Sunday, February 23, 2014

What A Conference! Thank You and We'll See You In Los Angeles!

Though we're missing Suzanne Young (cheering you on Suzanne, for the release in the UK of your YA novel "Just Like Fate!"), all of us on Team Blog want to thank you for sharing in this digital expression of a weekend overflowing with craft, inspiration, business, opportunity and community!

Special shout outs of appreciation to our Conference Illustrator Journal participants Andy Musser, Arree Chung, Brooke Boynton Hughes, Dana Arnim, Elizabeth Dulemba, Mike Curato and Suzanne Kaufman. (Those links will take you to their conference illustrations!)

Clockwise from the top: Lee Wind, Jaime Temairik, Martha Brockenbrough and Jolie Stekly

Check out all the conference blog posts (and leave comments where you'd like to join in the conversation), explore the conference quotes on tumblr and get your feet wet (or better yet, jump into) the #ny14scbwi tweet-stream.

Did you attend and blog about your own conference experience? Add a comment (with a link!) here on this post.

We hope you'll join us at the SCBWI Summer Conference August 1-4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The faculty will include Aaron Becker, Stephen Chbosky, Tomie dePaola, Sharon Flake, Meagan McDonald, Meg Rosoff, Judith Schachner, Maggie Stiefvater, plus a bevy of agents, editors and art directors! (Information coming soon here.)

See you in Los Angeles - and before that, online!

Illustrate and Write On,

Martha Brockenbrough

Jolie Stekly

Jaime Temairik

Lee Wind

Autograph Party

Arthur Levine and Marla Frazee

Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos

Oliver Jeffers & Drew Daywalt

Kate Messner

Peter Brown

Tomie dePaola & Lin Oliver

David Diaz & Nikki Grimes

Shadra Strickland

Ellen Hopkins & Raul Colon

Brooke Boynton-Hughes: Conference Illustrator Journal #NY14SCBWI

Not ONLY is she a runner-up in the Portfolio Showcase this conference, Brooke Boynton-Hughes is one of my favorites from looking at the portfolio show last year, which is how she happens to be one of the conference illustrator journalers this conference! Another reason it's always good to put your portfolio out there when you can, you never know who's looking!

To learn more about Brooke and see her great work, visit her website.

Brooke's sketches:

Nikki Grimes: Keynote on Patience, Perfectionism, and Poetry

The wonderful Nikki Grimes
Nikki Grimes is a poet and bestselling author for children and young adults. 

Her novel-in-verse WORDS WITH WINGS, about daydreaming, just won a Coretta Scott King honor award. It's her fourth such award.

She's also won the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She also wrote the ALA Notable book WHAT IS GOODBYE, the Coretta Scott King Award winner BRONX MASQUERADE, and the novels JAZMIN'S NOTEBOOK, DARK SONS, and THE ROAD TO PARIS.

You can learn more about her at her website.

Lin introduced Nikki thus: "Her language soars. Her language takes children into ordinary worlds they might not know."

"I've been writing for 57 years," Nikki said. "That's an extremely long time to do anything. There's one thing I've been doing longer than that: daydreaming."

She read to us from WORDS WITH THINGS and PLANET MIDDLE SCHOOL, which she and her editor refer to as PMS.

She never had an intention to write a book about puberty, but she was asked to contribute something to an anthology about first kisses. She put together a partially true narrative called BREATHLESS. That poem circulated around her editor's office, and they loved it so much she was invited to turn it into a novel. She didn't know how she'd do that, which made her want to try.

When she writes, she can never wait to get to the last line of a poem and will rush and write headlong to get there. Her love of speed made her a fan of Wile E. Coyote. She's fast about everything, and one of the things that helps her write quickly is being impatience.

"Patience is not in my DNA. I don't even write poetry about patience."

When she has an idea that excites her, she can't wait to produce it so she can see how quickly the finished work matches her original vision. 

"Here's something else to know about me. I suffer from an ailment known as (pause) perfectionism."

Impatience and perfectionism means you spend "an inordinate amount of time in hell... Bring on the Excedrin and bring it now."

"What I've learned from a lifetime of being an impatient perfectionist is that both characteristics can be useful," she said. "Keep a rein on them, though."

"It's so important that we ask ourselves the hard questions, that we're honest with ourselves about our level of skill," she said.  In other words, you're sometimes not ready to tackle a great idea you have. "They're hard to come by and you don't want to give them short shrift," she said.

With BRONX MASQUERADE, she didn't feel she had the skill to execute on it then. So she waited. She put aside her notes and went back to writing poetry collections. During that long waiting period, other story ideas bubbled up. A wise editor guided her into writing a novel, a project that felt fraught at times. But her editor encouraged her to "just keep writing," reassuring her that she would figure it out later.

