Conference Notes

This weekend’s MD/DE/WV conference, “25 and Still We R(ev)use” was a success!

I’ll share the experience that I had as much as I can. I can’t share ALL my notes because, well, I encourage other writers/illustrators to go to these conferences and hear from agents, editors, speakers, other authors and illustrators for themselves.

At first I got lost in the building. I don’t really know why I got lost, the place wasn’t that big, but I still found myself wandering back and fourth to find the volunteer spot. Eventually I found it of course with the help from the staff and another lady who was ALSO lost and volunteering at the time, which I found out later that she will be the new illustrator coordinator for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI if I’m remembering correctly.

As kind of a side note I’ll say that volunteering is a great way to talk to people if you have social anxiety like I do. When you volunteer you act as a group working toward a similar, simple goal. Being put to use is also a plus.

Technical problems began the keynote speaker session. You know, mic and the slideshow clicker problems. Luckily James Ransome got past that pretty quickly and went on to tell a little about himself:

  • The quote he kept using was “I feel like a lucky so and so” when speaking about his journey to becoming a known illustrator. Quite the journey it was!
  • Has a drawing table from high school which was used a dining room table at some point. (My scribbled notes say “Damn! That must be a sturdy table to last this long!”)
  • He’s created all kinds of different artwork from sports illustrations to children’s books to christmas designs made into bags and cards to landscape paintings. Basically he just wants to create whatever he can in whatever medium he feels like it at the time, which is great in my opinion!
  • A lot of his art inspiration comes from fine artists like Degas, Matisse, Kerry James Marshall, Diebenkorn, and John Singer Sargent to name a few.
  • He loves football.

At this point I had my volunteering time as a walk in critique timer. I feel like this was one of those fated moments that could potentially further a career, but I’ll write about that later.

The “In the Trenches” talk was a good one, mostly for the quotes:

  • When dealing with an agent you don’t want anymore for whatever reason, “Don’t be afraid to leave” advice from Leah Henderson.
  • “Get agented with someone who matches your personality” and when dealing with rejection and stress “Drink wine, eat chocolate, and have a support group” from Courtney Pippi-Mathur.
  • Maria Gianferrari says to “Give yourself a day to wallow” after a rejection.
  • John Micklos Jr says to “develop thick skin” in this business.
  • From my personal notes I wrote that one needs to find an agent that’s more excited about your project than you are because you won’t be able to make a good relationship with your agent if they are not excited about your work (duh!)

I don’t want to spoil too much of Leah Henderson’s “What to Think About when Writing Cross Culturally” so I’ll just write the one thing that stood out to me. When asked about too much censorship, she said something along the lines of “it’s not about censorship. It’s about being aware of blind spots that make their way into the book.”

The best advice overall that the conference gave:

  • A good story brings out an emotional response, laughter, anger, sadness, hope.
  • A good story has STRONG CHARACTERS THE READER CAN RELATE TO.
  • When talking to an agent/editor/author/illustrator/basically anyone human with a different cultural background than you, please don’t “accidentally” be racist, like speaking Japanese or Chinese to an Asian American who doesn’t speak that language…
  • Write from the heart, don’t write fads. Fads go out of style.
  • Allow yourself to cry but don’t allow yourself to give up.

And that’s it folks! I think this conference was more successful to me personally than last years and I’ll soon write about that as well. Again, I suggest writer or illustrator to go out to conferences like this. ūüôā

 

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Jump In! 

 

 

 

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ReFoReMo Time!

It’s that time of year again!

The time where everything seems to happen all at once and you make too many promises to too many projects and then explode.

This also happens to be the time for ReFoReMo!

If you don’t know what that is, click on that link above for a more detailed explanation than what I give here.

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ReFoReMo is a full month of picture book reading and reading about other people reading picture books haha. Each day a guest speaker is posted on the blog and talks about a theme for your set of books that day. Some books are repeated because each guest speaker has a something different to say. ReFoReMo is a great way to analyze picture books and talk about what makes each book WORK.

I didn’t quite get to ALL the books last year, (there was around 100 books I think?) but I certainly got to most of them and the blog posts are always good. Oh, they end with a prizes too.

So go sign up… if you and your local library is up for the challenge. ūüėČ

 

 

The Thing About Business Cards

Okay so you have your promo cards, or you’re skipping out on them. That’s fine.

Now it’s on to business cards!

