Monday, August 1, 2016

SCBWI Summer Conference 2016

I just got back home yesterday from this year's SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. I've been to this particular conference several times now and every year I need a few days to debrief and reorient myself. I think anyone who has ever attended would probably agree with me on this. There is so much to take in over just a couple of days that it's hard to know where to start once you get back.

This year I went into the weekend with a different mindset than in years past. My first year I did everything. I went to every keynote, workshop, critique, showcase, gala -- everything on the schedule because I didn't want to miss a single morsel of information. It was exhausting. For my first time, and where I was as an illustrator, I think it was appropriate for me. But after going a few more times I started hearing the same things repeated over and over again. This isn't a criticism of the speakers, but simply because I've started to become familiar with how the industry works and what is expected of you if you plan to do well as an Illustrator.

So this year I went to the Conference with more of a focus so I didn't come home so overwhelmed and full of inspiration that I was actually paralyzed by it (it's a real thing!). I didn't feel bad if I skipped a keynote (or two). I was more experimental with the workshops I attended -- some ended up being the wrong choice for me, but that's ok! I completely opted out of a critique this year. I didn't get worked up about who might win the Portfolio Showcase, or even hope (or expect...) that it might be me. (It wasn't me.) I didn't dance the night away at the Gala, and I let myself sleep in the next morning. And I don't feel bad about any of it. It was the right choice for me this year. I was able to enjoy myself so much more and not get stressed about missing something. I was able to meet new friends, and catch up with old ones! I wasn't sleep deprived or anxious. It was completely different than the first year that I attended, and it was just as great!

So now that it sounds like I skipped so much that I might as well have not even gone, I'll share some nuggets of inspiration that I did come home with because I still learned some really great lessons and it was still absolutely worth it to have attended.

  • Writer Pam Muñoz Ryan, gave a list of Confessions. And although they were coming from a writer's point-of-view, they translated easily to apply to Illustrators. I very much appreciated her honesty and it was great to hear that the things I consider to be my weaknesses and struggles are the same things other people struggle with! 
    • I don't draw in my sketchbook every day.  Pam doesn't write every day.
    • It has been a slow climb when it comes to my "successes". Pam didn't get published until she was 43.
    • I can't afford to wait for inspiration. Pam doesn't have time for writer's block. 
    Instead of waiting for inspiration, she has learned to create momentum. Like pumping your legs on a swing, once you learn to propel yourself, you can create your own momentum instead of waiting for someone to push you from behind.
    Although it was presented as a confession, as if she was doing something wrong, there seemed to be an understanding and agreement in the room. Even though social media makes it easy to pretend we've got it all together, I think we all secretly struggle to check off all the boxes from time to time. And maybe that's actually a good thing according to Pam: "If you aren't struggling, your setting your goals much too low."

    Sitting with my Conference buddies as the weekend kicks off. Khara Dizmon (left) and Katy Betz (center)
  • Jon Klassen talked about finding yourself in your work. He talked about style and how it is such a "mysterious thing that it must not be touched".  Instead, take care of the machine that makes it, so you can get better at making your work. Young artists sometimes become overly concerned about finding their style, but really style is something that emerges over time. It's just the way you as a creative person interpret the world. That doesn't have to be something you plan or decide on, maybe it's best to let just be what it is and not even worry about it. Don't even try to define what your style is! Now that's an interesting thought! 

  • Gotta get a picture with my Agency sisters at CATugeau Agency! Priscilla Burris (center) and Katy Betz (left)

  • Jon Klassen also gave some advice that I have never heard before, and it just felt so true. He told a story about when Pixar was just getting started they had such new computer technology, it wasn't very good as creating a very convincing human figure. They were stiff and the skin looked like plastic. It was horrible. So instead of fighting with the technology or just using it to make poor looking films, they embraced the technological limitations and used it to their advantage -- that's when Toy Story was made. As artists, it is the same thing. We all have weaknesses. I personally have a difficult time drawing people, and so I have filled much of my portfolio with animals. So now my animal pieces have become stronger and more liked overall. Instead of filling my portfolio with poorly drawn people, I left them out and worked on drawing better people on the side until I've become better at it. But until then I put a spotlight on my strengths.

    One of my favorite parts of the weekend is grabbing as many postcards as I can and following all the amazing artists on social media!

  • Sophie Blackall, this year's Caldecott winner for Finding Winnie, talked about Foraging for Stories. She talked a lot about how she made the book and how much research went into making sure everything was accurate. She often found herself going down so many rabbit trails, she'd eventually find herself reading about miniature donkeys....WHAT?  But she inspires us to put our all into our work saying "Always push your limits. Making images and books should not get easier. Always challenge yourself." Going the extra mile to put something meaningful and accurate into our work can make it that much stronger. She talked about a writer (I didn't catch the name) who got up every morning before the sun came up and wrote until the house was filled with light saying "It's not being in the light, it's being there before the light arrives". That is to say, be there when the light (opportunities) arrive. Be ready, and take advantage when the time comes.

    My portfolio and postcards for this year's Portfolio Showcase.
Of course there are so much more to learn that I could write on and on about, but these are just a few nuggets that really stuck with me from this year's Conference. Whether it is your first time attending, or your 20th, the weekend is only what you make it. I would encourage anyone to go at least one time because it offers so much, there is something for everyone. And if the big Summer Conference is too much to commit to, definitely invest in a smaller conference in your region. Check to see what is happening in your area!