Friday, January 23, 2015

SCBWI Miami Conference 2015

For the past 4 years I have attended the SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers & Illustrators) Regional conference in Miami. I absolutely love attending this conference for many reasons:

1. It's Miami in January
2. The people are amazing! Talented, friendly, prolific, successful, and creative!
3. It's a lot smaller than the LA conference (usually has 1200+ attendees, whereas Miami has 200+) so it's a heckuva lot easier to build friendships and get noticed by all the agents, art directors, editors, and fellow members.

This year, the chapter put on two new events: the Illustrator's Intensive and the Rising Kite Illustration Contest. I participated in both and I must say, the experience was rewarding.

Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon & Schuster Children's Trade Publishing was a speaker and critiquer for both events. The other guest speaker was the amazing Raul Colon, who works in traditional media and creates beautifully rendered books such as DRAW! On Friday, they spent the day with us, talking about the industry and critiquing our "best and worst" portfolio pieces. It is so enlightening to have an AD and fellow illustrator offer honest critique. I learned alot from them and what they had to say about my work, along with the 15 other artists in the room.

A couple highlights from the Friday Intensive:

  • Postcards are still the best way in! Laurent was adamant on this one. He says he hates email (they are zombies coming to eat his brains and he keeps killing them but they keep on coming back, lol). So the BEST way to get your work in front of him is through postcards. 
  • What does he look for in a great postcard sample? STORYTELLING & EMOTION. Granted, not all samples have to be some epic tale, but it needs to show more than a nice portrait of a girl, for example. There must be conflict, action, expression, good design.
  • The other thing he pointed out is that everything - EVERYTHING must BE a character. A picture book is theatre. The artist is the set designer, the lighting designer, the costume designer, the prop designer, the stage designer. Make it all unique and interesting!
On Saturday, the keynote speaker line up was excellent, beginning with the brilliant author Chris Grabenstein, Verla Kay, Raul Colon, Laurent Linn, and VP Publisher Justin Chanda. Here's a sneak peek from my sketchbook:

After all the keynotes, we had the paid critiques session. I was asked this year to critique four portfolios. I love seeing passion in someone's eyes when they talk about their ideas and work! Lots of talent! I also paid to have a critique with Laurent Linn. His 15 minutes of feedback was golden! I am excited to send him some new work in the near future!

This year's Saturday night gala was themed "Heroes and Villains Masquerade". One thing I LOVE about Miami is that the majority of attendees dress up. If you don't dress up, you actually look odd! Again, this chapter gives the LA conference a run for their money when it comes to partying! (one might think that children's book people don't let loose, but really it's a roomfull of 200+ writers and illustrators - we all have characters living in our imaginations - so it's actually not too surprising I guess to see things like this:

I dressed up this year as Mrs. Incredible, and my villainous friend here is Gaby Triana as Ursula. There are many many more wonderful costumes to be seen here at this SCBWI Miami slideshow on Youtube.

On Sunday, I attended Raul's workshop about Line and Color. He showed us how he creates the beautiful scratching technique that is his signature mark, and also what colors he uses to achieve his palettes. He brought in his sketchbook full of little painted studies with color notes everywhere - it was fascinating to see his process! I left that workshop feeling inspired and ready to make art!

I also attended Laurent Linn's workshop on the Trade, Mass, and Educational Markets and where your style fits. He totally shed light on the differences between the three. In a nutshell:

  • Educational - textbooks sold to schools and libraries, have shorter deadlines, less polished artwork, the style is often dictated and looks less distinctive, more "cartoony" or animation style, not a lot of feedback from art directors.
  • Mass - sometimes has a TV tie in like the muppets or Disney, usually lots of activity books, paperback, cartoon animation styles that are less distinct, sold at the drug store, Kmart, etc. 
  • Trade - classic hardcover picture book, usually considered fine literature, a huge investment on the publisher's end because it's more expensive to produce and buy, artist is hired for their unique vision and given free reign on ideas for illustrating the text. Lots of interaction afterwards with the art director, usually uses more "traditional" art. 

Laurent has worked in all three markets and says there is no shame in illustrating for any or all of them. He also made it clear that there is a lot of crossover between styles (sometimes trade books have cartoony animation styles while mass market books use refined traditional styles). 

Alright, moving on. Last but not least, they announced the Rising Kite Illustration contest winners, and I'm excited to say I received an honorable mention! For the contest, illustrator's had to work with this prompt: "Robin's gift was different from all the others". My focus right now is middle grade book covers, so I wanted to come up with an idea that was more conceptual that could serve as a cover. So, I submitted The Gift of Tears:

Robin's "gift" is the gift of crying (which at first looks like a curse...that's why it's different! Because it's not a curse, it's a gift). I felt I was taking a risk with such a weird concept, but I didn't want to do the first thing that popped in my head (birthday parties, Christmas presents, etc) because I had a feeling other people would create something along those themes (and they did...and they won first, second, and third place) so I was actually really surprised and pleased to have won an honorable mention!! Here's a pic of the winners!

And a few fangirl pictures of me with Raul Colon and Laurent Linn:

Like every other year before, I am once again inspired from a weekend of hanging out with my tribe of creative storytellers. I am so thankful for the SCBWI and all my Florida friends! It's always bittersweet leaving the conference, but it's exciting to know that we are all working on our projects together in spirit throughout the year. I look forward to the next one, and until then, let's make pictures and share our stories with the world!