This book has eighteen points of view--a huge challenge. She wrote one at a time, but still didn't have the story thread that tied them all together. "Once again," she said, "I had to wait."

During that six- to seven-month period, she visited a local high school where students were studying the Harlem Renaissance. He wanted his students to meet a poet from Harlem, like Nikki, who had been influenced by those writers. Amazing things were happening at the school. Poetry was the talk of the hallways. She decided to read through her manuscript and see if something spoke to her.

"And all of a sudden I started thinking about that school visit and those students and that poetry movement and I realized, that's it. The poetry movement at that high school is the perfect skeleton on which to hang my poems and monologues."

Nikki had us all spellbound.
She worked and worked. But her editor still wasn't satisfied.

"What you need, she said, is a Greek chorus." So Nikki created a character, Tyrone Bennings, who could comment on the others (even as he grew himself). That worked, and then she had to rewrite the ending three times before her editor was satisfied.

She summed up her talk with words that will give us all wings:
"It had taken me years to come up with the idea and even more years to figure out how to execute it. Do you have a classic in you? Take a deep breath and dig in. Give yourself permission to take the time and write it well. Whatever you do, don't be in such a rush that you settle for good when your story has the capacity to be great. Great books are what young readers deserve. Great books are what we should strive to give them, and the key to doing that is patience."

Kate Messner: The Spectacular Power of Failure

Kate Messner is the award-winning author of  over 20 books for young readers.

Kate says there's great pressure when you decide to give a talk on failure. Especially when you create a folder and document called FAILURE. Given the giggles she is receiving from this crowd, I don't think she needs to worry.

In 2012, Kate was invited to give a TED and she learned several lessons from that experience.

Lesson #1
Be Brave!
But it's okay to be afraid.

If you're not nervous, it's not worth doing.

There is a kind of fear we feel when we push the limits past our own boundaries, the ones that feel safe.

"You can’t have brave without scared." ~HOUND DOG TRUE by Linda Urban 

When Kate is scared, she's given an opportunity to be brave.

Lesson #2
Never underestimate the power of failure.

As writers and illustrators we set all sorts of bars for ourselves with the statement: "If I could just…"

If we keep moving the bar, we can turn anything into a failure. We cheat ourselves of our many successes. 

What small successes have you had lately? Celebrate them!

"You have to fall if you want to fly."

Athletes know they fall when they train and eventually they will get it and move on to a new challenge. It would be good for us to adopt some of these philosophies as writers and illustrators. 

"It's in doing the work, in writing the words every day...that my best work emerges."

It's important to use feedback to help us grow and not let it stop us. 

The Spectacular Power of Failure:
~Failure tells us that we're going in the right direction.
~Failure teaches us to ask for help.
~Failure brings us together as a community of writers.
~Failure teaches us to celebrate the dance. 
~Failure lets us be role models.

"A ship in harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are built for." ~John A. Shedd

Marla Frazee: Art of the Picture Book Panel

Marla Frazee, you will remember is the apple of SCBW's eye. She was awarded a Caldecott Honor for All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. She is the author/illustrator of Roller Coaster, Walk On!, Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert, The Boss Baby, and Boot & Shoe, as well as the illustrator of many other books including The Seven Silly Eaters, Stars, and the New York Times best-selling Clementine series. She most recently illustrated God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant. Marla teaches Children's Book Illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Arthur asks: What do you do when you make a mistake?

Marla: Some of the pictures I do take a long time. When I'm working it's a series of small adjustments you're making all the way through. It's really hard to know when a piece is going downhill. It's frustrating that you may need to take a piece all the way to finish to know it's not going to work.

Arthur: How do you know when something is working? 

Marla: Allyn is my editor at Beach Lane and she sees the work from the very beginning. I do a lot of thumbnails, dummies, sketches. I had to start over on the All the World dummy after I put it in front of her and asked if it was working. And it wasn't. And I already knew it wasn't working, but I was hoping she would say it was fine, but, no.

Arthur: What kind of manuscripts are you seeing?

Marla: My career took a very long time to get going, ten years, and I've never taken it for granted that now I get to choose what I illustrate. Often what I pick is based on the time of my life or a theme, I often turn down things that I love, but I know I'm just not the right person for it.

Marla tells a story about having to turn down a book when her youngest child was three months old and illustrating the manuscript would have meant spending a lot of time doing research in shipyards. She knew she couldn't be away from her home and kids and worried that turning the book down would mean she wouldn't see a manuscript for another five years. But lucky for Marla and us! The editor asked if she'd be interested in a different manuscript, Mary Ann Hoberman's Seven Silly Eaters.

Arthur: What do you think about authors messing with illustrations and illustrators trying to mess with the text?
Marla: I think there is this conception that authors say "my illustrator" and that there's a giving up of control. It's not like the authors and the illustrators are collaborating, it's that the words and the pictures are collaborating and it's the editor's job to keep the personalities out of it.

