I thought it would be helpful to many people hopeful illustrators to read about my experience at the SCBWI New York Winter Conference.
I had registered for the Friday illustrator’s intensive and portfolio showcase. I knew that the conference is mostly for writers, and thought that I would benefit mostly from the illustrator’s intensive. I was right! Although now that I think of it….if they had these panelists during the Sat and Sun sessions, I would have only gone to their sessions since that is what interests me. I would have also saved the extra money for the extra day + hotel, but that’s a different point!
In any case, the panelists were all seasoned illustrators that brought a great deal of experience and knowledge about their career and their own individual path to be where they are today. I won’t tell you what they talked about since you could read that over at the SCBWI blog. I can tell you that Paul Zelinsky, Lisa Desimini and Kevin Hawkes are all amazing! The one common element they all shared is that their style changes based on the project, which I thought was contradictory of what the Art Directors say, which is ‘have a consistent and recognizable style’. Then again, having a Caldecott and other awards helps to be able to break those rules.
This was my assignment for one of the workshops. We were to illustrate Snow white and the seven dwarfs party with a twist. We were to draw the first thing that came to mind which was this:
and then we were supposed to take this idea and stretch it by POV, line, character, twist, etc.
So this is what I came up with:
At 3:00 everyone dropped of their portfolio and then we went back to listen to Art Directors from 3 major publishing houses. They talked about having that ‘Aha!’ moment when they saw something that they considered special. Of course there wasn’t a specific formula for this. It’s more of I know it when I see it. Most of the examples that they showed were truly distinctive from everything else that’s out there. Mostly because they had some humor and they were weird, quirky, or strange. One great example is the work by Red Nose Studio. Really innovative work!
I was hesitant about writing this, but as a graphic designer, I’m really against spec work. I think it devalues and degrades the profession. So I have to tell you that I was shocked when one of the Art Directors from a very large and well know publishing house mentioned asking a hopeful illustrator for spec work! This Art Director asked for several rounds of character design and layout design before being sure if the illustrator was right for the job. I have to say that this really put me off! From what I can see many illustrators struggle to make a living since it is not the most lucrative career. Many illustrators have told me that you do this for the love of art. Then, you have an experienced Art Director speaking to over 150 hopeful illustrators setting the expectation that this behavior is okay in the industry. Really wrong! Everyone’s time is valuable! I just hope that this situation is not standard for other Art Directors. Yes this illustrator got the contract and he is now published. So a happy ending indeed.
We then had a break while the ADs and Editors walked through the portfolio room. Later that evening we had the chance to look through the portfolios ourselves. Over 150 (maybe closer to 200) of them! There was a lot of talent in the room for sure. I wasn’t happy with the placement of my portfolio since they were arranged alphabetically and the portfolios with last names starting with A,B,C were right in front of the door and received the most traffic. Those with last names starting with T,U,V,W,X,Y,Z were at the back of the room and did not get much traffic. Whoever arranged the postcards put mine face down. It was somewhat disappointing.
Friday was the most exciting day! All of the writers (over 800 of them!) joined the conference on Saturday and Sunday. Therefore the content of the workshops was geared to the writers (except the one with Art Director Lauren Linn).
On Sunday the speakers addressed the future of publishing and mentioned how the industry is in flux and everyone is playing the conservative card until they know what will happen. Not a surprise!
All in all it was a great experience, but seeing the large amounts of people trying to break in (and that was just a small fraction, I’m sure) It is difficult to feel empowered and hopeful. But I’ll close on a more positive note by saying that there is no success without failure!
Thanks for reading and feel free to share your comments!