Monday, May 09, 2011

Conferencing with The Three Bears

Last weekend I attended my first Indiana regional SCBWI conference. Saturday was a full day that consisted of general and breakout sessions. Lisa Yoskowitz, an editor from Disney/Hyperion gave a helpful talk on generating suspense. Not necessarily the sort of suspense that you might find in a mystery or thriller, but the suspense you need to generate in order to make the reader want to turn the page. Many of the examples that she used focused primarily on picture books, but I think they could easily be applied to other formats as well. She talked about introducing conflicts and keeping the stakes high and pointed out that suspense, when used well, makes the reader use their imaginations to think about what's going to happen next.

Later in the day I attended two sessions led by Kerry Martin, a Senior Designer from Clarion Books. Prior to those sessions, she also conducted private portfolio critiques, which I signed up for when I registered. When I arrived at the conference and received my schedule I was relieved to find that I was scheduled for her first critique session. I had been a little nervous about it, so I was happy to find that I was going to get it over with early in the day and wouldn't have to worry about it while sitting through the other sessions. My worries were put to rest when I met Ms. Martin. She was very friendly and seemed even a tiny bit shy which helped put me at ease. It was obvious that she respected artists and knew how to communicate her ideas about an artist's work without being harsh or super critical. She focused on the positive things about particular pieces and in a gentle, modest way, made suggestions that she felt could improve them. For example, in a piece that I have in my portfolio that shows a boy entering a dark, cobweb filled attic, she said that the illustration made her want to know more about the story (a good thing) but she felt the boy's face needed a little more work (she suggested adding eyelids). She also felt that placing a few more objects that one might find in an attic might make the scene even more interesting. In another piece she suggested a little more contrast behind one character's face in order to help differentiate the figure a bit more from the background. Overall, I felt the balance of her remarks were positive. At the end of the session she said, "You have a beautiful book."

In the first of the breakout sessions that I attended, Ms. Martin talked about sending out art samples. She showed examples of items that had been sent to her in the mail and which of those things she liked receiving (postcards) and those she didn't like (toys, calendars, temporary tattoos, stickers). Her advice in sending out art work samples could be boiled down to "the simpler the better." Her personal preference definitely seemed to lean toward receiving postcards. She admitted that because she gets so much mail, that if she receives an envelope or box that she has to open, it often gets put on the bottom of the pile.  With a postcard, there is nothing to open, the art is visible immediately, and if you have used an intriguing, striking, quirky image, she will keep it on file. When designing a postcard, she advised against cluttering it up with lots of small images. Two to three images can be made to work if they are clear and placed properly, but she seemed to feel that one really strong image was just as (if not more) effective.

Later in the day, Ms. Martin held a session that concentrated on picture book dummies and showed examples of dummies from various picture book projects that she had worked on. It was an interesting behind the scenes look into how a book is mapped out, and the advantages it has for the artist (and/or author) in planning the illustrations.
The version that I showed at the Illustrator's intensive

The revisions I made based on Kerry Martin's comments
I spent Saturday night in the conference hotel, and Sunday morning got up bright and early to attend the Illustrator's intensive, which was also led by Kerry Martin. The intensive had been limited to seven participants and it apparently had sold out, but when we were scheduled to start, there were only four of us who actually showed up. From what I gathered, at least two of the other illustrators who had signed up had not realized, until they arrived at the conference, that there had been a homework assignment and that we were expected to bring that assignment with us to discuss during the intensive. I felt sorry for the illustrators who missed out, but having a smaller class made it a more intimate experience for those of us who had done the assignment. The assignment was to create two to three 2-page spreads from "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." It was a fun assignment to work on and gave me a feel of what it might be like to actually design and layout a picture book. I ended up doing three spreads. Ms. Martin said she loved my three bears, she thought they were very cute. She also liked the cottage that I had designed for them to live in. Most of her criticisms were aimed at my Goldilocks. She seemed to feel that she was too 'average, all-American' looking. She suggested that if I chose to continue working on the project for my portfolio, that I should do something to make her more special (for example, patterns in her clothing, more detail in her hair, etc.). She also felt that in one of my spreads (the one showing Goldilocks trying out the three chairs) that the color palette was too hot for her tastes. She seemed to like the overall layout of the images, and she could tell that I had been thinking of character placement in regards to the book's gutter.

Even though the conference and the assignment are now over, I've decided to continue working on the Three Bears illustrations and to make the revisions that were suggested. I feel that by doing this, I will end up with some good portfolio pieces. During this past week I've spent a lot of time revising the layout that shows Goldilocks trying out the three chairs. I chose this one to start with because it's the one that needed the most reworking. I will probably continue to work on it, but the major issues have been taken care of, i.e., adjusting the color palette, making Goldilocks more 'special' (I hope I've accomplished this), making the type smaller and adding some background details. In comparison, the other two should be easy to revise. Once they are completed, I'll post them as well.

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