Summary: Upon returning home from the Summer SCBWI International conference. My mind is totally a-washed with good ideas and information that is keeping me jazzed. In this post, “Who’s Bryan Collier anyway?!”
Now, there’s no way that I could possibly cram a whole experience into a blog post, well there is but nobody wants to read the epic-novel-length-blog-post, so I am just going to hit some of my personal highlights, and observations in a series of posts.
Appreciation for the SCBWI
Joining the SCBWI was maybe one of the better moves I’ve made in my career. Having gone to other conferences, and met with other groups of Illustrators, at the SCBWI I feel like I am amongst my people, a member of the tribe so to speak. So, if you aren’t a member yet, check it out. Fork out the $85 for a year’s membership and buckle up, the benefits of being a member totally justify the fee.
I am the Illustrator Coordinator for the San Francisco North and East Bay Region of the SCBWI, and part of that agreement is that I’ve got to volunteer at these events. A more than fair trade off … which ended up being incredible.
My first real volunteer task at the conference was to introduce Bryan Collier at a break-out session. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know who Bryan was before this event. I had done a cursory look through the faculty tryinng to discern who might be a folks were and for potential connections. When I first met Bryan I had to admit that I didn’t really know who he was, and I asked him how he’d like to be introduced. He was patient and in good spirits, so we talked for a moment or two before he handed me a back cover blurb about him from his book Dave The Potter.
I got to about the third line of the blurb, to the part where it says that he’d won a Caldecott Medal for his book Uptown. “Dude! That’s awesome, you won a Caldecott!” says I.
With out a drop of pretention, he said, “Yeah, I won three of them.”
Cue embarrassment, and color me red. We shared a quick laugh about that and I continued to read on. Luckily, I recognized an organization that he’s a part of, the Harlem Horizon Studio and Harlem Hospital Center, from the faculty bios. This is a program that provides working space and materials for self-taught artists in the community. I chose to emphasized that in my brief introduction of Bryan; Caldecott’s… whatever, but community service, now we’re talking!
Bryan went on to deliver what can only be described as a profoundly moving talk about his work, and his deeper connection with it. I don’t think that there was a dry eye in the room when he finished. Later in the conference he would go on to deliver a similar experience to all 1200+ people in attendance at a keynote speech. It was simply amazing.
You Simply Can’t Imagine
There’s no way that I could even begin to capture the essence of Bryan’s talk here, but here are a few touch stones that he talked about.
Bryan basically centered his talk around the metaphor of “the seed.” The seed gets planted, the seed gets watered, the seed gets ignited. “You can’t imagine,” Bryan said, “what this seed is going to be; it’s going to be mind blowing!”
He followed a thread that ran all the way back to his own childhood experiences with Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Snowy Day. He talked about the subliminal effect that his Grandmother’s quilts had on him, which would only become evident later in life and with some sincere introspection.
Bryan also talked about putting in 7 years of everyday effort into showing his portfolio at the different publishing houses. Part of what seemed to consistently drawn him forward on this path was to know on a personal level what it feels like when you, as a boy or a girl, open up a book and sees themselves.
“The whole world has been waiting for you to dream; that transforming dream– but that’s only 50%, the other 50% are the kids and helping to bring their dreams to life.”
Bryan went on to talk about the depth of research that he does when illustrating a book. He did things like going to South Carolina to see where Dave the Potter lived and worked as a slave, and, going to the Langston Hughes house in Harlem and getting a tour of the house and seeing the actual typewriter that Langston used to write with. That’s some serious in-depth knowledge about his subject matter, and I think that in all that effort Bryan absorbed some of the feelings of those places, the mojo if you will, and that those same feelings can be found in the work that he created from those experiences that ultimately finds its way into the book.
Do you think that the average reader of any of his books are going to be consciously aware this sort of things? Probably not, and in all honesty it would probably detract from the stories, but I’ll bet they can sense the authenticity in each of his books. No doubt that’s why he’s a multiple award winning author-illustrator.
Bryan set the bar spectacularly high for presentations. Amazingly, as the weekend progressed, again and again I was blown away by other presenters, their stories, and their depth of understanding of the craft of telling stories. Like Bryan says, “you can’t imagine,” but it was mind blowing!
Keep your eye’s peeled for more posts about my experience at the SCBWI conference. I will try to keep the next ones under 1000 words!
Were there? Are you curious to know more? I’d love to hear what you thought of Bryan or any of the experience in the comments section below!