Tuesday, January 20, 2009

THE FULL (really long) SCOOP about the conference

After the conference I have been trying to organize my thoughts to be able to put them on paper (or my blog) in a way that it is helpful to you but also gives you a taste of my personal experience. I’m still not sure if I can do this successfully since I am rather confused at the moment, and I’m not sure that I’ll sort everything out in a snap.

I thought I would start by telling you about Mark Teague’s Workshop, which was titled “Drawing interesting characters”. Many of the things he spoke about relate to my portfolio critique.
  1. There are no rules. This is an important one for me, and part of the reason why I feel confused. I will expand on this later.
  2. Start with a Character. This means that if you are also an author or if you are working with a manuscript, you need to start with a character before you can start with anything else. Some of the techniques for developing a character are the same techniques writers use to develop a character. They key is to find the voice of the character and you can only achieve this by drawing the character more than 100 times from all different angles, capturing expressions and moods. Mark Teague has many drawings of many characters that were never used on the final art but were part of the discovery process.
  3. Read a lot. The more you read the better you become at story telling. He said that he became a better illustrator once he had kids because he read so many books to them and used them as a learning tool.
  4. Once you have the character then you can think about the story-telling part of the story. You can look at how other illustrators carry a character through a 32 page book.
  5. Choose and artist that is close to your sensitivity/style and study them. 
  6. About your own style – He said: “Don’t worry about developing a style, do your work and the style will come out organically out of you. It is an extension of who you are.
  7. Illustrate an older story to show an editor that you can take a character all the way through the story (32 pages). Pick a story that when you read it you can visualize what is happening like a movie playing in your head. Then, begin to develop the characters. Doodle, doodle, and doodle! Keep it private. Don’t worry about messing up, but doodle and doodle a lot! Until something (magic) happens.
  8. Get the character right. If you are drawing a dinosaur or a car, etc. Do your research and get all the details right. Gauges, lights, etc. Kids love details and they will notice if they are not believable. Getting it right helps keep a kid’s fantasy real!
  9. Honor the text that you have. Don’t violate something that is important to the author.
  10. Play it BIG! Big emotion! Big Energy! Pump it up! Find energy with the character. (This reminds me of something I was taught in school when I was studying graphic design…if something doesn’t work; make it big, if it still doesn’t work, make it red! Funny, that’s a tip that almost always works!)
  11. Kids don’t get nuances or subtleties. You need to be straight up and emotionally honest with the illustrations. You don’t illustrate a mad kid. You illustrate a REEEALLY MADDDDDD kid! Exaggerate energy and emotion. For example straight lines on a speeding car don’t have the same energy as curved lines on that same car.
  12. Play with perspective and point of view. It’s always a child’s world. Get in touch with your inner child. The emotional center of the illustration is always with the child (audience).
  13. Story-boarding helps composition. Identify the main focus on each page and add no distractions, but add things that help tell the story.
Then his talk turned into a QA session and someone asked, how would someone starting out know when they are ready? He said that was a very personal thing. When he was starting out he was told by his professor not to do it, that he would never be as good as the best illustrator at that time. However, he decided to move forward and he published books that today he doesn’t feel very proud of, but helped him get to where he is today. He felt he was ready, although in retrospect, he is not sure why he thought he was.
The subject of ‘there are no rules’ came up again. He mentioned how he loves the work of Barbara Coonie. However, he could never do her work, nor do many of his recommendations apply to her work or many other successfully published artists, yet their work is brilliant.
This was his workshop in a nutshell! This post is soooo long. I hope I’m not boring you if you are still reading…wow!
Now I am going to share some of the comments that he said directly about my work, and I’ll try to be specific, only because you may get something out of it:
Let me say first, that he was incredibly nice and I could see that he tried to be as thoughtful as possible to make comments that would be really constructive and not demeaning or over critical and I really appreciated that!
  • He saw my character study of the little witch girl and said that it was nice, but needed to push it further (no more specifics!)
  • By page 4 he said my work was weak in character development (not in those words exactly). I soon realized that I had not mixed up all emotions the right way, and had too many smiling children in the beginning of the portfolio. He reiterated many of the things I mentioned earlier from his workshop.
  • On the next page looking at the boys playing with the paper boat, he said that they were so calm. I then added (thinking this was a positive trait from my work and part of my unique style), that most people always commented on how soothing and pleasant my work was. He said that this is not helpful when you are trying to carry a character through a story where there are many emotions.
  • Then there was the piece about ‘going back to school’ He asked me what was happening there. I explained why the mother was upset, hoping to highlight the ‘emotion’ in my portfolio. Then he said, well this is a mother’s point of view and a child is not interested in a mother’s point of view. This is his world (referring to the boy in the bus) or the sister’s not the mother’s. Then he expanded by saying that my work was all a mother’s point of view and pointed out at some other illos. He said the work has to be interesting for children to look at. I guess it is part of what he spoke about the emotional center of the piece has to be with the child.
  • His last suggestion was for me to draw lots and lots and know my character inside and out…then we were out of time. He only got to see half of my portfolio.
So after a long weekend I came away with the following:
In the end, it is about finding your voice, believing in yourself and your work and continuing to strive to improve on your work based on YOU and not someone else’s formula. There’s no such thing as a guide or a rule-book to go by. It just works or it doesn’t. I also think that the success of an illustrator is somewhat tied to trends too. Graphic styles, illustration styles change and some go in and out of fashion. I think there’s some truth in the idea of having a marketable style.

