April 19, 2011

SCBWI Houston 2011 Conference Notes

(Comments are enabled! I'm so sorry they were blocked before)
SCBWI-Houston's 2011 Conference was a smashing success! We had enthusiastic attendees and fabulous speakers.  A good mix all around.  (photos courtesy of Marianne Dyson)

First, huge congratulations to Roberta Baird for winning the Illustrators' Portfolio Showcase! I've yet to meet a harder working, more productive illustrator. 

Two speakers in particular were of interest to the illustrators. The first was Ruth McNally Barshaw, author-illustrator extraordinaire. (I first met Ruth five years ago at my first SCBWI New York conference. She is as lovely and warm now as she was then.) Ruth was our keynote speaker and did an amazing job of waking everyone up with her energetic sketch presentation. The creative juices were flowing, and the smiles were stretching ear to ear by the time she finished up!

Later that morning we were treated to a presentation by creative director at Simon & Schuster,  Laurent Linn. (He has got to be one of the most amazingly nice, well-spoken and helpful people I've ever met! His parents deserve a thank you card for the great job they did!) Laurent touched on storytelling with pictures. It was an entertaining and informative presentation that did a lot to show authors why their word choice was so important to illustrators.
 A few of his tips:
*We think cinematically so a picture book can be very theatrical. A lot of work goes into establishing scene, designing costume and playing with light and shadow.
*Everything in a book is a character. Never be generic in your descriptions.

During his presentation Laurent said something to the effect of: “The art of the picture book is unfiltered story telling. When a book is read aloud, it becomes filtered through voice inflection by the reader. The art is the purest form of story for a child.” Isn’t that an empowering thought for illustrators?

In the afternoon Laurent led a breakout session for illustrators entitled, "The Nitty Gritty of Picture Book Illustration"  He showed well-known pieces of art that anyone would recognize as being beautifully rendered, but then went on to explain why those pieces would not work in children's books.

Laurent shared photos of how book pages were printed and shared why most picture books are thirty-two pages (because of the printing process). He shared the process of a book from thumbnail sketches to final art as well as the incarnation of a book cover. While walking us through these transformations, he explained a few things that need to be kept in mind: 
*Know your audience.
*Manuscript comes first.
*Within 32 pages, there needs to be a beginning-middle-end and the main character has to be transformed in his/her own way.
*It's fine to be inspired by your family, pets, etc. but your story needs to be universal. At the same time, how is it different than all the other stories out there?

And finally, Laurent shared tips on illustrator promotion:
*Book dummies go to editors.
*We've heard it 1,000 times, but postcards samples are best-every 3-4 months
 *Websites are portfolios.
*A good way to build your mailing list is to see who is speaking at SCBWI conference, because that means they are actively looking for new talent.
*Look at the copyright information of your favorite books to see who the designers are. They are often the creative/art directors of a publishing house working under a different title.

I couldn't have been more thrilled with the way the conference weekend turned out. I hope we have just as much fun and as many light-bulb moments as we did this year!
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