There are several questions you have to ask yourself when designing business cards. Personally, I like business cards more than promo cards simply because of the size. Having all those postcards from other illustrators is nice to line them all up on a cork board for references, but at the end of the day too many postcards just means a bigger paper mass to deal with at the bottom of your bag.

The thing about business cards, the creation:

  • WHAT IS YOUR ILLUSTRATION STYLE? I mentioned this with postcards as well, but there are a few elements that can make a style other than your drawing or painting. Your compositions can be just as important to style as the drawing. Do you want just one spot illustration of a funny character? Do you want some environment in there? Do you tend to add your font into the illustration or keep it separate? Do you illustrate your own font? And…
  • ROUNDED OR SQUARE CORNERS? Yes, the physical appearance of the card is also part of your style. ¬†This year I want to pay more for rounded corners as rounded corners give a softer, “bouncier” characteristic that matches the shapes of my drawing style. You can also have rectangle or square cards. And…
  • GLOSS OR MATTE? Matte is what I usually go with because gloss doesn’t work with my illustrations. Matte has that soft look that also works with rounded corners. If you think your illustrations would work best in gloss, like I can imagine a space scene looking pretty rad with a gloss layer, then go with gloss.
  • ¬† NO MATTER YOUR STYLE, KEEP IT SIMPLE. A business card image is typically 3.5 x 2 inches so don’t add too much. Your information might get lost or someone is like my dad who can’t see details up close won’t be able to know whats going on haha. I kind of did this with last years business cards…
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  • WHAT’S ON THE BACK? Again, I would keep it simple. Last year I had a cute image on the back but this year I only have my illustrated font and type in color. This is the back of last years.. ¬† ¬†¬†tobee copy.jpg

 

The thing about business cards, the distribution:

  • WHO SHOULD YOU GIVE YOUR CARDS TO? Anyone and everyone! That’s the beauty of business cards, they fit in your wallet. You can just pull out the cards whenever you get a chance. Most likely you’ll be stacking up the cards next to your portfolio at a conference, but I’ve given my card while having small conversations with ¬†random strangers waiting in line at retail stores. I’ve given my cards to the women at the library whenever they give me that look while I go straight to the children’s book section and take a stack of picture books to the counter.
  • SHOULD YOU HAVE A LOGO? I would say yes. Having a logo makes you recognizable if you continue giving out different business cards and promo cards with it on there. I’d say a logo is good business. I have my bee for b.handi this year.
  • WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD YOU HAVE ON THE BACK? Instagram, Facebook, twitter, website, email. Everything you want, just make it neat and easy to read.
  • And last, the friendly reminder to HAVE A CRITIQUE GROUP. Oh, and make sure whatever image you have on your business card matches the genre you’re going for ¬†of course.

And that’s all! I hope I’m more prepared for the conference this year. I like my business card much better this time around.

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The Thing About Postcards

In light of the upcoming conference, postcards are a great way to promote your illustrations! It’s simple, just send out a small sample of your work to any ol’ publisher and they’ll certainly be interested in you!

Just kidding… I wish it was that easy.

There are a few things about postcards that any illustrator new to the children’s book world needs to know, things that I wish I knew before I went and spent money on sets of wasted postcards… I really should’ve done more research.

The thing about postcards, the creative side:

  • THE POSTCARD SHOULD HAVE ONLY WHAT YOU WANT TO ILLUSTRATE ON IT. ¬†This seems pretty obvious so maybe I’ll back up and ask…
  • WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO ILLUSTRATE? If you don’t know exactly what you want to illustrate I would hold off on making a postcard for now. Why would you send something to a publisher if you can’t repeat or don’t want to make more of what you sent them? So…
  • FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE TO CREATE BEFORE PROMOTING YOURSELF. I’m harping on this because I personally did not know what I wanted to draw or who I was as an artist. I still struggle with this sometimes. For some illustrators, they know their style and they can repeat it and those are the lucky ones.
  • MAKE SEVERAL DRAFTS BEFORE COMMITTING. Design matters just as much as the image itself. You might have the PERFECT image that represents your work but it doesn’t fit in postcard size because of the image being too detailed or it doesn’t really work with font, then that might not be your image.
  • While we are on fonts, CHOOSE THE RIGHT FONT FOR YOUR BRAND. You don’t want to have a font like Papyrus for a children’s book illustrator promo card, I mean unless it somehow matches a quirky pirate and you really like illustrating pirates.
  • THINK ABOUT THE FRONT AND THE BACK. Okay so you might be able to get away with the image not being font friendly so you now need to worry about that information looking professional on the back. Oh, and while your back there, make the information memorable by adding some quirky image that works with the front image. The best postcards I’ve see are the ones that continue their little story on the back with something unexpected.¬†Note that¬†it might be a good idea to make it clear your images CAN work with type if you are illustrating for children’s books.

