Tuesday, February 9, 2010


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!


Cyn Narcisi said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! Hopefully the portfolio situation gets resolved the next time around. Everyone should benefit, not just the A's, B's, C's!

life without novacaine said...

Wow. Very intensive weekend. I have to say that I probably would have left the conference feeling a little deflated. It seems that you were fed some mixed messages about the industry and looking at what I have heard over the past two years, it seems that no one really knows what they want until they see it. With the introduction of the kindle and online reads, maybe the publishing industry is feeling a bit of panic? There always will be books (I hope) so I don't feel the industry is going away, just feels a little disjointed at this time.

You didn't say anything about your review. How did you feel? How was your feedback? Are you still feeling hopeful about children's lit?

Thanks for your great post. I am hoping to attend the conference in LA and will have some info to contribute.

Edrian Thomidis said...

Thanks for the comments Cyn and Deborah.

I do hope the portfolios are arranged differently next year.

Deborah, it was just a portfolio showcase. We did not get any feedback at all. We were not allowed in the same room with the ADs and Editors, so we didn't get to hear or see their faces as they reacted to the work. The only feedback was to see how many postcards were left at the end, which in my case, mine were upside down!
Yes, the industry is in flux and no one knows if companies like Amazon and Apple will end up telling the publishing houses what and how to price their work. So yes! panic indeed! Books are not going away. It is apparent that those who deliver the content have more power than those who create it!

Edrian Thomidis said...

I forgot to say that on Sunday my table won a contest and the prize was an iPod shuffle! That was a great highlight!

theartofpuro said...

Thanks for this post,very interesting!

Alicia Padrón said...

Great post Edrian!

You know how sorry I am about your portfolio review. Nut you have to stay positive that those postcards they took will end up on AD's boards.

I love how you approached the snow white party! How did that go? Did you get feedback or learned anything from the experience? When i attended the winter conf we didn't have to do any work at all. No assignments or anything but it looks exciting. :o)

Edrian Thomidis said...

Thanks Alicia!
The assignment was really neat! There were over 200 people so there was no time to critique or get feedback. We just walked around the room and saw other people's interpretations.

Oddly enough, most people were confused with the assignment and did a rendition of the Disney characters, so the 'lesson' to be learned was to do your own interpretation no matter what story or work you are doing that's already been done 100+ times!

You make it your own.

roberta baird said...

Great post Edrian. I haven't been to a national conference although I would love to. There is indeed a flood of talent in the industry, so I think we have to continue to grow what we love to do and remember why we love it!

I really like your interpretation of the Snow White assignment. It looks like they kept you guys busy!

Tom Barrett said...

Sounds like a good time! I hope to make it to one soon myself!

Perhaps you'll get a surprise call in the near future from an AD who decided to turn one of your cards over! : )

Edrian Thomidis said...

Thank you Roberta and Tom!

Sarah said...

Thank you Edrian for sharing your experience - This is one of the trips that I had hoped for in making and instead I attended to the regional conference held in Miami. I appreciate your sincerity and like you, I agree that as an illustrator we should value our time. I think this has been an issue for most of of us artists, as to how far we go in order to get an opportunity. With this experience, did you feel like you walked out with an objective? meaning, did you feel you made a good contact for possible work?
In another note, I love your approach of the snow white! :) very cool!

Bella Sinclair said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm very impressed with your assignment pieces. I don't think I could create under the gun like that. They're fantastic! Sounds like a very intimidating and tough field, indeed. But you've got enormous talent, too. Don't you forget that, ever.