Monday, February 11, 2013

SCBWI WINTER CONFERENCE CHRONICLES: Vol.3 Hurry Up and finish! The Fed Ex is Coming! The FedEx is Coming!

 Day 2 Illustrators Intensive
     So, This being my very first SCBWI conference, I wanted to "do it right" as they say.  I signed up for the optional Illustrators intensive the Friday before that "actual" conference begins.  I'm very glad that I did as it proved to be very enlightening, compelling and inspiring.  As many of you knew I dragged my partner all the way (8 city blocks) from our hotel to Grand Central Station, above which was the Grand Hyatt where the conference was being held.  So that very morning I woke up got ready, bundled up because "baby, it's cold outside" and went downstairs for breakfast.  I didn't grab my portfolio at that time as I would be horrified if coffee got spilled all over it, or someone nudged up against the table and spilled their food, or perhaps I might mistakenly smear some eggs on it or something.  As I am considerably prone to accidents and am definitely the universes magnet for mistakes and personal humorous amusement, I was particularly VERY paranoid with good reason.  So the portfolio was left safely on the hotel desk. B was still sound asleep (snoring), so no worries there for something to happen to it, though knowing my luck I assumed there would probably be some kind of freak earthquake, where the Hilton would crumble and fold to the ground along with my portfolio folding inside like an accordion.  This is not to make like of the many people who would have tragically passed in the freak accident as well. God Rest, right?

     In any case, these are the wonderful thoughts I had as I made my way down to the Metro Cafe "next door" to the hotel.  I use the phrase "next door" as the cafe is actually attached to the building, but you have to go outside (in the cold) and then enter the cafe.  I really feel there should have been an entrance from the inside of the hotel. It would have been a courtesy as I'm certain 95% of that cafe's customers come from the Hilton, but I digress.  Considering I had resolutely decided that I would "take a break" form my Low Carbing diet, I selected a lovely egg white omelet with red peppers sauteed caramelized onions and feta cheese (you could pick three toppings and those sounded delightful.)  The omelet came with "breakfast" potatoes which, in my opinion, seemed very "Southern" for NYC by the way they were prepared.  They were smothered in butter, seasonings and either chives or parsley.I couldn't tell as the potatoes were SO yummy, that I honestly could not be bothered to pay attention with what they were seasoned with because of all the crispy browned outside and soft warm potatoey-goodness inside to care, really.  I hadn't eaten potatoes in 3-4 months and believe me, they were heaven... The omelet was also good.

     After breakfast I went back upstairs to the room to grab my portfolio and finally head to the conference.  I was really excited and kind of nervous, more so about the showcase than the conference itself.  Even though I spend countless hours working on my craft, I still gut butterflies in my stomach and somewhat queasy thinking about how the work will be received.  I think this is true for many artists.  I was reminded of a scene from Julie and Julia (a fantastic movie, if you haven't seen it. I can't recommend that movie enough to people.)  It is where, after revising her cookbook at least three times over from "scratch" (pun intended) every time, she is packing her latest draft of the book to be considered by the publisher.  She says something that really stands out in my memory from the film:
She says,"I just want to savor this moment: The moment where ANYTHING is possible. The moment where you imagine they are going to just LOVE everything you did and it's going to sell a MILLION copies and Change the World."   By the way, Meryl Streep does a FANTASTIC "impression" of Julia Child in the film.  Sometimes I find myself impersonating Meryl emulating Julia in the kitchen when I cook sometimes.  I think, at some point, artist or not, we imagine that ALL of our hard work and efforts will be appreciated in exactly the way we always want them to be.  You kind of want to reside in this positive and somewhat euphoric state and Never leave.  Though, at some point, you must leave the Hilton and walk your 8 city blocks to the hotel and hand over your "baby" to the wolves and hope for the best.

     As I don't live in the largest metropolitan city in the US, I actually enjoyed the novelty of my somewhat long walk to and from the conference each day.  I find it strangely comforting to be surrounded by the tall and larger than life buildings.  It's kind of like being given a bear-hug by very large creatures made of brick, stone and mortar.  I enjoyed the smell of street food vendors and all the lovely wafting smells from the various restaurants of every shape, size and food type.  Once I did arrive, it took me a few minutes to figure out how to get to the hotel lobby from Grand Central's long corridor. I still had to ask for directions to get to the conference area and arrived barely on time.

