Tuesday, July 27, 2010

DAY 1 - My First SCBWI-Carolinas Conference (Part 2)

Part 2...

After my 'Illustration Intensive' workshop, I had the opportunity to have my portfolio reviewed by Laurent Linn, the same art director we had for the workshop.

It was a rather short review. All participants spent about 15 minutes with Laurent. 15 minutes went by really, really fast. I wish it had been longer.

Before the review, we were asked to drop off our portfolios 10 minutes prior to the meeting so the art director could see them first.

My portfolio was comprised of about 15 pieces. 10 of those pieces I completed a while back during the Zero2Illo, 12 week challenge and the subsequent 4 week challenge which some of you, reading this post, might be familiar with. If not, here is the blog that explains it all: http://zero2illo.com/

The remaining 5 pieces on my portfolio, were pieces I had around that I felt were good enough to put on my portfolio. When I assembled the portfolio, I realized that it was never going to be perfect. But if I continued to wait to create the perfect pieces, I would never get my illustrations out there. So I pushed myself to look over what I already had and find pieces that I felt were good enough (not perfect) to include on the portfolio.

One of the speakers in one of the workshops mentioned that there was once a test done to see who produced the best illustrations. The group that spent endless hours perfecting their one illustration or the group that was drawing different things constantly. It turns out that the group that didn't spent so much time perfecting things but moved on to create new illustrations, produced better quality illustrations. Something to keep in mind.

Portfolio Review Time...

For the portfolio review, the art director and myself met in the boardroom. The boardroom was very executive looking with all the fancy chairs. It was way too formal for my taste and when the door closed, it was so quiet inside. That door sure kept all the noise out.

In spite of the formality, I did not feel intimidated or nervous at all. I already knew Laurent from the previous workshop so I felt fairly comfortable.

Before the start of the review, he told me that he was going to go through the portfolio twice. The first pass while we talked and the second pass for the actual critique.

On the first pass, the art director opened up my portfolio and immediately told me that I had a lot of imagination (if he only knew how right he is. I just have to find the time to put it all on paper). He then asked me why I liked illustrating for children. I wish I could repeat what I said to him but I seriously don't remember. Perhaps I was not as comfortable as I thought. We then talked a little bit about my favorite artist, James Christensen. It turns out that he was a big fan too and collects some of his work just like I do.

After a brief conversation, the critique started and here are some of the comments he made:

Illos 1 through 5
These are 5 pieces I did during the zero2illo 12wc (you can see them better at my portfolio site - http://mariasportfolio.com/illustrations/children/). The purpose of these pieces was to show sequential work but I have to say that this particular art director never mentioned the importance of having that on your portfolio.

In any case, the theme of the story was about two friends, a bear and a cat, (called Teddy and Squeekie) going out to play with Teddy's new toy, a red bike.


The art director loved what I did with the edges of the page on illo #2 and #4. Without knowing the story, he felt that it was a clever usage of the page and a nice interactive idea.

I had these pieces critiqued, by illustrator friends, prior to coming to the conference. I was told to be careful with what I did with the page (I don't remember why). I think it was related to potential printing problems. But I am glad I decided to leave it as is because at least this one art director liked the idea. I do feel that sometimes you have to take risks to get your ideas across.

The art director enjoyed the energy of the characters and how I took the time to give the characters their own personality by giving them their own little costumes. He was big on that.

He felt, however, that I could have done a less generic grass and flowers. He also noticed how I have shading in some areas but then I switch to outlines in others. Once again my problem is that I need to establish a light source and think about it more when I am drawing.

Illustration #6
This piece was also done for my portfolio during the zero2illo 12w challenge. It is called 'How to tickle a stylish dragon'.


He was immediately drawn to this piece because of what I had done with the clothing and costumes I had given the characters. He was pointing at the dragon and the little girl while telling me that.

If you read part 1 of this post, you will have a better idea of the Art director's background and you will see why he was excited about the costumes which is something he got to do while working with Sesame Street and the Muppet workshop. By giving the characters something unique, we are enhancing their personalities for the readers.

But once again he pointed out that the characters blended a bit with the background which all boils down to lighting/shading and contrast. I kind of saw that on this piece when I was making it but found it hard to fix. Oh well, maybe my next illo.

Illo #7
Yet another piece I did during the 12 week challange. This piece I also used on my promo-mailer. It is called: 'Let's Paint a Zebra'.


He was once again drawn to the piece because of what I had done with giving the characters their own personality. He pointed to the little girl and said that by making the little patterns on the clothes, we now knew a little bit more about the character. He thought that it was details like that that enriched a scene. He also mentioned that the little girl felt a bit stiff. Usually children or even adults don't stand so straight. I do agree with that.

Nothing further was said about this piece but he stopped to grab the promo-mailer I had included in the front flap on my portfolio. He wanted one to take with him.

At this point, we started to move faster because it was only a 15 minute review.