I am in a strange place, because I felt very strongly about my work prior to the conference (I guess that’s part of it, you need to believe in yourself or no one else will), and after Mark Teagues’ input, I realize that his comments come from what he does with his work and what he believes in, and has worked for him. However, it doesn’t mean that I need to start drawing with crazy perspectives and curved lines, and blow everything out of the page because then I won’t be true to myself. On the other hand, he did offer some great advice, but I’m not sure how to make it my own yet. All of this makes me question who I am as an illustrator/artist? Where do I fit in? and where I should go from here?

Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful to you if you are in a similar journey or even if you are already published. As always, I welcome your comments!


Alicia Padrón said...

Wow Edrian,

First of al let me apologize for not commenting lately. I've realized that it takes me lots of time to go through blogs. I am trying to cut back on that but I have not disappeared. I still visit and read :o)

Second let me thank you for such fantastic posts. I think you've been wonderful sharing your experience with others.

About Mark, let me just say... how envious I am that you got to talk to him and he gave you feedback, girl!! I told you before, I saw him speak last year and he is such a wonderful person and talented illustrator. Very sweet and modest. That experience alone must of been worth it for you I bet.

What you did, by putting yourself out there and having people critique and offer feedback of your work is one of the hardest things to do. Give yourself a big pat on the back for that! It is very tough to hear what otherss have to say about our work. I think he did offer wonderful advice Edrian. You just have to let it sink in and eventually what stays with you is what really you should work on, you know what I mean? You are right, you have to see for yourself what works and what doesn't.

I see it like ithis. If we are making a new cake recipe of our very own. But everybody always use the same ingredients. We have to come up with something good and that is our own. Letting people taste it and offer feedback is a must, but at the end you will decide witch ingredients to use. What ingredient to use a lot (make it big), what to take out and what new secret one to add. ;o)

Keep on going Edrian. I always repeat this to myself a lot, we have to grow a tough skin in this business. I know that is a hard one for me but completely necessary. There is always people who will not like our work and others who will love it. We just have to learn to be comfortable with that and keep exploring and doing what you like.

Like Mark said, do your work and the style will come out organically out of you. It is an extension of who you are. So that means at the end, WE are the ones who have to be happy with it!

Good luck! :o)

Edrian Thomidis said...

Thank you Alicia! I love your cake recipe analogy. It's so right on!

Heather said...


Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience of the confernece. I've been to several and often come away confused just like you did. You seem to be in a good place in dealing with Mark's advice. And in time, as you work you will begin to see how what he talked about applies to you and how it can make your voice stronger. (I don't know how long you've been following my blog, but go back to the beginning archives and see some of the learning curve I've had on my work just in the 2 years I've been doing IF) I think you are right on track.

Gai said...

