Friday, March 1, 2013

SCBWI Austin Conference: Back in the saddle again!!

Sorry for the long break. In mid February, I attended my first SCBWI conference in about 10 years or so: SCBWI-Austin's Kick It Up a Notch 2013.

First off, I forgot how much I love going to these events. Being in the company of aspiring and very talented creative people is something that I never tire of.  I absolutely love is seeing everyone's different style and approach to how they do their work. One thing that has really changed in 10 years is that I see a much larger influence of computer and graphic design on people's portfolios.

It is always daunting to go someplace where everyone knows everyone, and you don't know anyone. It's kinda like being the new kid at school: No one knows who you are, you don't know where to start.... so it's always a little scary/strange. This feeling never goes away.

Luckily, I did know another illustrator (Felicia Lilley - Her blog is here), and ran into some familiar SCBWI - Houston faces (including my old roommate from the Los Angeles conference in 2001: Charles Trevino!) it was like a homecoming of sorts. I think it was really good of me to take away back, and now that I am back... I have a little better perspective on, well, pretty much everything:

Ok: so I go to put out my portfolio, which is kind of like bringing your prized rutabagas to the county fair: nobody knows how hard you worked at them, and you really hope the dedication shows through... actually it's probably more like bringing your rabbits to the fair... I dunno... Guess I am just rambling. Anyhoo:

Portfolio Display: Austin 2013
This is the portfolio display room. Every conference is different: some have them right next to all the action, and some have them away in a different place. This was the case in Austin: I actually like having them hidden away, because it's quiet and gives a almost museum-like air to the viewing experience:

My spread
I placed my portfolio (after looking at some of the others' layout), and business cards, postcards and feedback form. First of all, my portfolio blows my one from 10 years ago away... probably because I didn't do the research that I should have. This is also the first time I have postcards out:

Postcard for 2013
I made this art specifically for the postcard: the mummy kid has a sleepover with other movie monsters' kids at the museum... and they stumble into the dinosaur exhibit. I was a little skeptical about making a piece specifically for the postcard, but its a story I had been working on... more on this piece later...

There is always a feedback form out, so we can get comments. I absolutely love this part: anonymously  sent comments. I actually enjoy negative ones more because you grow from them. That is one idea I  try to push through to my students: positive comments make you feel good, but constructive criticism points you where you may need to go and explore.

Austin 2013 Auction items
There was also a silent auction, with everything from gift baskets to signed copies to original art. I had tried to get something into the auction, but with time constraints, wasn't able to. I also wanted to bid on some of the awesome art and books, but I was a very good boy, and restrained myself. My house is pretty much out of display room :/

There were some very nice pieces of art for auction, and they have inspired me to do a piece for the Houston conference:

original watercolor
 There was a beautiful watercolor of a mermaid there, which eventually sold for over $100.

Original drawing

There was also a drawing by CS Jennings, who has a great style!

I am notoriously bad at taking pictures, so the rest of the day, I have barely any... attendants got to hear illustrator E.B. Lewis speak.. the man is very inspirational, and the illustrators even got to hear him privately speak about his work. I also had a 10 minute (which goes by wayyyy too fast) critique of my portfolio with agent Rubin Pfeffer, who told me which pieces were successful, and which ones needed work (or just plain needed to get out!)...

Another great (because I always have a hard time seeing enough artist-related stuff) talk was when writer Shutta Crum and Patrice Barton spoke about their road to making the picture book MINE!.. which has no text, and written as such. Very very interesting! It's like going to the art museum and having the artist there talking about how they made it, and showing sketches.

The final event of the conference was the First Impressions panel, where 5 or 6 of the guest agents, editors, artists looked at art/read 1st page of the story, and gave their thoughts in front of over a hundred people. For some reason, I never got an email about this and sent in my art late... I sent in the artwork from my postcard... which I told my students was a risk, because if they say it wasn't good, then EVERYONE knows it is on my postcards, and I have hundreds of postcards with sub-par art on them... sigh, I think I am a glutton for punishment. anyway, it didn't seem like my work was going to be talked about...Even Felicia got her piece critiqued:

Felicia Lilley's critique

 I just assumed too many people would have submitted their work: it does take some guts to have your story/art dissected in front of everyone.... but what better place to see it?

 and then...


holy crap.

Okay, two things:

1. I wish I had sat closer

2. I wish I had recorded what was said.

- I sat there and just waited for the punch to the gut: 

"wow, really?"

"this is awful"

"This artist should go back to stick-figure school"

"I can't believe this person thought people would enjoy this"

"I'm gonna be sick... who in their right mind would draw such a thing??"

But nothing like that was said. 

Instead things were said, like:

"I love when children's characters are scared... makes me laugh:

"It makes me want to know more: like what are these characters doing together?"

...and E.B. White said something about  "the arrows pointing to the dinosaur not being needed" 

...but overall, a great way to end the conference! I felt so relieved! It was like being on a roller coaster for the first time: It is a success if you just don't pee your pants.

I rode the high the comments gave me until I went to bed that night. And as if the gods were smiling upon yours truly, I found a place in Austin that had FRIED CHEESE CURDS!!!!!   (and nearby was a candy shoppe that had at least 30 kinds of salt water taffy!)

Val was merely a spectator: I ate most of them.

I can't help it: being from Wisconsin, there is a good chance my mom was 1/2 gouda, and my dad was most likely 1/3 aged cheddar.

Can't wait for the Houston conference in April!!! 


  1. LOVE the blog !! I totally enjoyed the experience and meeting all the people that I did. Thanks for being the familiar face in the crowd. haha