     The setup was nice and very classy.  Though I do have this one of the very few criticisms about the conference space and setup:
The tables were VERY small. I would have to say too small.  Though, my portfolio box was rather large, I admit. there was still very little room for a notebook and a pen (which I held in my lap while taking notes that day).  There was hardly any room for coffee.  My main complaint was the room in between each place setting for attendees.  I chose an end seat towards the back of the room due to my accidental tardiness.  Unfortunately the leg of the chair was wrapped around one of the legs of the table.  Again may I reiterate my potential probability for accidents.  I, of course was not the only one at the table.  At the time, there was a woman sitting two seats down with some coffee she had on the table.  You may already guess where this is going.  As i was trying to unravel my chair that was apparently VERY intertwined with the table leg, I was encountering a problem with unhooking it free.  The seat right next to me, which at the time was not as of yet taken, was to close for me to slide my chair out some to be able to unhook the chair from the table without completely uprooting the table from the carpet.  As any of you that know me personally, I'm kind of a shy guy and when encountered in a large gathering of people, I prefer not to draw too much attention to myself and flipping a table over in the middle of an already crowded conference area would not only draw attention, it would be an awfully embarrassing spectacle.  So I decided that I would try to discretely wiggle the chair free so as to not cause a BIG scene.  Unfortunately, as you might of guessed, I was not successful and the only thing I succeeded in doing was causing the table to lurch backward and forward and spill that cup of coffee all over that poor woman's pants.  I was horrified when this happened and really kind of stood there speechless, unbelieving that I had "done it again."  May I point out that it was even MORE HORRIFYING to find out later that she was one of the speakers on the editor/agents panel later that afternoon and she was actually a known agent amongst many and kind of a big deal in the organization, as in to say that many of the SCBWI big wigs were on first name and personal basis with her.   Sometimes I think I'm a character on some reality television program for the entertainment of a personified Universe in some parallel reality, because you really can't make up something like that. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Ms. Tugeau.  I'm very sorry I spilled coffee on your slacks.  She did mention how expensive they were afterwards, which made me feel much worse.  There were no napkins about that could help her clean up. I offered her my scarf to use until I could go retrieve her some napkins, but she declined and preferred to go get them herself.  I sat down, sipped my coffee (which didn't spill, mind you, as I had been holding it) and quietly sipped my coffee pretending to be invisible until the lights went down and the conference began.

     Due to limitations and legal reasons, I can only share little tidbits from the speakers that lectured that day.  I figured It would be easier to run down the list and talk a little bit about each one.  The overall theme of the Intensive was the most important lessons that Illustrators learned on their journey to success.  As I had state previously, this was a very inspiring series of art lectures and I felt very fortunate to listen to the many pearls of wisdom from such wonderfully talented illustrators.

     Shaun Tan was the first to speak that day.  Mr. Tan has a very distinct and unique style.  I'm very intrigued by it actually.  I found myself hypnotized by the texture and line work that I found it difficult to try to listen instead of being pulled into this fantastic world he imagines.  Actually he was a very eloquent speaker and I found it not at all difficult to listen to his lecture.  He spoke about personal style and how one's style comes from their own personal thought process when they are solving a visual problem or it is the cumulative affect of your variable environment.
  I found his concept of personal style very interesting and could honestly have listened to him elaborate on the subject the whole day, but everyone gets cut-off after an hour to keep things moving along. A few other great points he made that day was for artists to avoid negativity.  If you are getting bogged down with negative energy, whether it is rejection from publishers or particularly tough clients or even individuals you know in your personal life and it begins to chip away at your work or affect your ability to create. AVOID IT.  He also advised you should go with the flow career wise. By this meaning if you can get editorial work with magazines or journals then go for it until you can get work where you would like to get work from. Sage advice and fantastic illustrations. Thanks Mr. Tan.

     Barbara McClintock spoke next on how she learned to draw just from the passion she had for art.  She would go to the museums and sketch the greats including Top Cat comics. ;0)  Everyone knows her from her distinctive lifework evocative of the great French cartoonists and satirists.  I know her as the Illustrator from the Fraggle Rock Book Series from my childhood.  I can remember spending hours in my local library as a child and seeking out the Fraggle Rock Picture books.
   They were so wonderful and magical to me and I honestly lament forgetting to bring one that I had still in my book collection to get her to sign. Alas…  Her lecture was also very enlightening and inspiring.  There were two things she said that I really liked.  The first was her advice regarding a blank page or canvass," don't draw in the center, Always draw to the edges."  I like that approach.  The other thing she said was in answer to a question of how do you know when an illustration is finished, as ms. McClintock's illustrations are so lush with both colors and detailed line work. "You work until the Fed Ex Truck Arrives at your door to pick it up."