Firstly I love the pale pink and white of your illustration, with the bird with his head upside down in the water, very visual and interesting. I wonder what the image is saying?
I reflected on this picture after reading your feedback from the conference and wondered what the image was saying to you?
I liked Alicia's metaphor of the cake too, I couldn't think of a better way to understand the suggestions you were given. I had just thought about when you have a baby everyone tells you how and what to do, meaningful and helpful advise, always because that's how they did it and look at my child now.. etc., even the midwives, Dr,s, health nurses, schools etc all like to put in there pennies worth. However, all these opinions, suggestions, advice etc do not take away the individuality of the person and their lived experience. Each portion of information is stored and used to mold your own way, as with all things in life. As an artist it is the same. We are fortunate to have feedback and brave to put it out there to receive. So well done Edrian and love the blog and honesty. I don't think I have ever written so much in a comment box.

Annie said...


that was an incredible experience, I think you are in the right spot, stewing all that you learned together until it's ready to come out. And how lovely of you to share your experience, your personal feelings are right there for us to empathize so completely it's incredible.

You are a very talented artist, there is no doubt about that. You are also a very calm person and that comes through in your artwork.

I think in each of our careers (mine is obviously not in art, lol) we start somewhere and we progress and we continue to learn and evolve. We do this in life, that's what we are as human beings, well, if we do it right, we continue to learn and grow into ourselves. You are at a brave stage in your talent and career. Looking at what you had written about what Mark said, I can understand it from the perspective of being a mom who buys books for her kids. I love that he said to start with the main character and I totally get to over exaggerate emotions. I never would have thought of it in that terms or in the way you describe so it's quite interesting to see it written like that. Those are the books we read over and over again.

I think your answer is right there. You are lucky to have little critics that can assist you as you continue on your journey too - look at how your own children react. Just continue to evolve but with that direction while being true to yourself and your work. I can't wait to see what happens next for you!

Edrian Thomidis said...

Heather, I know you have been at your journey longer than me and I really appreciate your support.

Gai-Isn't it funny how our subconscious is always at work? I took my kids to the zoo yesterday to distract them and myself and and upside down flamingo eating a small fish is what I ended up with! Go figure!
I couldn't agree more with your opinion. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Annie-You are so sweet! Thank you for all your words. That's funny that you still think of me as calm. I think my kids have taken the calm right out of me! LOL! Thanks for your perspective too. It is important and valuable to find out what other people think. My kids are so sweet they love everything I do...so they are not as objective as I would want/need them to be. But I love that they are so supportive!
Thanks for the rave review on blogged too! wow! you are awesome!

Diana Evans said...

Hi Edrian....bless your heart for sharing all this great information with us.....you are amazing....

my one thing that I always go by is being true to me...and my art...I figure if we believe ...others will follow....

I remember when I first started sending my work out...and got a few notes about how my style wasn't a good fit...at first I thought something was wrong with me...but no matter what I kept on with my work...my style....and low and behold people can pick my work out os any line up....

I just finished a book and am starting on two more...how exciting...

and I know you will get the success because your work is brilliant!!!


Bella Sinclair said...

I could give you a big squeeze for posting your experience. This is tremendously helpful for me (even though I know I'm not destined to be a true illustrator). I hope it was helpful for you to sort out the memories and make them concrete.

Edrian, I have to say that I felt like I was right with you during your critique. All the anxiety, all the hope, the biting sting of some of the comments, the disappointment and the determination. Teague is such an excellent author/illustrator, and what he has to say is very valid. But maybe not for everyone. I like what Alicia and Gai had to say, too, about finding your own recipe, your own technique.

I love the funny and big-emotion books like the No David series, and my children enjoy them, too. But then I think about other books I love like Hondo & Fabian -- very delicate, beautiful, serene illustrations. Or Kinuko Y. Craft -- intricate works of art. I think showing a range of emotions is vital, but I don't think it necessarily has to be BIG and RED (hehe, did they really teach you that in graphic design??).

I think you already have a style, and an excellent one at that. You also like to vary your perspective -- bonus! I think working a character through 100 studies and trying to adopt a child's point of view are excellent pointers.