Illo #8
Another piece, but this one I did during the 4 week challenge. This one is called 'Playing with Balloons'.


He thought that this was a successful piece. Because of the angles but also because I kept the building colors somewhat monochrome and made the rest pop with color which made it an eye catching composition. But he felt that I could have pushed the shading a bit more around the buildings and he also felt that the bird was a bit flat. Once again the contrast thing I really need to work on.

Illo #9
This is an illustration I did a while back. It is called a 'Majestic Party'.

It is going to feel like a broken record but once again, the art director enjoyed this piece because of all the detail I had put into the costumes. He is big into that. However, (you probably guessed it by now), the characters blend a bit. Once again, the contrast thing.

Illo #10
Another piece I did a while back. It is called the 'Archer'.

He enjoyed it once again because of the patterns in the clothing but he felt that it was more of an art piece and it didn't quite tell a story. I do agree with him on that. I'll probably take this piece out of my portfolio.

Illo #11
Another piece I did a while back. This one was about, Squeekie the cat falling in the toilet.


He liked the piece but he specifically pointed out the items in the room and not so much the cat. He did that to make me see how I chose to put some shading around the toilet but when it came to the cat, I changed to an outline which made the cat look a bit more like a cartoon. Once again, contrast, contrast, contrast.

Illo #12
The next piece I showed. I call this one 'The Graduate'.


Well, I think you know, by now, what the problem is with this piece. Yes, you guessed it. Great costumes but characters blend because of lack of contrast. I have to wonder if that is my innate style of doing things or am I afraid of playing with contrast?

Illo #13
This is an illustration that I also did for the 12wc. I call this one 'I can't find my Giraffe'.


This one made him laugh. He thought the theme was very funny. We then proceeded to talk a little bit about cultural differences. He knew I was not born in the U.S and he, himself, is of French descent and spent 1 year in France doing illustrations.

He mentioned that sometimes the American market can be tricky and some people might frown at seeing the cat being tied to the giraffe by the little mouse or that a child might get uncomfortable seeing the little girl with a giraffe face (wow, I wonder what a child would do if they wanted to dress up as a giraffe for Halloween).

I think he is partially right. I do find myself sometimes thinking very differently from the masses and I tend to attribute that to being a foreigner but I also have to say that I have seen far more crazy things in animated films, videos, etc. I do see his point though, people can sometimes be sensitive to these things.

Will I stop drawing like that?....probably not. Once again, sometimes you have to take risks to get your ideas out there.

It was here where I took the opportunity to ask him about where to go to learn more about what children might like or not like. What colors they might react to more or some sort of resource that would help us, illustrators, understand what children are thinking when they look at books. To my surprise, he did not have an answer for that. For himself, he said that he learned a lot about kids from his local librarian. So he suggested that I check with librarians in the area. They might be a good source for opinions.

In closing...

The remaining 2 pieces were quickly looked at but we had run out of time which raises the question that perhaps if I only had 10 to 12 pieces, I might have gotten more detailed feedback on a particular piece. I think I see why it might be important to not have too many pieces on your portfolio.

After the portfolio review, it was still not over for the day. There were more workshops going on but they were being held at the same time so you had to pick which one to go to. A lot of the workshops were geared towards writers so I tried to do those that targeted illustrators or both.

Next workshop...

Protecting your work

The next workshop I went to was about protecting your work. This was a wonderful workshop offered by Fred Parker, an attorney in Charlotte, N.C. He discussed the basics of intellectual property law for writers and illustrators.

You should be putting the copyright symbol on your illustrations but that alone does not necessarily cover all costs if somebody steals your art. Registration of the art is obviously the best policy but often times not financially feasible for illustrators. It seemed like putting the copyright symbol and sending yourself an e-mail with the illustration to establish a time line was the best route.

He also mentioned that he has seen some cases stand up in court when the writer or illustrator embeds tells (I think that is what he called it) in their work. Writers sometimes do that by inserting a capital letter or something on a particular paragraph. With my imagination, I was already plotting to strategically place my initials somewhere embedded in the art.

It was certainly a very interesting workshop. I am glad I went.

Some theater...

After the previous workshops, we had an evening event called: 'Principles of Story Theater'. We were entertained by Nick Kerns of UNC Charlotte as he led a group of people in acting out an oft-told tale. He also gave us a view of what it meant to be involved in Story theater.

We all laughed a lot at the people from the audience who were so gracious to play the roles in the story. It was a fun time.

The Schmooze...

Later that night, a small group of us met to discuss what we could do to keep engaged during the year. Bonnie Adamson was running the schmooze and she took some ideas with her. I am not sure where that will lead.

This was the end of Day 1 of the conference.

I will be posting Day 2 soon. Stay tuned.


  1. I find it remarkable that you are 99% self taught and the areas that need attention are ones that you had been thinking about but had not got around to fixing.

  2. That is true. For more serious pieces, I need to stop and think about lighting and shading a little bit more before I consider the piece finished.