     Floyd Cooper took a more practical or tactile approach to discussing lessons he learned.  He did a demonstration of his illustration process. I, of course, can't divulge all the details of how this magician does his tricks, I can say he works subtractively.  By which I mean one "erases" the illustrated image out of built up layers, for those who are unfamiliar with the term.
   Mr. Cooper's advice for us all is that more than anything, be on time. Meet your deadlines, yours and your clients.  Always go for it. "Stick your neck out there."  This is how both you, your work will grow.  Well said, Mr. Cooper.

     David Ezra Stein talked a bit about how you can move past the creative block all artists and writers come in contact with from time to time.  "It takes a lot of love and courage to keep going," said Ezra.  Among the many wonderful points and ideas to try to "trick" your mind out of the rut it has found itself in there were a couple of things that stood out to me.  Always keep moving.  This kind of way of thinking of keeping your mind creatively fluid, like a river. Keep it flowing. If you bump into a rock, work around it and keep flowing.
  It's this try, try again positive upbeat approach that really appealed to me of how he was describing how he would "un-block" his mind.  If you get stuck, shelve the idea (don't forget it) and come back to it later. Move on to something else and circle back around and maybe the answers you were seeking will come to you.  Ezra's work is very fun, expressive and evocative.  It certainly reminds me of the Impressionists and their mission to evoke a mood based on how they "captured" their subject depending on the time of day and effect of the daylight.

     I very much enjoyed The Brothers Hilts segment on printing processes, particularly the elusive and complexity of the K in the CMYK.  Their book, Insomniacs, captures a beautiful array of "blacks."  The two brothers collaborate on each illustration separately, then digitally combine the two together to create the final illustration.  It's a very intriguing artistic process and as you can see in the photo, it turns out beautifully.
  Coming from a graphic design background in print as well, I could relate to the difficulties of trying to get things to print the way you would like them to.  I admit that Newsprint was less pick than the magazines I worked with, but still just the same.  We all want to see what is on the monitor on the page as well.  I did lament that the one book I really wanted to purchase from the SCBWI bookshop that they had set up in one of the areas of the conference part of the hotel, was their book, Insomniacs, and it was completely sold out as were many of the Shaun Tan books.  Ill speak of that on another post.

     Next was a panel of editors and agents compiled together to talk about when one should quit their day job, or if they even should.  It was comprised of Brenda Bowen, Chris Tugeau (whom I spilled coffee on) and Jan Constantine.  They answered many questions about how/if you should seek out artist/writers representation.  I found it educational and very informative.  There were too many points to mention today. Perhaps Ill put together a synopsis of things they were talking about in a subsequent posting on here, but not today.

    Mark Teague closed the day with his talk about how you can continue to get work after you initially are published.  Strong writing is key, and as he put it,"whatever you write about, don't be boring." It's good advice, though I am not sure, anyone aspires to be trite or boring.
  I liked his sentiment of how the magic of Illustration is in the details.  We have all heard that God is in the details for years and years.  It's something I certainly agree with.  Ultimately, he advises of finding as many small jobs in-between the big jobs as you can.  "It is the work that will sustain you."

    At the end of this day I was quite tired, but no sleep for the weary.  I had to come back for the Portfolio Showcase (which is another post.) I'll be honest I am sick and tired of typing this evening.

First though before I let everyone go, I wanted to put in a few shout outs.  At SCBWI one of the best things, besides all the wonderful speakers, positive energy and inspiration are the wonderful artists and writers that you meet while there. Every time you turn around you can meet someone new that is immensely talented.  All you have to do is be willing to say "hi."

   I wanted to post a few of the wonderfully talented people I met that weekend.  I am still waiting on permissions for some of those so I will add them as I get permission. Visit their sites as there is more fantastic art to look at.  I can honestly say I haven't felt surrounded by so many creatives and so absorbed in a creative community than I have that weekend since art college days.


Gwynneth Jones

Beth Greenway

Peter J. Thornton

Adam Winsor

Till next post,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art. 

1 comment:

  1. All I can comment is WOW what an awesome experience the conference must have been for you!!!