Friday, August 7, 2015

Back from the LA SCBWI Conference

Even though it's inspiring, the LA SCBWI Conference is also exhausting. When I finally made it home Tuesday afternoon, my brain was mush. It's starting to act like a brain again.

I wanted to share a few impressions and some photos. I took plenty of photos, but darkish indoor photos of people standing together and smiling don't make the most captivating images. I was thinking about that during the conference and I realized just how much you get from being there. And mostly it's not a visual experience or it would probably translate better into photography. It's a listening experience. You hear amazing things from the speakers. You hear tips from the publishing professionals. You meet other people and hear their stories. And when you are brave you speak up to tell a bit about yourself and other people listen.

One of the greatest people to listen to was Mem Fox. What a storyteller and comedian! She has drama, she has surprise, she has crazy expressions! I could listen to her read books for hours. She was a treat better than any cake ever.

My other favorite speaker was Kwame Alexander, winner of the Newbery Medal for The Crossover. He was so captivating that I was riveted to my chair and didn't even realize I didn't take a photo. So here's his publicity photo and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, DO!

While it wasn't the main point of his talk, I was really glad I was there to hear him tell about trying and trying to be published, and then finally self-publishing many books. And still trying to be traditionally published, and self-publishing again and SELLING TONS OF BOOKS! He even sold books successfully at a farmer's market every weekend for an entire summer! This man is loaded with charm, rhythm, and an infectious smile. What a total winner. He made us all feel like we were winners, too.

Here's the room between speakers. So many grown-up kids, there to talk about kid's books.

Finally it was the much anticipated Portfolio Showcase. I don't know how many portfolios there were but it looked like hundreds! I really tried to look at them all, then I tried to look at the most eye-catching ones, then I just tried to keep my sanity. I wish we could have a whole day with them available so we could take our time. There we some real beauties there.

Here's a photo of my friend Dow Phumiruk taking a peek at my portfolio. Dow is a fantastic illustrator who lives in the Denver area. I was so happy to hang out with her throughout the conference. We met many years ago at a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI Conference. She's doing great things, so keep an eye on her!

Not only does Dow create amazing illustrations, she also creates amazing costumes! She made SCBWindex!! Look at that hat! Sue Ganz-Schmitt went as a window and I went as Brawny paper towels. We were the cleanest, sparkliest trio! We came in second in the costume contest at the Saturday night gala.

And I couldn't resist sharing this photo of Laurent Linn, the sparkliest, classiest guy.

Meal times were a nice way to regroup, meet people, talk about what we'd loved so far, make plans, oh, and eat! Adam Rex had a little time for dinner and no plans, so we dragged him to the food court. Here he is smiling like a gentleman with me, Dow, and Heidi Yates.

And here we are another day having lunch on the hotel lawn. On the right is my roommate, Allison Ritchie. I was happy to have such a great roommate!

I took notes and doodled throughout the conference, but proportionally, I took the most notes at the Illustrator Intensive. That was an all day event on Monday featuring a great cast of illustrators, art directors, and an agent. They shared tools for creating successful images and lots of examples. My favorite was John Rocco, a Caldecott Honor winner for Blackout. My first line of notes says, "He looks like a lumberjack!" And in fact as a young man he was a commercial shell fisherman in Rhode Island. Here's his Twitter photo:

He shared great tips, but again like Kwame Alexander, what I needed to hear most was about his struggle. He didn't start drawing until college and it took him a while to find his way. Although he draws beautifully, he says it takes him a long time to draw an image. And I can relate to that. You fast people have no idea how intimidating it is to watch you dash off the perfect image! Some days my best friend is the eraser. Anyway, I loved hearing the story about the blizzard that snowed him in as a child. And how he finally realized after telling the story to his child repeatedly that it would make a good picture book. Sometimes the obvious things take a while to reveal themselves!

And how's this for a send-off? At the end of the Illustrator's Intensive, these 12 powerhouses lined up to give us quick tips. From left to right: Peter Brown, Pat Cummings, John RoccoDan Santat, Patti Ann Harris, Alexandra PenfoldMelissa Sweet, Lauren RilleEliza Wheeler, Cecilia Yung, Laurent Linn and Paul Zelinsky. They also gave us some banter, and silly business, and inspiration. At the end of the day, that's the most important part for me. At every conference, I stock up on as much inspiration as I can to last me through another year. And SCBWI never disappoints. Thanks for another dose of inspiration!


  1. Jill, what a wonderful recap!! I so loved hanging out with you there. I loved meeting Allison, too. Most of my notes were from the intensive, too. So many great speakers all weekend - my head was spinning, too. I am glad our brains are recovering, because now we can get back to creating pretty pictures! :)

  2. Great to read about your trip❗️what a fantastic experience, best of luck with your portfolio.