12 Incendiary Ideas from the SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference

Summary: A brief recap of the the 2012 SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference followed by 12 ideas that ignited my imagination.

This past weekend, I attended the SCBWI North/Central Region’s Spring Spirit Conference. I have been to conferences before and this one was quite wonderful. I can’t tell you what I was expecting, but ironically this experience exceeded all my expectations.

As an illustrator in a writer dominated group, I was super pleased at all the effort that the North/Central team put into this event to make sure that there was plenty of good stuff for the illustrators in attendance. That being said, I did glean some gems from the writers and editors who gave presentations as well.

The presenters were exceptional. Along with doing their own presentations, they evaluated manuscripts in written critiques for the writers, and for the illustrators, we were treated to a portfolio review and personal feedback with Ellice Lee, Assistant Art Director at Random House, LeUyen Pham, Illustratess Extraordinaire, and Brett Duquette of Sterling books. There was also a Best of Show for the portfolios, in which my work was awarded runner up to the very deserving Kris McLeod who was awarded top honors.

The other notable speakers at the conference were:

The Main Conference Area

I could only manage to take just this one picture, as the rest of the time I was totally engrossed in being there. But, enough of the recap, let’s get on to some great ideas!

The 12 Incendiary Ideas

In No Particular Order

1. “Follow Your Weird”

When SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver busted out with this one, I had a belly full of jelly laughs. It really put me in mind of some of my other heros like Wavy Gravy who was quoting Hunter S. Thomson when he said, “When the going get’s weird the weird get pro.” I was overjoyed to hear this, yes, weird is good, your weird is your uniqueness. Keep it up.

2. The Contact Window

One of the valuable aspects of being an SCBWI membership and attending a conference like this is that there’s a window of time directly after the conference where editors and art directors are open to being contacted. This is really great news, especially for folks like me who’re still on that precarious cusp of entering into the world of children’s publishing.

3. Lifting the Veil of Mystery

Removing the veil of mystery that surround the publishing process. We learned about the collaborative nature of the editing and art departments. At one point, I asked the question about who to contact, the editor or the art director, because I’d heard about the shift in power from one to the other, but was pleasenetly surpised to hear about the collaborative nature of the relationship between the editors and the art directors.

4. Cause A Stir

This one is sort of a re-iteration that most of us have heard before, but it’s always nice to bring it back up and to discuss the importance of an emotional connection to one’s work. During the Editor/Art Director Roundtable, each of the presenters in the own way made it a point to say this. Make the viewer or reader feel something is vital, and this of course stems from our own personal passion for the work.

5. Create a Sketch Portfolio

This little gem of an idea came from LeUyen Pham, and she brought up a good point that sketches are, by their very nature, “sketchy”, that is to say that they’re not finished pieces. As a result there’s a possibility to enter into a different type of dialogue with people about the work.

6. The Dry Spell Fund

This is some pretty solid financial advice about setting aside enough money in the bank just in case the bottom drops out. File this tip under Financial Brass Tacks.

7. Your Portfolio is a Book

When I heard this idea, I was dumbstruck. Well, of course it is! By arranging your portfolio in a way where you are conscientiously using eye-flow to arrange your work, the viewer can more easily imagine your work in a book. One of the biggest key elements to being able to do this is consistency of work.

8. Drawing Is Valuable

This was like a cool breeze on a summers day to my mind. I love that the presenters made a point of saying that draftsmanship is still a valuable skill,and is one of the foundational building blocks that an Art Director looks at in a a portfolio.

9. Know thy self

This is evergreen advice that can’t be emphasized enough. There is a clear line of connections leading from your own intimate understanding who you are and why you do what you do, to the work that you create. The stronger those connections are, I believe, the more the work will resonate with others.

10. Be on time. Period end of story.

If the unthinkable happens and you aren’t able to deliver the work within the schedule, be honest, flexible, and communicate clearly with your client. There are a lot of machinations that go on for each and every book that is in production, and they need to know if something is amiss. These folks are depending on you, sticking their necks out for you, so don’t put them into difficult postion!

11. “Even the stroke of a paintbrush is an assistnat to the eye-flow.”

Composition and Eye-flow are some primary narrative story telling devices. However, composition and eye-flow can only suggest where you want you viewers eyes to go, at that point it’s up to you to render the emotion.

12. Rule #1: Every Rule is meant to be broken, providing that it is broken smartly!

I call this the Laverne and Shirley Law.

We're gonna make our dreams come true!

These are just a dozen of the great ideas and comments that really made a dent in my psyche. Some are reiterations of things I’ve heard before and some are new, but they’re all really inspirational.

Personally, I left the conference feeling that I was given some solid advice on how to help tweak my work just that little bit further, and to help take it up to the next level and get it published. There was a lot of talent in the room and not a lot of ego; the overall vibe of the place was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Lin Oliver at a few points in her talk referred to the SCBWI as a tribe, and I think that’s about right. It really felt like I’d found my people.

I’m excited and energized to get back to the drawing board  and to start working on my next piece

Stay Tuned!

3 Responses to 12 Incendiary Ideas from the SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference

  1. Thanks for sharing Brian! It sounds like a wonderful day and I was sad to miss it. Love your site and your artwork – Anne

  2. I enjoyed learning about what you gleaned. I have been on the sidelines of the childrens book world for a while now, making the occasional play ( fumbles mostly) and hope to use these excellent ideas to make my next book dummy and pitch.

  3. Howdy Jason, Excellent! Good luck with your next pitch. Clearly I found my experience here as an outstanding source of inspiration, I’d recommend checking out your local chapter of the SCBWI to help with your next book. Another good tip is to check out The Paperwings Podcast, they recently did a video on pitches for books.


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