Monday, August 6, 2012

Post-Conference Ponderings

(Early apologizes for a long, text-heavy post. Bear with me and hopefully you will be as inspired as me!)

The last 3 days have been a whirlwind of inspiring speeches, talented illustrators and writers, remembering forgotten advice, and tons of new and motivating direction for my work. I went to the SCBWI Conference this year thinking I was mostly going to hear things I've heard before with a few new nuggets of information.

I was most certainly wrong!

I feel like it was my first time attending this conference, not the second, and even if I heard something I have heard before, it was presented in such a way that made it sound like something completely new! I will not go to another conference with that attitude, that's for sure.

The biggest change I've come away from the conference with is (finally) a desire to attempt writing a story as well as illustrating it. It's always been in the back of my mind and I've been told over and over again that I'd be much more enticing to Publishers if I could give them the whole package, but I've never been confident in my writing abilities and have therefore, avoided it as much as possible. I thought some day I would write my own stories, but for now, I was satisfied with illustrating other people's stories. All that changed over the weekend! So we'll see where my new adventure will take me on the Writing Road. I will share my struggles as I work through them.

There were definitely some over-arching themes that I noticed, or maybe certain things just stood out to me because of their relevance to my current circumstances, who really knows. I've spent a day (definitely not enough time!) re-reading my notes and trying to make sense of everything and deciding where to go from here. There were so many treasures that it's hard to narrow it down to a nice easy summary of my time there, so I'm just going to share some of the things that stood out to me the most and maybe you can tell me what I'm struggling to see.
  • Tony DiTerlizi (the highlight of the weekend for me!) gave a wonderful and entertaining speech in which he shared how he writes to the 10 year old Tony inside. Which made him think of what kinds of things he enjoyed doing/playing as a kid. This, along with many other confirming speeches (E.B. Lewis and Karen Cushman) have encouraged me to write and illustrate the story I've always wanted to read. 
  • Bryan Collier had an inspirational and captivating speech entitled From a Seed to a Tree and encouraged us to be aware of the seeds that have been planted in us. These are seeds of inspiration, encouragement, difficult times, a gift of love, almost any circumstance, and they can come from anyone, a mentor, your mother, a teacher, a friend, an enemy. No matter where they come from, be sure to protect and nurture your seeds, water them and stand back to let them breathe. At some point the seeds will sprout and grow into something wonderful and meaningful that you didn't know was there.
  • Deborah Underwood gave a convicting and motivating speech on the Power of Quite. With all the distractions of life (smartphones, internet, TV, radio) and a culture that tries to get our attention around every corner, we are left with little or no time to sit alone in our own thoughts. This can be a scary thing for some people, but so important for the creative mind. She encouraged us to make "day-dreaming appointments" in our work schedule where we sit and take in a quite room or park or beach and let your mind wander and play. It can be the most rewarding and important time of our day! When we go through our days without time to let ourselves think how will the fun, creative thoughts grow and reveal themselves to us? Even if you don't think you can afford these "appointments" there are still windows of opportunity that can easily be missed. Do it while your driving, or showering, or folding laundry, washing the dishes, waiting for a concert to start, anything! If you search for them, you will find those windows. Take them!
  • Finally, our last speaker of the weekend Gary Schmidt, by far topped off the Conference with the most inspiring and motivating words for me. For the longest time I have struggled to put into words why I do what I do, and why I love it. I've also struggled with the idea that what I do for work is meaningful and contributing significantly to society. Well, Gary addressed these things exactly. He encouraged us to never doubt that our stories can change a child's life. He called us to give our reader more to be a human with. He told us to to give the reader the deepest questions to ask and ponder. And finally, there is no other way to say it than exactly the way Gary did: "Artist's are about bringing beauty, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom into the world, but the first question to ask is 'does the art serve?'" I am called to service to cherish our children. Why? Because according to Gary, no one else in out culture will. And even if that is not true, I want a part in that task because I see the importance of it. This is my motivation to succeed.
With all these tips and lessons, I've decided on some practical things to change/try as far as my daily routine and habits in order to be more efficient and allow myself to optimize my creativity:
  • (From Illustrator Melissa Sweet) Draw from life daily. It only has to be for a few minutes, and it doesn't have to be finished or polished. Simply observe life and the things going on around me. I am going to add to this advice by also doing a compositional study of an image I like.  
  • Take an Art class. This is something I have been wanting to do for awhile and never acted on it. I still might wait awhile on this, but I really want to do it! I am never done learning and growing and getting better at my craft, but if I don't continue practicing certain ones, I will lose the abilities I have. Maybe a life drawing class or perspective class is what I need since those are where I feel the weakest.
  • As Deborah Underwood advised in her speech, I will be making daily (or at least weekly) "day-dreaming appointments" to give myself time to let the creative juices flow and work on my own projects in between all the other ones I have going on. If I don't allow for these precious breaks in my work I wont move forward in my career and I will not feel completely satisfied with the work I am creating.
  • In response to some practical advice from the Agents Panel I am not going to be afraid to say no to jobs that I believe will hinder me from moving forward in my career. I should also be wary of jobs that only move me sideways in my career. Instead I will actively seek jobs and opportunities to move my career forward by actually sending out postcards regularly and researching and submitting to Publishers AND Agents! It's about time I put myself out there! I'm ready to move my career forward, hopefully someone out there will see my potential and take a risk on me. After all, as Melissa Sweet said at her Break-out session, "Everything is sweetened by risk".
Some of my favorite quotes of the weekend:

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales" - Albert Einstein

"Lions are made from the lambs they have digested" - Unknown, shared by Karen Cushman on being inspired by others' work.

"If you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool God has turned out." - Ray Bradbury (paraphrased)

Although it was draining and overwhelming, overall I feel rejuvenated and refreshed from my weekend away from working. I've come back with new goals, a renewed motivation to finish my projects, and a sense of purpose which will help push me along when I start to grow weary once again.