Alicia is right. You DO deserve a huge pat on the back. And a thousand hugs. This was brave and difficult, but you did it. I don't think I have the backbone to do it. Let it all seep in, and keep doing what you're doing. I think slowly, you will subconsciously work in some of Mark's tips after you've mulled them over.

Thanks again for sharing all this. And thank goodness these comment boxes stretch!

Edrian Thomidis said...

Diana - Thank you for your encouragement. It means a lot to me! Your work is fantastic!

Bella - You are too nice! I really appreciate your comments too.

I feel so blessed right now. I am so deeply touched by all of your comments. They are very encouraging and they warm my heart. Thank you all so much!

Eric Barclay said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope you know how talented you are!

Tiddly Inks said...

Hi Edrian,
You know I had a similar experience with my first conference, but I will just add that Mark seemed to give some excellent advice and word it in a way that I haven't been able to articulate: Put it in the perspective of the child. Now, as I type this, I can think of 1,000 books that don't really seem to do that on the surface, but deep down they do. My favorite success story is Sandra Boynton. Go to her site and look at her first illos and then go find her latest and you will see what a journey she has been on. I hope you just meld his advice into your subconcious and keep on going. You never know where you will be in a year. :) I am trying to tell myself the same thing. LOL

Tom Barrett said...

Sounds like a great experience! Thanks for taking the time to put this online.

You've got great talent! And you have to do what you enjoy, otherwise the work will become stale and predictable. I read a book recently call Morgan and the Artist that you might like. Pick it up at the library if you can.

Anonymous said...

Book illustrator or not, that is some fantastic advice! Thank you very much for writing this up.

Diana Evans said...

you are so sweet Edrian and I am grateful to have met you through blogging!!!

Chickengirl said...

Hey Edrian, thank you so much for sharing this with us. And to meet with Mark Teague and have your portfolio reviewed- what a treat! I'm a big fan of his.

So so much good stuff! I really believe that everyone's style comes organicly. Ask everyone to draw an apple and everyone's got a different way of drawing it.

Anyways, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!

Roberta said...

You know Edrian... one of my harshest critiques came from a very grouchy art director from a magazine...she even had an argument with the illustrator before me... the poor woman came out crying! When it was my turn she ripped me to shreds... hated everything I showed her! About the only thing she didn't say was that she also hated my shoes and my hairstyle...I walked out dazed!

Much of what she said was valid... much of it was not, but it gave me the drive to push on through to a new level!

It was the best critique I've had for that very reason...and my shoes and hair were just fine too!!

Hugs from TX

theartofpuro said...

Thank you for sharing all this with us,I found everything useful and interesting

Good work

INDIGENE said...

Wow! This was really wonderful, challenging and overwhelming experience! It will take a long while to process all the things that Mark said. But I'm sure as you keep working at it (and I know you will!) You will start to see exactly what he means, by which time you will separate the personal from the professional and take what you need from it. You're an amazing talent, hold on to that and do what we all do, keep working at it! Hugs!

Carli said...

Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful info. your work is wonderful. I don't think you should try to change your whole style based on what he said. just take the suggestions that work for you and the kind of art you want to create.

krisztina maros said...

hi Edrian,
it's fantastic that you've been there! thank you for sharing!

life without novacaine said...

Edrian, This was a FANTASTIC post! Thank you so much for sharing and I can't believe it took me so long to get here and read it. I love all your work and your honest interpretations and how you aren't afraid to verbalize your thoughts. It's really great and refreshing to read.
You are SOOOOO blessed to have been critiqued by Mark Teague. He is really, really nice and such an inspiration to me (I met him at the LA SCBWI conference last summer.) I loved that he pointed out your school illustration is from a mother's point of view. I love that illustration and could interpret the emotion in it, being a mother, but I never thought of the fact that the child wouldn't see it that way. What valuable insight.
It is very hard to put yourself out there and be vulnerable, so kudos to you for doing just that. I wish so badly we lived closer because our paths seem quite similar. I'd love to meet some day.
Anyway, thanks for the great post. You are wonderful and talented! (Also, even though MT is a very talented artist, what he does works well for him and his recipe may not be the exact path for you. Keep up the great work my friend and great things will follow!)