Illustrator’s Day & the Decatur Book Festival

Three weeks ago I spent a very memorable weekend in Decatur, GA. I flew out for the Southern Breeze SCBWI Illustrator’s Day and it was an even better trip than I expected it to be. The speakers and mentors at this event were excellent and I found it very refreshing to be surrounded by illustrators again… something I haven’t had since I graduated.

The speakers at the event included keynote Kristen Nobles, Art Director for Candlewick Press; Robert Agis, Editor from Sterling Children’s Books; Mike Lowery, illustrator and professor of illustration from SCAD; along with author Laura Murray. The event was very casual and I gained a lot of insight from what they had to say. Robert shared a lot about the illustrator selection process he goes through as an editor. He offered insight into ways that illustrators can make their portfolio and marketing materials stand out “in the crowd”… a lesson I will find to be invaluable as I move forward. Mike and Laura spoke firsthand about their experiences creating their book… THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN SCHOOL (a WONDERFUL story!) Finally, Kristen inspired everyone in the room with her presentation on “giving glory” to your work. She reminded us all that picture books are made of magic… and we need to keep that in mind as we develop the emotions and characters in our work. 

After  the presentations were done, the group went to another room where everyone received a 5-minute portfolio critique from the speakers. This was probably the most beneficial part of my weekend as I learned quickly what kind of first impression my portfolio is making to those in the business. They seemed pleased with what I had brought and most of their recommendations just revolved around diversifying what I am doing. Kristen mentioned that she would like to see me do a few images that are more “simple” to show that I am capable of showing the rise and fall of a book (citing all the detail in my work). Robert suggested doing a few peices which push perspective a bit more… pointing out that a lot of my images seem as if they are actors on the stage. His advice was basically to “make my audience a character in the story” and consider all angles to approach it before showing everything head on. All of them were drawn to my Little Red Riding Hood peice and they encouraged me to do more peices in that “darker” style.  Overall I felt that they offered a lot of insight and I look forward to considering their advice as I move on to new pieces.

That afternoon everyone that participated in the mentorship shared their work and talked about their process with Michael Austin. It was VERY interesting to see how differently everyone handled the topic and to learn what challenges they faced in their own work.

Overall, the conference was wonderful and I hope to go to more Southern Breeze events in the future. Probably the one thing that really resonated with me the whole day was a statement that Robert made. He said to stop working on your portfolio and start promoting your work. He said “even if you just have one good illustration to put on a postcard and a website… do it.” He explained that an artist is never totally happy with their work and you could spend years perfecting. On the other hand… if you share one great piece of work with the right person it could lead to a job.

I felt like he was speaking right to me. (And I’m working on my marketing materials this week!!!)

The rest of the weekend, I spent at the Decatur Book Festival which happened to be going on at the same time. I really lucked out when Laura Murray offered me her tickets to the (sold out) keynote she couldn’t attend. Colin Meloy (author and lead singer of THE DECEMBERISTS) and his wife Carson Ellis (illustrator) spoke that night about their young-adult novel WILDWOOD, which was released last month. Hearing about their collaborative process on the book was amazing and since getting my (signed!) copy I can’t put it down. Beautifully written and beautifully illustrated… Wildwood is definately a work of art. Read it and you will see.

I spent the remainder of the weekend touring the booths at the fair, buying way too much, and talking to a lot of wonderful people. I had the opportunity to meet several small publishers, a few more illustrators, a handful of authors, and dozens of interested (and interesting) readers. Before I headed out I even had the chance (after waiting in line with all the little fans) to meet author/illustrator Judy Schachner of SKIPPYJON JONES fame. If you haven’t heard of her books you should go check them out. They are soooo much fun… and so is she!

Next week I will be headed off to the Kansas SCBWI’s “Lights, Camera, Action… It’s SHOWTIME!” event. With a name like that, it’s sure to be a great conference!


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