’ pajamas.
And finally, in tradition with last year’s blog post about SCBWI, I just want to throw out a few other quotes/gems that resonated with me from the conference:
- “I’ve spent most of the day putting in a comma, and the rest of the day taking it out.” —Oscar Wilde
- “Illustrate and write with fire and panache!” —Bruce Hale
- “Look, I don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you’re not alive.” —Mel Brooks”
- “When you boil things down to their simplest, it actually makes it harder.” —Regarding gesture drawings during Kelly Light’s intensive
And finally, one of my favorite quotes of all time was retold by Bruce Hale at the conference:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
—-from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.
So keep that in mind, friends, as you pursue your own creative endeavors…give yourself permission to let your light shine, and remember that you are uniquely qualified to tell your story!