SCBWI NY Conference Notes:
Friday – Illustrator’s Intensive
There were really great speakers and a portfolio exhibit. This was a
good year for the illustrator’s intensive. The only bump in the road was
not finding out we had an assignment until the day before the
conference. Lots of other people didn’t know either.
Paul O. Zelinsky (my favorite speaker of the day – even if it was too early in the am):
- He uses the style/medium that fits the story he’s illustrating and not just the style that people expect him to use.
- When he’s inspired by something, he doesn’t do a copy of that picture or style, he finds his own unique way to do it.
- Did the art project with us later, when Kevin Hawkes was speaking.
Paul gets the creativity award for the day. He didn’t have any glue for
the project, so he used the mints on the table … brilliant!
- It’s important to do personal work and what inspires you. It will find a way into your work.
- After reading a poem/story to illustrate, she circles the main
concept words. Then she takes those words, or phrases, and brainstorms
about them to figure out what to illustrate for each scene or poem.
(*This is something I’m going to try in the future to illustrate
something other than what’s expected.)
- Curved lines are not static.
- Curved diagonals have a lot of energy.
- Figure out where the emotional center of the story is going to go,
then try not to hijack that (especially when working with another
- Shapes that come to a point can be scary to a 5 year old.
Art Director Panel (All said they don’t look at source books – look online instead):
Ann Bobco (Atheneum, McElderry and Beach Lane):
- Make sure pictures are not redundant to the text. The example she
showed was from Seven Hungry Babies (out this spring). The story the
illustrations tell is why mama bird gets so tired by the end of the
book. Each time she gets food for the baby, she faces some kind of
challenge, which is not in the text.
- Art samples need to speak to her as if they are coming from a real person or tied to an individual working in that voice.
Chad Beckerman (Abrams and Amulet):
- Likes illustrators that don’t need to be pushed, but come up with ideas, character sketches, etc.
- Passion – give more than is expected. Don’t settle just to get the work done. Picture books are a continuous job. It’s a job.
- Art is a constant exploration, not, “I’m done./This is all there
is.” It’s easy to work with and give feedback to artists that are used
to evolving and exploring.
- He likes what entertains him now and would have when he was a kid/teen.
Lee Wade (Schwartz and Wade):
- Asks all new illustrators, “are you up for this?” There’s a steep
learning curve for illustrators of picture books. It’s par for the
course to get four pages of illustration notes as feedback on the dummy
or sketches. Every round of sketches/illustrations has this kind of
feedback from them.
- Consistency is one of the biggest challenges in picture books.
- hear/read the feedback comments and process them/interpret them in your own way.
- Questions she asks when looking at an art sample: Does she feel
something? Know that kid? Know what the animal is thinking? Is there
emotion? Is there a different take on the subject?
- “Find the crack that lets the light in.” – let the characters be
human, with cracks/flaws/gritty bits that let the reader grab on.
- “First you jump off the cliff, then you build the wings.” – quote
by Ray Bradbury – There is nothing without the leap of faith. There’s no
easy way; you have to do the work. You have to jump/feel the fear – if
it’s not scary, it’s not worth it. “Join me in a year of writing
dangerously.” (I’m in; are you?)
Laurent Linn (Simon and Schuster):
- Art samples – what came before and what came next?
- Characters are important.
- Kids see things in cinematic terms now. Illustrators should think
this way too. Think of it like theater. You’re designing the costume,
character, hair and makeup, set design, and lighting. Make them specific
- Left to right moves the action forward. Right to left can and will stop the action.
Ben Schrank (Razorbill):
- Voice and concept both have to be there, like Reeses Peanut Butter
Cups – the chocolate and the peanut butter are both good, but great
- If your story has no link to the fantasy life or the real life of a reader, it won’t work for a publisher.
- What makes a success and a successful writer? It really pays to be nice, in addition to being confident and secure.
Arianne Lewin (Disney/Hyperion):
- Most of the books on her list are fantasy.
- Sees a lot of paranormal romance and dystopian.
- Story has to stay true to the MC.
- Ask: Is your concept workable? The world/magic has to have rules.
Powers aren’t for sometimes or convenience. You have to account for
everything your supernatural characters need. (2 authors with info on
world building on their sites: Holly Black and Cinda Chima.)
- Need to figure out an organic way to show world and how it works, not just exposition.
- Keep a few loose threads for possible sequels or companion novels.
- Try to poke as many holes in your story as you can before sending it out because an editor or agent will do that.
- Need to have an end game/stakes. Make sure they are something your reader will care about.
- Think about your book. Who will it interest? Will the world relate to our world?
- Likes: fast paced, horror, being scared, anything that creates tension.
- You are not your work.
- Your editors will make you better writers if you let them.
- If you don’t draw/write every day for fun, you should start (even if it’s writing obscenities to a loved one).
Tina Wexler: You should have a hobby that’s not related to writing/illustrating/day job. Then bring that into your writing.
George Nicholson: Really consider if your historical needs to be that time period.
Rosemary Stimola: Looks for something that stands out and asks if she can give a new client the time they need/want to be successful.
- Remember: BIC and HOP (Butt In Chair and Heart On Page).
-You may never be the best, but you can always get better.
- No one outside of a fairytale expects a happy ending.
- In a meaningful ending, there must be a lifetime of discussions. Do not be afraid of the hard work.
- Fall through the words into the story. (I love this quote!)
- Sometimes simply simple is best, but not everything should be simplified.
- It’s not the opening line, but what it portends for the story. It’s the DNA of the book.
- There’s no such thing as the time fairy. You have to grab/take
time. (I really wish there were a time fairy though. How cool would that
- Details must be specific, like you’ve been there.
- We play all day with imaginary friends … of course we’re crazy.
- There are actually projects you will never complete. Walk away.