Arthur: Characterization—we've heard a lot of writers here talking about bringing character out, and we've heard some talk at the Illustrator Intensive. You guys have done it with crayons, carrots, Santa Claus, how do you find the look of your characters?

For me it's like the writing process, it starts out generic and then deepens. I spend a lot of time getting to know the character through trial and error. For me sometimes that's all I have when I start out with a story, a character that's intriguing me and leading me into the story.

Arthur: Marla, you often have a large cast of characters, like in Everywhere Babies, how do you do that? How do you make these nameless characters special?

Each one needs to have a story otherwise you have a greeting card. You have to think about what those stories are and that takes some time. In Everywhere Babies there's a spread and on it is one image of a grandfather sharing his sandwich with a large dog in the park, in a picturebook illustration that's like one paragraph in the spread's overall pictorial narrative.

Kids who can't read yet are better able to read a picture than adults are. Though they may not be hearing the amazing poetic, rhythms of a well read picture book, they're reading those pictures and picking up on things adult readers aren't.

Arthur: What's something about a manuscript that makes you say WOW?

Marla: If I fall in love with what I'm reading, then illustrating it becomes irresistible, I cannot not illustrate. There's a lot of puzzling out, I'm intrigued, and I don't know how I'm going to illustrate it, and that's exciting.

Raúl Colón: The Art Of The Picture Book Panel

Raúl Colón

Inspired by Kate's incredible keynote on The Spectacular Power of Failure, Arthur's first question for the panel is about failure. What mistakes have the illustrators made? And it yielded a ton of great advice and insights!

Raúl Colón shared how:

Sometimes he's asked to do the cover first, but he prefers to wait until the end of the process of illustrating the book before doing the cover, because "you learn as you're going, and you get better at it."

Biggest mistake he ever made?

Raúl tells the story of drawing a poster for broadway - he had a problem with one of the hands, and after it was approved and printed and out there in the world, he got a call that there was a problem - the hand he'd had trouble with had six fingers! Raúl laughed at it now, saying it was like the stamp with the upside-down planes. A collector's item! When he was moving the hand around, he forgot to erase one finger.

He says 'you'll make mistakes, but because you sketch, you sketch, you do color studies sometimes, you've done enough work, do at least one piece, you'll figure out how colors work in combination, then you'll be able to do the project start to finish. You'll get a lot of experience and know what you have to do - and that helps.'

About trends they are seeing, Raúl speaks about marketing and how it's impacting the stories submitted to him to consider. He shares he's done a lot of biographies, and he's looking to get into more open and fun, cartoony-style work.

Raúl also talks about being professional, choosing projects that you'll be interested in from beginning to end, adding a visual story to the textual story, his take in the great authors-including-illustration-notes-in-their-picture-book-manuscripts debate, how he visually develops characters, and more...

It's a great panel.

You can see inside some of the picture books Raúl has illustrated here. A few titles:

You can see more of Raúl's artwork here.

Raúl's bio:

New York City has been Raul's loyal patron, from illustrated New Yorker covers to an MTA mural at the 191st. St. subway station to work in the New York Times.
Along with all this 'grown up' work, Raul Colón is a most prolific and popular children's book illustrator, happy that his time is always committed to publishers for years hence. In recent years he is pleased that his work has been recognized with The David Usher Greenwich Workshop Award from The Society of Illustrators as well as SI Gold and Silver Medals; honors from Communication Arts and 3x3; two Pura Belpre Awards; twice included in the NY Public Library's 100 titles for Reading and Sharing; and twice recipient of The Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Award. Raul lives north of New York City with his beautiful wife, Edith, who can often be spotted as the model for his characters.

Peter Brown: Art of the Picture Book Panel

Our newest board member's newest publicity photo

Peter Brown studied Illustration at Art Center College of Design and moved to New York City to pursue a career as an author and illustrator of children's books. Since then he has written and illustrated seven picture books, and illustrated two others. His books have earned numerous honors, including two E.B. White Awards, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award, a Children’s Choice Award for Illustrator of the Year, two Irma Black Honors, five New York Times Bestsellers, and his illustrations for Creepy Carrots, written by Aaron Reynolds, earned Peter a 2013 Caldecott Honor.  

Arthur Levine: What do you do when you make a mistake? 

Peter: The biggest mistake of my career was when making Chowder, I did a round of art for Chowder in a new style and didn't realize until the end, when everything was done, that it wasn't working.
That's when I realized I have to plan everything ahead of time so meticulously. I spend so much time on sketch dummies these days.

Arthur: Do you do something different from planning to finishes? Do you now do a sample finish?

Peter: Definitely, before I fully commit to a new style, I'll do a finished piece before I even finish the sketch dummy now.

