My SCBWI LA National Conference Keynote

 Last month I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators summer conference in Los Angeles, and was invited there by Lin Oliver to give my first keynote speech for one of their national conferences. It was an incredible honor to be invited, and it marked a big milestone for me as an SCBWI member (and also as an introvert).

I recall years of sitting in the audience at these conferences and while listening to keynotes thinking, “I could NEVER do that!” 
Haha! says The Universe. 
What I didn’t know then was that, by now, I would have something to say and something to be excited to share from my experiences over the past 5 years of working full-time as a children’s book artist.

For my presentation, I was able to share about my experience of getting published quickly, and that the difficulties and the learning curve started, for me, after I’d published my first picture book, MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS. In the early days, I approached creative work as though it was a straight line from idea to final painting, and my process was built around a search for the quickest way from point A to point B. I spent years struggling in my approach to the work, focusing on productivity and the end goal, and found that instead of enjoying creating this beautiful work for books that were a dream to be hired for, I was finding myself chronically stressed and creatively burnt out. 

Creativity is not a straight line.  

With each book I worked on, I learned new things about working as an artist, and found that 
#1. Creativity does not work like a straight line. My focus on productivity and getting to the end product as efficiently as possible was the nail on my creative coffin. So…

#2. In order to enjoy the work, I had to focus not on the end product, but on the process of creating the work itself. 

   By shifting my focus onto the creative process, and how to make that daily process more enjoyable, I found stages of the work where I encountered resistance on a regular basis. This can be summed up best by this blogpost I wrote from a few years ago, which is a creative condition I call “THE ‘I SUCK’ DILEMMA”. 

Post about the creative “I Suck” dilemma

There are lengths of time—days, months, years—where the work we’re doing doesn’t look good, and it’s during this time that we experience the most resistance to doing the work. Not only do we not need to resist sucky work, but we can use it and embrace it as an important (and fun!) part of the process of getting to the better stuff.

I’ve been spending the past few years evolving my own creative process, and also reading about how the body, brain, and creative mind work together. This led me to break down a creative process for myself into 7 1/2 Stages, each that have a unique mindset and important function in our work as writers and artists. These phases don’t need to happen in order, and we move organically around them: 

1. DIG for ideas inspired by your childhood interests and your current interests. Ponder them, journal about them.
2. INSPIRE with reference photos, inspiration from other artists, research and information. Study the work of your heroes.
3. COLLAGE together quick thumbnails, studies, sketches, pieces, color swatches, paint tests, lists. This is about quantity over quality. Move quickly, and don’t judge, edit, or analyze. Think later.
4. SIMMER: Let it rest. Put it away. Go do other things and let your brain make connections on it’s own.
5. IGNITE: Moments of insight, clarity, inspiration often come at times when we’re not actively in the work…be ready at all times to capture these ideas. 
6. REFINE the work. Bring your thoughtful, discerning, honing eye. Here’s where you can think and edit. Pull the pieces together. This is about quality over quantity.
7. ASSESS: Step back and look. Share it with people and get feedback. Go to your critique group or an honest friend.
½ step: CHECK in constantly, while in the midst of each stage, to see if you are pushing, straining, angsty, or feeling bored. If you aren’t flowing, then you may be in the wrong phase and probably need to go back to inspiring, collaging, or simmering. 

After my presentation was over, it was awesome to hear feedback from so many writers and illustrators about what resonated with them. 
For those who weren’t there, I’ll share more about my 7 1/2 steps in more detail in an upcoming post. 
I also talked about our creative brain, and shared some really fascinating science that explains how we get ideas, which I’ll also share more about in another post as well.
Stay tuned!

To share a few other personal highlights from the conference: 

This kidlit group from Utah came dressed as Miss Maple and her seeds! Ahhhhhh!!!  ♥♥♥ Amber Alvarez as maple seed, Cari M Lee as Miss Maple, Heidi M Rogers as bluebird, Kristen Shelley as a pea, Elizabeth Child as the acorn

Doing a breakout session for illustrators with my agent, Jen Rofe. (Photo by Debbie Ridpath Ohi; debbieohi.com)

Hearing the legendary author Lois Lowry share stories about writing and her books (Photos by Alan Baker)

Gathering with art director, Cecilia Yung, and several of her illustrator clients for drinks and sharing

Watching Debbie Ohi give a presenation at the Illustrator’s Intensive

Visiting with fellow faculty Lynda Mulally Hunt, Bruce Coville, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Greg Pincus at Lin Oliver’s staff party

All of my love and thanks to Lin Oliver, Steve Mooser, and the SCBWI for everything they’ve done to build this amazing community, and for all the opportunities they give their members, myself included. Of the hundreds of people who have asked me “How do I start out in children’s books?” my answer is always the same…join SCBWI. 

Cut the Fluff in Your Portfolio!

For those illustrators making last-minute shifts to their portfolio for the SCBWI National Conference, I have 3 pieces of advice:

I was recently asked to judge portfolio applications for a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators award. It was an eye-opening experience being on the other side of the table, in the judge’s seat. Here’s what my big take-away was from that experience:

I preferred to see 5 GREAT pieces alone, vs. 5 great pieces mixed up with 5 okay pieces.

