Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All About L.A. At Last!

Sometimes, when you have an overwhelming experience, it takes a while to sort through all of the information and feedback that crammed into your heart, mind and soul during the experience. It is only after putting a bit of time and space between you and the event, that you gain enough clarity to actually put your thoughts down into words.

I read over my blog entries from LA and see how full of energy they were, but I really felt as if I was flying by the seat of my pants. I am sorry if you felt like I left everything hanging... I felt a bit like that as I was living it!

So here is the calmer entry about the SCBWI conference in LA.


If you are thinking about a career in children’s book writing or illustrating, then you need to belong to the SCBWI organization and you NEED to attend one of these events! I learned more in 4 days of speakers, presentations, workshops, critiques and networking opportunities that I could have in MONTHS or even YEARS of trying to learn this stuff on my own here in Moncton! Reading listings in trade publications or visiting publishers’ websites does not give you the same information that listening to them speak in person!

The hotel facilities were very nice too. I could have shown you pictures of my impressive marble bathroom. I could tell you that when I put down a preference for feather pillows, they piled 5 of them on the king-sized bed so that I could almost nest in them at night. I thought the picture that spoke for itself was the view from my lanai/balcony looking down towards Avenue of the Stars. This is as close as I got to the railing... the dragon does NOT do edges!

You know my adventures from Saturday morning of racing around to Kinkos trying to salvage my portfolio. I turned it in on time and then had to wait on pins and needles for the Portfolio exhibition that night. The lighting in the tent wasn’t the greatest for looking at artwork and the tables were a bit too close together, but other than that it was a wonderful chance to look at the over 100 portfolios that had been submitted. They represented a wide range of ages, nationalities and abilities as well as styles. I already knew in my heart by then that there was SO much I would do differently for the next time. When the winning portfolio and honorable mentions were announced Sunday during the banquet, I was pleased to see that 2 of the 3 were illustrators that I’d thought had outstanding portfolios.

My review with Mark Teague on Sunday pretty much confirmed what I had begun to suspect. I have 2 different styles of artwork that I do and one is going to be MUCH more marketable in the picture book industry than the other. The tighter style that I did for the Hanen Centre or the Nanny Kay book are considered more “textbook” style in the USA. Not that there isn’t a market for that type of thing... it just isn’t the same one as picture books. It was SO helpful to speak to an illustrator who has more experience in the industry, especially one that was so kind and helpful. The fact that I absolutely adore his work only made the feedback more meaningful!

Before you start feeling sorry for me, understand that criticism and feedback are a necessary part of growth. If you don’t learn, then you can’t improve. If I don’t “deadhead” my lilac trees after they bloom this year, I won’t have as much growth and beauty next year!

Best of all, I heard from some of the people that had been involved in looking at my work Friday night and then seen the changed portfolio for the exhibition, that they were impressed at how much I had responded to the feedback and improved upon how I presented my work. Just wait until NEXT time folks!

After the portfolio review on Saturday, came the “Paint the Town Red” party by the pool. Since wearing red makes me look like Mr. Spock with the flu, I opted for a great dress with fringes and sticking little maple leafs up my long legs! I also had a Canada lanyard and a Canada beach ball which I spent 15 minutes lobbing about the dance floor as a volleyball before my energy ran out and I crawled off to bed.

Sunday was a fun day full of great workshops and I felt much more relaxed with the portfolio review over. My critique with Mark covered most of my questions and affirmed the “battle plan” that I’d begun to map out by then. When the final speaker of the day turned out to be something relating to Young Adult novels, I decided to skip the session and see a bit of L.A! Having just stuck my toes in the Atlantic ocean the week before, I decided that the highest priority on my list was seeing the Pacific ocean, so off I headed to Santa Monica! I sat and sketched on the beach in the late afternoon sun for almost an hour, bought a few tacky little souvenirs for my girls, shot a few photos and then wandered across the street to a wonderful Japanese restaurant that was surviving specially priced sushi for Happy Hour!! Yummmmm!

I walked around the area for another hour or so, marveling at all the outdoor shopping areas (where we Canadians need indoor malls!) and even taking photos of the cool Californian plants! Then I headed back to the hotel in time for the evening peer critiques.

By this point, I had decided to get as much feedback, ask as many questions as possible and make the most of every opportunity left at the conference, so I decided to sit in on a WRITERS circle to critique the picture book manuscript that I have written called “One Grumpy Dragon”. I was absolutely TERRIFIED of reading it aloud to the group because I still don’t think of myself as a writer. I’m more of an illustrator who created a story so that I could draw the pictures to go with it!

The feedback was VERY encouraging! They pointed out a few places where I needed to tighten the story or move things around that improved the whole flow of the fantasy counting book. I went back up to my hotel room that night and changed the story around, rewrote a few of the lines and had a new manuscript by the morning. I was even able to touch base with two of the members from that critique group to see if the new changes helped... and the feedback was great.

Monday was a blur of last workshops, exchanging e-mails and business cards with new friends and closing speeches. Then we had a wonderful autograph session with faculty members whose books had been available all weekend at the SCBWI bookstore. Do you think the dragon came home with more books in her hoard??? Let’s just say that I was quite relieved to find my luggage still under the weight restrictions!

Here is a photo of me with David LaRochelle. David was one of the first people I met at the conference when we shared a shuttle to the hotel on Thursday. If you have never read his INCREDIBLE Fantasy picture book called “The End”, you need to look it up at the library or find it on Amazon. It is SO clever and such fun to read!! I also bought a copy of his hilarious book “The Best Pet Of All” where a little boy invites a dragon home to live with him so that his mom will realize that a dog is a much better choice!

Monday night was full of suitcase packing and having dinner with some of the friends that I’d made over the 4 days at the mall food court near the hotel. It was reaffirming to discover that I wasn’t the only one who felt as if my brain had been crammed full of information to the bursting point!

I reserved a spot for myself on the 5:30 am shuttle and went to bed. Around 3 am, I woke to the sounds of multiple sirens and voices over a loudspeaker. A quick peek out my window revealed this scene across the street....

Someone later told me that this is the Screen Actor’s Guild building, but I don’t know if that is true. Apparently there was a small fire somewhere in the building, but it involved massive amounts of fire trucks, ambulances, two helicopters with spotlights.... and one dragon who decided to just get dressed then try to doze until my alarm went off.

Needless to say, I was a bit groggy by the time I got home to Moncton at 10:30 pm AST on Tuesday night. I was actually quite civil when my family got up and on the road to Bangor, Maine by 6:30 am the next morning for our 48 hour back to school shopping trip.

Now that FTP access to my ISP is working and I’ve been able to upload my photos as well as ruminate about the trip, I hope you feel more in touch with all the dragon’s adventures.

Believe me.... this is only the beginning!