Friday, January 30, 2009


I feel like a sponge that has been thrown into a pool instead of a bathtub! I can’t possibly process all the information that has been floating around the Illustrator Intensive program today, but I thought I would blog about a few of the highlights.

Our morning started off with an amazing talk by Leo & Diane Dillon who work in tandem as a husband and wife illustration team. Their incredible body of work was inspiring to see and also uplifting in how it encouraged any artist to continue to grow and learn. I bought one of their books and had the chance to get them both to autograph it afterwards.

After that came a head warping session about how to paint in a traditional manner using Digital medium. I only have Photoshop Elements rather than Photoshop CS3, so a LOT of the pull down menus he was showing us didn’t work the same, but many of us sat there with our laptops and tablets trying out the shortcuts, tips or tricks that got crammed into the two hour session. At one point, I just shut my computer down and took notes because my head was starting to hurt! The room was also very chilly. Even the heat of all the computers humming didn’t warm us up much.

At noon, we had to take our portfolios and promotional cards down to the other end of the floor to enter them in the exhibition. With over 100 illustrators taking part, even though we were dropping them off in alphabetical chunks, it took about 15 minutes of our 45 minute lunch break. Teresa and I headed up to our room and decided to leave our computers behind for the afternoon session, but that meant running down to the business centre to print out our “childhood memories” for the graphic novel workshop. This didn’t leave much time for anything other than a granola bar and a banana before we headed into our afternoon session.

Elise Primavera ran the workshop on graphic novels which included some of her history as an illustrator and then a challenging round-robin story activity where we had less than 5 minutes to create and introduce 2 characters in 2 panels of a graphic novel thumbnail. When the time was up, we passed the page to the person on our left and started a new 2 panel illustration continuing the story by the person to our right. Elise guided us by telling us things we had to do to introduce conflict etc. but with only 4 minutes for each 2 squares x 5 pages... it got a little exhausting and overwhelming. To top it all off, our group got to act out the best story from our circle. Being the shy, retiring type I got to act out the part of a hungry dog..... and Teresa was a great sport about being the T-bone steak (it’s hard to explain!) At least I didn’t have to bite the other dog’s butt like in the cartoon panel one of our members drew! Many of the stories ended up involving food or being hungry, so I don’t think that Teresa and I were the only ones to skip lunch!

The last session of the day was the Art Director’s Panel which ended up being SO much more nerve-wracking than I’d dreamed! Back in December, they’d asked attendees to submit images for a panel, but I thought the members would just pull out images to match their points about key elements of children’s book illustration (ie. strong characters, good composition, use of colour etc.) As the panel started, the first 3 images from one illustrator came up and they began to talk about consistency of style etc., reviewing the 3 images as a whole. My stomach sank somewhere under the table to my toes. I thought about the variety in the 3 pictures I had submitted and just dreaded what they might say if my work suddenly appeared on the screen.

Anyone who has ever read “Steering by Starlight” by Martha Beck can appreciate how my inner lizard was having a TOTAL MELTDOWN!! I actually own a Webkinz Gecko that I can “Sneaky” who I can usually pat when I get these sneak panic attacks... but she was all the way back in my hotel room!

Two hours of angst, but all in vain. Thankfully (or should I feel disappointed) none of my images appeared on the screen to be critiqued. When the session was over, Teresa and I met up with Paul to go in search of some much needed FOOD! Then it was back up to the hotel to wait until we were allowed to go into view all of the portfolios once the Art Directors were finished looking at them. The lighting was much better than during the portfolio exhibition in LA this summer and there were less people allowed in to see the work (just the illustrators themselves instead of everyone) but I still found it VERY confusing. I wish that each Art Director or publisher that attended the SCBWI portfolio review had been given a pile of coloured sticky notes or tabs and been asked to stick one on any image in an illustrator’s portfolio that they found particularly strong. This would certainly give us more feedback!! I also found a huge discrepancy in the number of images in the portfolios. This summer, I kept hearing that you should only put in your 5 to 10 strongest images.... but some of the binders there had between a dozen and 25 pictures each!! I looked as if I just didn’t draw much instead of the fact that I really took the time to edit my selections...

As an illustrator, the most valuable thing that anyone can share with me, beyond their own journey or experience, is feedback and guidance on what works or what doesn’t and where to go from here. Hopefully, there will be more of that tomorrow.

OK... my head really, really hurts... but only because I think I’ve learned way too much to process tonight. I didn’t sleep much last night, but I know that I will sleep well in a very short while...

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I am typing this from the relative comfort of our hotel room as the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan drift up from below in a symphony of honks and sirens.

The snowstorm that wreaked havoc across the Eastern United States and Central Canada on Tuesday and Wednesday reached Moncton late yesterday afternoon. When Nick checked my flight status before supper, he discovered that Air Canada had “proactively” canceled the flights out of Montreal that night and hence also canceled my early morning flight to Montreal the next morning!

