The 2016 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles

I recently had the pleasure to attend my very first SCBWI conference, held for the first time at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

You often hear people talk about how much is gained from attending these conferences: Invaluable information, new friendships and opportunities to meet and talk with people in the industry. You don’t believe that all of these things can truly happen, but I it can. I was able to experience all of these things firsthand and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend. As I listened to one amazing talk after another, I feverishly took pages of notes wondering how I would ever be able to retain every detail – I didn’t want to forget a thing. As I now reflect back over those four days, there are a few things that really stood out.

Justin Chanda (vice president & publisher for Simon & Schuster’s imprints: S&S book for Young Readers, McElderry Books, Atheneum and Salaam Reads) spoke on several important topics, such as ‘Trend’ and ‘Diversity’. He spoke to us about the importance of erasing the word ‘trend’ from our thinking, and this became a reccurring topic throughout the conference. We spend too much time worrying about keeping up with trends, but it’s impossible.

By the time you see what is happening with a trend, a new one is already beginning. The only way to succeed is to be authentic and true to yourself, and the way to achieve that is to ‘write, illustrate, rinse and repeat’. He also spoke on the importance of diversity and that it is not a trend, but instead should be the norm.

Jon Klassen (Caldecott-winning author and illustrator of I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat) spoke about ’finding yourself in your work,’ and this was a topic that really hit home for me. There was such a wealth of information that I wanted to soak up every word.

He spoke about finding your style and that it’s not something that you can force or coerce out, your style is really just the “end product”. If you try too hard to force it you only end up killing it in the end. The thing he said that really struck a cord with me was that in order for you to find your personal style you need to “develop a general way of problem solving”. When you are able to do this, then anything that comes your way you then know how to go about solving it. The end result will always be your style. He also talked about removing yourself from a project. To instead “think of a project as it’s own entity. What are it’s strengths, what are it’s weaknesses, and then let that story come through your hand”.

Another important topic that he spoke about was how to work when you aren’t at the technical level that you want to be. You may not be where you want to be at this moment but you will get there over time and you should never let that stop you from working. Use the skills you do have and create art and through that process you will gain the experience to get you where you want to be. Just keep working and eventually you will be there, but in the meantime evaluate what skills you do have and focus on how you can highlight that in your work. This brings me back to Justin Chanda and his advice to: ‘write, illustrate, rinse and repeat.’

Marie Lu (a best-selling young-adult fiction author of the series Legend) spoke on living a creative life and left me with so many inspirational quotes that I can now fill my workspace with inspiration to work hard, stay positive and keep going:

“Talent is overrated” - “there are talented writers who never make it and there are people who get published that develop into great writers”.

I think quite possibly the best quote of the entire weekend: “A high tide lifts all boats”. We should not be jealous when someone else receives something wonderful because when one person succeeds it benefits everyone. “We are all in this together”.

On my final day I had the opportunity to participate in the illustration workshop that took place the Monday directly following the conference. This was a full day of drawing that focused on Character Building. What an amazing day! We looked at ethnic and racial differences in our characters, which strengthened the importance of diversity in which we had heard so much about throughout the weekend. We worked on taking human emotions and applying them to animals and objects. The work that was being done by all of the artists attending the workshop was amazing, I was truly humbled by all of the talent I saw throughout the weekend.

Laurent Linn (Art Director at Simon & Schuster) brought in puppeteers and actors in which to demonstrate the importance of body language to express human emotions. Leading up to the conference we were asked to do some homework. We were to create three different characters in which we could then work with during the intensive to implement what we had learned. It really challenged us to take our characters to a whole new level. This was an unforgettable experience, which has equipped me with new tools that I can now apply to my own work.

Here are the characters I created for my homework and some of the sketches I did at the intensive, adding more movement and expression to each.

I encourage anyone who might be considering attending a SCBWI conference to definitely do so. It’s truly one of the best things you will do for yourself. I went into this conference thinking that I would be my typical introverted self, sitting alone in a back corner somewhere, and not giving myself the opportunity to meet anyone new.

Instead I had the amazing opportunity to win one of the mentorship awards for my illustration portfolio, I met with people in the industry and made many new friends. I never in a million years thought that this could be me, but this conference changed me in ways that I will forever be grateful for. I hope everyone that attending this year’s LA conference enjoyed it as much as I did and I’m definitely looking forward to many more in my future.

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