The thing about postcards, the business side:

  • RESEARCH THE PEOPLE YOU’RE SENDING THESE THINGS TO. You can’t just send a card with sea animals on it to, I dunno, Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books which focuses on multicultural stories only. ¬†You might be able to send those cute sea critters to Boyds Mills Press though, depending on the style. Go look!
  • MAKE THE POSTCARD STAND OUT. I added this part in the business section because standing out amongst other illustrators is a good business tactic. It’s a combination of an eye-catching image, great design, and good story telling. That publisher will have postcards everywhere and it’s the same for conferences too. The last conference I went to I came home with half a bag full of postcards.
  • COMPARE WITH BUSINESS CARDS. Do you have a business card with a completely different style than the one on your postcard? That might actually be a problem. Sending mixed messages there…
  • SENDING HOLDAY CARDS MIGHT BE THE WAY TO GO. I haven’t done this yet, I’ll admit it. But I can see how constantly sending out cards to different places and keeping up with the times/season might be actually a good way to get attention. Now I’m not saying to like bombard one publisher with a bunch of your postcards constantly. That would probably get you BAD attention. Having designs for holidays every year would even be nice for family and friends too, just get people interested in looking at YOUR work.
  • AND LAST, GET CONNECTED WITH YOUR ILLUSTRATOR COMMUNITY. Okay I just like to add this with every post because it is important to be around other illustrators and see how they solve illustrator problems…CRITIQUE GROUPS!!!

I’m NOT a published illustrator but I’m learning. Everything I just mentioned is based off of the mistakes that I’ve made, some research I’ve done, and things I’ve noticed from successful illustrators.

For kicks and giggles, here are some of my failed postcard designs…¬†alltheanimalsinballoons.jpg

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I’ll make a better one this time, I promise haha.

Review: Princesses Wear Pants

Sure, Princess Penelope Pineapple loves her closet full of tiaras and dazzling dresses but she has things to do! She can’t be bothered with beauty when planting her beats. Her lab coat suits her just fine for science fairs and she likes to unwind with comfy old jeans, the patched-up kind. And princesses certainly can’t save the day with frilly frills that get in the way! Guthrie and Oppenheim’s rhyming picture book for ages 4 to 8, along with Eva Bryne’s sparkling illustrations, says that girls can be fashionable and functional.¬†

Unfortunately this concept is pretty outdated. 

There are plenty of other “girl power” picture books out there. Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts are just two books that immediately come to mind.¬†Here you can find more girl empowering picture books and with just a quick google search you’ll find even more.

Guthrie and Oppenheim’s book is NOT recommended and here is why with the good/bad list:

  • Bad. Obviously a little behind the times. I shouldn’t have to say more…except maybe if it was a book about how boys can wear dresses it would be better.
  • Bad. Everything in the book is layered with PINK, a popular gendered color, not to mention Penelope’s brother is in BLUE, another popular gendered color.IMG_4313.jpg
  • Bad. The illustrations fall short due to the bad anatomy. Here are some examples…Unknown.jpeg
  • Bad. The main character’s alliteration name makes me cringe, probably makes Ann Whitford Paul, the author of Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide ¬†from Story Creation to Publication, cringe as well. ¬†
  • Only a little bad… Rhyming is only so-so.
  • Good. I like the styles of clothes in the book.

 

If your child likes sparkly glitter and fashionable clothes, then maybe Guthrie and Oppenheim’s work is for them. However I do not feel that this is an accurate “activistic” book that I think the authors are trying to go for. I didn’t buy Princesses Wears Pants personally, it was a gag gift.

And last, here is just a short list of picture books of mine and that I recommend over Princesses Wear pants:

  1. Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts.
  2. Seeds of Change by Jen Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Sadler
  3. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  4. Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim,¬†illustrated by Sophie Blackwell
  5. I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddelley
  6. Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet

Conference Mental Prep

If you have social anxiety like I do, a conference can feel like a nerve wracking nightmare of *gulp* meeting people.

You gotta do it though.