A long wait on the toll free number confirmed that Paul Burns and I had already been rebooked on a 12:40 flight to Montreal Thursday, continuing on to New York and arriving in LaGuardia just before supper time. Later than our original booking, but at least getting us there before the Intensive workshops that we’d signed up for all day Friday. I called Teresa Wentzler to let her know that we had been rebooked and she was able to arrange a later flight time due to the weather advisories in her own area, guaranteeing that she wouldn’t be left in the wilds of New York without us for too long. I asked about the other flight to New York via Halifax, but she told me to wait until the morning to see what the weather was like.

Nick and I got the girls up to Mom and John’s house, finished packing for my trip and his meeting the next day in Fredericton, then went to bed as the snowflakes swirled madly outside. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong with flying through Montreal later in the day, but I chalked it up to nerves and tried to get to sleep. Around 2 am, the sound of ice pellets and sleet hitting the window woke me up. Sure enough, the dire predictions of a transition to ice rain had come true. Resisting the urge to get up and prowl around the house for chocolate, I made myself go back to sleep by counting dragons chasing sheep.

At 6 am, we woke to the news that schools throughout the province were closed for the day. Since the police were advising people to stay off the roads as much as possible, Nick decided to teleconference for his meeting instead of driving 2 hours each way to Fredericton and back in one day. The morning news mentioned the fact that most early morning flights out of Moncton had already been canceled, but that airports were hoping to get things moving again as quickly as possible.

The little niggling feeling was back in the pit of my stomach. What if a plane never arrived from Montreal to pick us up? I grabbed my fluffy housecoat and raced downstairs to get the laptop out of the bag and bring it upstairs to bed. WiFi means being able to check the status of other flights from beneath the warmth of your duvet! Nick helped me find out if the flight from Halifax to Moncton was still flying and it was. I called Paul and asked him if he was game to try getting to the airport for 8 am instead of noon to see if we could jump on the flight to Halifax since there would be a plane to get on!! He agreed and since school had been canceled, he even coaxed his teenage son to drive us both to the airport!

We arrived and managed to get seats on the flight to Halifax then on to LaGuardia, but the agent also left us on the flight to Montreal just in case. After going through security, we discovered that the Continental flight from 6 am was still grounded and the runway closed! Checking the monitors, we discovered that the flight from Halifax was only 15 minutes late coming in and the hearty Dash 8 landed with no problems at all. Before we knew it, we were boarded and on our way... only to discover that the high winds made for some pretty rough turbulence going up and coming down.

Once we landed in Halifax and got off the plane, we cleared US Customs to discover that the flight to LaGuardia was delayed until 1:10 because the plane had yet to arrive from the backlog in Montreal and Boston. I was able to get a hold of Teresa on her cell phone to let her know about our change in plans. We would now be arriving 45 minutes ahead of her into New York instead of an hour behind. Paul and I ordered lunch and bided our time until we boarded the flight. Once I got on the plane and had time to catch up on the day’s events in my journal, I realized how tired I was. The adrenaline was wearing off now that I knew we would indeed reach New York safely in time for the Friday events.

Guess what we discovered as we stepped off the plane into the terminal and checked the monitors?? The flight from Montreal to LaGuardia got canceled due to mechanical difficulties with the aircraft!!! I could have been stranded in Montreal right now or forced to fly to Toronto before going on to NY.

Always listen to the little niggling feelings....

OK. I’ve been writing this blog on and off between angsting over the order of my images in my portfolio, trying to find a place to make one colour photocopy, writing my story for the graphic novel workshop tomorrow. We’ve gawked at Grand Central Station and the Chrysler building and acted like total tourists in this amazing city.

Time to go to bed... I don’t think I can sleep due to terror/excitement, but I should probably try.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I have no idea where the month of January went!

Actually, that’s not quite true. 5 days were spent as a substitute teacher in the schools, 2 days in Fredericton with the Writers In the Schools Program, 2 days of a whirlwind visit with my Dad and Barb here for a visit, several days trying to beat my head against my computer when it stopped being able to make readable .pdf files for some reason and the rest of the time I was frantically getting ready for the SCBWI conference in New York City this weekend.

I’ve been busy...

quite busy...

OK... really, really busy!

So here I am with the portfolio mostly ready to go (I have to decide which of 2 books I am going to put them in), my promotional stuff is ready at the printer for Nick to pick up on the way home, my new website is ready to go...

...and I have just found out that there is the potential for a huge snowstorm to hit tomorrow through Thursday morning (when I am supposed to fly out)! The urge to scream or eat chocolate is pretty strong!!

Since I cannot control Mother Nature, I have decided to concentrate on the things that I CAN control:

I can make a packing list so that I don’t forget anything important.

I can celebrate the fact that I have new work to show off once I arrive there safely.

I can think about the great travel stories I may have to tell other attendees.

I can decide which art supplies pack well, just in case I get stuck in an airport longer than I had planned.

I can blog from wherever I get stuck since I HAVE to take the new laptop with me for one of the workshops (which reminds me... I need to install Photoshop Elements on it before I go!)

I can write a story to go with the 2 polar bear illustrations I had such fun creating for my portfolio.

I can bring along some graph paper and design something new in cross stitch.

I can bring along the pair of socks I need to finish knitting.

and if worst comes to worst...

I can always break down and buy a tiny bit of chocolate somewhere along the way!