Arthur: What kinds of manuscripts are you getting?

Peter: I'm supposed to illustrate another book for Simon and Schuster, and when they sent me the Creepy Carrots manuscript I loved it and had an instant reaction to it. But for this unknown second book they keep sending me manuscripts, but none of them are striking me the way I'm feeling a little high maintenance at the moment, but I'm feeling really picky right now.

I'd be happy to see an increase in irreverent characters, the problem I see in most manuscripts is they are too of the moment, too timely, I don't want to see an iPad in a manuscript.

Arthur: What do you think about authors messing with illustrations and illustrators trying to mess with the text?

Peter: I think, and I'm going to start a brawl here, that authors should write art notes. I think authors should spend more time talking to illustrators and learning how to think visually.
As long as the right solution is achieved, I don't see why the author shouldn't be more involved in that.


Now Peter's just pandering to Arthur.

Arthur: Characterization—we've heard a lot of writers here talking about bringing character out, and we've heard some talk at the Illustrator Intensive. You guys have done it with crayons, carrots, Santa Claus, how do you find the look of your characters?

Peter: I spend a lot of time thinking about what the character is feeling throughout the book and the changes they are making and how the character design may need to reflect that. The tone of the book can really set the character style, too.

Sometimes for a character I have a person in my head and when I'm stuck I'll think about what they would do in that situation. For Children Make Terrible Pets, the main character Lucy, I would think about my niece Ella and what she would do. It's surprising how real these characters can become to you. I start making their voices...

Arthur: What's something about a manuscript that makes you say WOW?

Peter: If on a first read illustrations are popping into my head, and I like the images popping into my head, that's a good sign.

Shadra Strickland: The Art of the Picture Book Panel

Shadra Strickland studied design, writing, and illustration at Syracuse University and got her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for her first picture book, Bird (Lee & Low), and she co-illustrated Our Children Can Soar (Bloomsbury), winner of a 2010 NAACP Image Award. She is also the illustrator of A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House), a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, and she teaches Illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her website is

Arthur Levine asks the panel to share about making mistakes:

There was a piece in BIRD that Shadra knew she had make sing, but it wasn't working. She had to do it eight times, but it took walking away and coming back to figure out what was wrong. 

Shadra recommends: Know yourself. Know what you're capable of. It's easy to say yes to everything. Shadra has had great manuscripts come her way that she's turned down because she thought she couldn't bring anything to the project. 

Arthur Levine shares that each illustrator on the panel has learned this because they have all said no to him.

Shadra has the most fun with books when she is in love with the writing. She has had a book where it felt like a line in the book didn't work and went to the editor about it. Shadra takes chances to have those conversations. She loves those projects where she can trust her editor and art director. 

Shadra suggests: Get to know your character before you start posing them and staging them in your story.

Arthur Levine: What's one great thing that you find in a manuscript that made you think WOW?

Shadra Strickland: I usually cry.

Oliver Jeffers: The Art of the Picture Book

Oliver Jeffers' many books are beloved around the world.

His titles, available in more than 30 languages, include  HEART & THE BOTTLE, LOST & FOUND, STUCK, THE HUEYS, THE INCREDIBLE BOOK EATING BOY, THE GREAT PAPER CAPER, and THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT. (Read about these and more on his website when you have a chance.)

Oliver started off the picture book panel by talking about his process and what he does when he gets stuck.

"Whenever I get to that point and don't know what the next move is, the answer is already really simple: do something else," he said. "Maybe it's working on another project. Whenever I'm not beating my head over what the answer is, that's normally when it presents itself."

(Note: We sort of wish he'd get in a tree and people throw things at him, as happens in STUCK. If you threw a Peter Brown at a tree, for example, would it make an Oliver Jeffers fall out?)

With his first book, he'd finished the project before he submitted it. It was published in similar form to what he'd submitted. But later projects have been different, and learning to work in a collaborative publishing environment did take some time, he said.

"It took me four to five years to learn how to listen to someone," he said, "and it took them that long to learn that I am always right."

When he's working on books, he wants them to have a timeless quality, and he also wants them to appeal all around the world, so he purposely makes the locations vague. This is working: He's gone to places as far as Mexico and Kuala Lumpur, and the kids there think the stories are set in their countries.

How do you bring out character?

"My characters tend to all look the same," he said. "It's what they do that is the most important thing."

The Hueys, for example, began as an experiment to convey emotion with as little detail as possible. Then, as the cliche goes, the characters took on lives of their own.

"It's just trusting your intuition," he said. 

The characters are simple, but the movements are based in reality. He sometimes has people do the poses for him. "Basing things in reality is really important."

Watch Oliver read STUCK

What will you fight about next? 

The Hueys Argument Predictor

Visit Oliver Jeffers World