It was ALWAYS obvious when people were adding filler, or thought they needed more variety, so they put in mediocre stuff. In many cases, a portfolio would be amazing, and then right at the end the illustrator panicked and threw in one or two strangely out-of-place, low-quality works. Those one or two pieces were the ones that cut them out of the running to be considered.

So yes, it would be GREAT if you had 10 GREAT pieces, but if you don’t, don’t try to hide it. Take one last look at your portfolio before you submit it, and ask yourself, “Am I really proud of this piece?” Those are the only ones you should display. Even if there are only 5. You can add more great work next year!

See more more tips on how to edit an award-winning portfolio here:
Portfolio Comparison: What made an SCBWI winner

 

 

 

Research Travel Tips

“Sir Adam’s Amazing Maps”

 

Over on the Picture Book Builders blog, I shared some highlights about illustration research I did for three weeks in England in 2015 for the new picture book biography JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN, by Caroline McAlister.

I had a great question come over Twitter recently about traveling for research, but couldn’t seem to limit my answer to few characters, so I’m sharing those here!

The most helpful thing I learned overall is to prepare as much ahead of time as possible, but leave some time and flexibility in the schedule for the unexpected.

Timeline at the Tolkien Museum in Sarehole Mill, Birmingham.

Here are some other key tips:

  1. Print out maps, bus/train schedules, and directions ahead of time. Phone and internet service can be unpredictable and at times unavailable (usually in the moments when you need them most). Luckily, my super amazing husband/travel assistant, Adam had foresight and prepared printouts to guide us, and they were indispensable.
  2. Call ahead. We discovered that dates and times for exhibits or opening hours were frequently inaccurate online.
  3. Balance travel with rest. When paying out-of-pocket to travel for research, you can feel pressure to maximize every minute there. But filling every minute will make for a miserable trip, and you’ll want time off for rest and recovery. We spent the weekdays researching, and chilled with relatives of Adam’s who live in England on the weekends.
  4. Keep your receipts! These trips are tax-deductible, so keep a detailed travel journal and all your receipts for filing at tax time.

We did a pretty great job of maximizing time and enjoyment. If I could have changed one thing, I would have added some extra days for returning to locations just for sketching on-site, which we didn’t end up having time for. But we took hundreds of photos to make up for it!

A few pictures: Mosely Bog, Sarehole Mill, Tolkien’s childhood cottage, Oxford tour, The Eagle and Child pub.

If you’d like more info on the book:
JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
March 2017, Roaring Brook Press/MacMillan
AGES: 4-8,  48 pages
ISBN 9781626720923

Buy JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

Interview on InkyGirl

I have some amazing Kidlit artist friends, and at the top of that list sits Debbie Ohi. Debbie is an artist, writer, musician, gamer, and social media fiend. She generously shares great industry info with everyone around her. We have both been on similar career paths since we met in 2010 during the SCBWI summer conference mentorship meeting, and it’s been so fun to share the experience with her.

Debbie interviews me on one of her blogs, Inkygirl.com, a guide for those who write and draw for young people.

We talk about Miss Maple’s Seeds, tips for aspiring illustrators, the book launch party, and illustrations for Doll Bones by Holly Black.

Please check it out here!

 

Debbie is the illustrator of I’M BORED, by actor/comedian Micheal Ian Black, and is also currently illustrating his next picture book, NAKED. To learn more about Debbie, visit her site: http://debbieohi.com/

KidLit 101 – Fields of Illustration

Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, 13th edition This morning I wrote about working in illustration, and gave a quick rundown of all the professions available to illustrators, including animation, editorial illustration, book illustration, liscensing, and more.

Check it out over at my group blog, KidLitArtists.com:
http://kidlitartists.blogspot.com/2012/12/fields-of-illustration-by-eliza-wheeler.html 

The post was guided by info provided by the Graphic Artists Guild HANDBOOK, a great resource for designers and illustrators.

 

 

Miss Maple’s Seeds: F&G’s


The F&G’s for Miss Maple’s Seeds are in! This is exciting for two reasons:

1) I get to walk around saying “F&G!”, and nobody can scold me.

2) I get to see a beautiful printed proof of my book, all laid out and paginated.

As you’ve likely deduced by now, F&G is not a literary swear word – it stands for “folded and gathered”.

 F&G: “folded and gathered”. A complete printed proof of a book (stack of signatures) that hasn’t been trimmed or bound, and excludes the hard-cover.

F&G’s are the final chance to make sure there aren’t any errors and that the printing and colors are of the quality we’re after. It’s so exhilarating to see in print!

I would never have thought certain things like an ISBN, listed retail price, publisher’s logo, and copyright page could make me go giddy. But there you have it – it’s those details that make the whole thing feel more real!

Interesting side story – I usually get all my Penguin mail from my editor’s assistant, Sara Kreger, whom I discovered (via Facebook, where else?) is also the sister of a college friend, Laura Kreger, from UW-Stout. Crazy small world, eh?

And here’s a little peek at the first spread, just to wet your whistle:

I can’t wait to introduce Miss Maple to the whole wide world on April 4th, 2013!