This past weekend was the 2012 SCBWI Western Washington conference. It was the best conference I have attended to date, and not only because I won the Grand Prize in the Juried Art Portfolio show (though that certainly helped crank the excitement level up to 11).
A few major themes of the conference:
Practice! Produce work like crazy. Even if you don't have anything to work on, create assignments for yourself. Melissa Sweet had a number of self-imposed assignments, like creating images based on classic fairy tale characters, doing a 15 minute watercolor painting every day for a year, or making charts about the weather every day.
Emotion. Everyone was talking about books that made them laugh or cry. The books that stick with us are ones that make us feel something. I am a huge crybaby and teared up about 20 times during those two days, and for real cried when I won the portfolio show. Luckily I was sitting in the back of the room and only a few people had to witness it. Phew!
Passion. Bruce Hale said, "Do what you love and love what you do." It turns out that children's books aren't the get-rich-quick scheme you might have thought they were. So you'd better be enjoying what you are doing, 'cause you're not in it for the money.
Persistence. From Bruce Hale again: "Persistence beats talent every day." Rejection is part of the business. Don't take it personally. Keep submitting. Keep creating. DON'T GIVE UP.
There were some really amazing speakers at this conference: Melissa Sweet won me over by giving us all free books in her session (and also she was a super nice lady and a great speaker), Matt de la Pena made me laugh and almost cry (but I toughed it out and sucked the tears back into my ducts), and Bruce Hale was not only motivating but also ended his speech with a singalong (and he's a crazy good singer to boot).
I fell in love with both the Art Directors at this conference. Though, to be honest, I haven't been able to shut up about Scott Magoon for a while, ever since I learned that a) he works as an art director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, b) he is a really great illustrator and an author, c) he has two kids and d) he was training for the Boston Marathon, which he ran the week before the conference. Really, a marathon? C'mon! It made me realize that I could work my day job, raise a kid, and be productive as an illustrator. I'm not even exercising at all, so just think of the time I'm saving by not training for a marathon. I should have plenty of time to fit all this other stuff in!
The other art director was Lucy Ruth Cummins, who was really well spoken, passionate about kids books, and also incredibly cute and fashionable. I had a art sample consultation with her on Saturday, and I was so impressed by how much care and preparation she had put into her consultations. She was just a delight to talk to and had some very nice things to say about my work. The ten minutes went by in a flash but she sent me off with a letter summarizing her thoughts about my samples, which I have re-read three times already and will treasure forever and ever. I am considering framing it, is that too weird? Anyhow, I attended her breakout sessions on Sunday and found her to be a compelling speaker and really funny as well.
One big difference about this conference and my previous conferences is that I actually made an effort to talk to other people. I am, like many other creative people, an introvert at heart, and after a few conferences of hardly talking to anyone, realized that in order to get the most of the conference, I needed to meet people. I talked to a lot of amazing writers and illustrators and hope to continue to connect with people at our monthly meetings and online (I have a Twitter problem, I admit it).
And then, to cap it all off, I ended up winning the Grand Prize in the portfolio show. I was fantasizing about winning but not really expecting it, and was just overwhelmed (as previously mentioned, did some weeping at the back of the room). I have completely revamped my illustration style since last year, and winning the show really validated the work I have put into my portfolio. I don't expect the overnight success that last year's winner, Ben Clanton, has experienced, but it has given me a huge dose of confidence and now I will not be quite so nervous about submitting. And, afterward, people were coming up to talk to me! Me!
What a fantastic couple of days.
Best quote of the conference: "Melissa Sweet is a cyborg." (said by Lucy Ruth Cummins in reference to the massive amount of work Melissa Sweet is constantly producing)