What’s best is to be prepared with a list of tiny reminders for you while you’re there:

  • ACTUALLY TALK TO THE OTHER WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS. I know. This is obvious. What to talk about? Ask them about their work! Are they published? Are they new to the business? Have they been at it for awhile? Do they like pizza? Whatever. Just talk to them. Most likely they’ll ask you about your work in return. You might even make a friend. I made two friends last year, better than none the first year.
  • Ask to see what the others are working on. This is mostly for the illustrators though as most illustrators will show you their sketchbooks and be pretty open. I’ve noticed that other writers are less open about sharing because they are wary of people stealing their work, which is reasonable.
  • Actually follow up on the all the business cards and postcards that will be everywhere. I’m certainly guilty of coming home with a bag of the things and not looking up even one writer or illustrator.
  • Participate at panels! This is a difficult one as my first response is, “SHARE MY WORK OH GOD NO IT’S TERRIBLE.” You might learn something by participating. I certainly did. I learned that I can make a decent cover letter so now I have one for my manuscript ValenTINA.
  • Research the speakers! This is mainly for your notes and possible future submissions. Luckily the MD/DE/WV has their “Coffee and Conversation” bit on their blog that interviews the guest speakers.
  • If someone says something you don’t like about your work, just smile and nod! I haven’t encountered this yet but I have received looks that had said, “this girl is kidding right?” Don’t bother defending your work. If you know it could do with a fixing up and practice, just do that next time you get that pencil on paper. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself because that’s just one person’s opinion.

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I’ve been the “loner at the party” before. It’s alright. Most people at conferences have been going for a while or they are with their critique groups so it’s easier for them to socialize. Many have never even been to a conference! You won’t get to know your community if you don’t go and talk to your fellow illustrators and writers.

So get out there and do it!

Portfolio Prep 1 (Mental Prep)

It’s that time again.

Time to have my work scrutinized and criticized until I feel like crying.

Just kidding! Portfolio critiques are extremely helpful if you know what to look for amongst the sometimes harsh reality check. And past mistakes can mean future successes… and sometimes realizing further mistakes you never knew existed.

Amongst the things to do and look for in a critique:

  • Wait, hold up, GET A CRITIQUE GROUP. Do it… okay now we can move on to the professional critiques…
  • If a problem is repeatedly mentioned.¬†Everyone is going to have their own opinions, but if a similar opinion reoccurs it’s time to take advice. For example, I had two critiques last year. Both of the illustrators were quite different and gave me almost vastly different advice EXCEPT for two things, practice my line work and practice drawing. That’s what I did. I think my art is better for it too.

 

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then

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now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • If some advice REALLY doesn’t sit with you, listen but go with your gut. I know, this also seems pretty¬†obvious, but I have to remind myself that the person critiquing me doesn’t know me or my work inside and out. They just met me! Therefore I’ll take all advice with a grain of salt. For example, last year both critiques told me to stop writing and focus on illustrating. I obviously didn’t take that advice because to draw I must write and to write I must draw. I DID however take down the claim that I’m an aspiring author/illustrator on all social media to erase further criticisms of this claim lol.
  • BE AS PROFESSIONAL AS POSSIBLE. Meaning…dress nicely, act nicely, have a clean presentation. It sounds silly and shouldn’t your work speak for itself? No. Someone is always a better artist than you are, so it’s time to not just rely on that. My first ever critique told me to throw my whole portfolio away because it looked bad. I took that advice, threw everything away and got a new portfolio. I had several compliments on my portfolio presentation. I also dressed a bit better than last time and actually had conversations with the illustrators. The whole experience went better than the first.
  • LOOK AT THE WORK OF THE OTHER ILLUSTRATOR. Seriously, get to know your critique, even if it’s just a quick google search. Half of the reason why I think I got such a bad critique the first time is because E.B. Lewis is a fantastic drawer/water colorist and he looked at my work like a child drew it. If you’re into color, try to get a critique from someone who does color. If you like digital, go for a digital artist that doesn’t have a prejudice against it. If you are a mixed media artist, then go for mixed media. Sometimes it’s good to have someone who does completely different art from you, but you might not get the advice you want from them. Fair warning.
  • Don’t cry. Don’t do it. DO. NOT. CRY. Unless you are by yourself in the shower.¬†
  • And last, just be happy that you have the nerve to show your work. If you’re someone like me who is very self critical and thinks you’ll never be good enough, this is an important thing to remember. At the end of the critique, no matter how good or bad, at least you got that far and now you can get better.

It’s difficult to present your work in confidence, but it must be done. There are tons of resources from the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) online about how to build a portfolio. Just takes some time and research.