Wearing Two Hats — writer/illustrator workshop

Last weekend the SCBWI Oregon chapter hosted a terrific 1-day workshop for writer-illustrators with Art Director Lauren Rille of Simon and Schuster. She was a great speaker and critique-er — her talk was highly entertaining (she cusses!), but packed with good information, and she pulled no punches when it came to critiquing our work. Her clear message was that the process of creating illustrations for a book is equal parts fun and difficult. It is a long, demanding process, and revisions and criticisms will probably continue long after everyone is ready to be done with this story and these characters. An illustrator must be prepared to revise and revise and revise, but the end result will raise the bar beyond what the illustrator thought he or she could do. A little daunting, but ultimately an inspiring perspective.

My favorite part of the day was the ‘intensive’ on character development. The key points Lauren emphasized were:

a) anatomy: even our tiniest readers are experts in looking at human bodies and faces, so even if we are creating exaggerated characters, they must be convincingly human (or anthropomorphic in the case of animal characters). Proportion, structure, and physical characteristics must be based in real anatomy even if the artist takes these elements beyond what real anatomy can do.

b) gesture: movement and body language tell so much story, sometimes very subtly. The illustrator’s challenge is to capture the gestures, subtle and extreme, that convey a character’s personality and energy.

c) emotion: characters’ emotions can be conveyed completely visually — the text may not include a word about it, but if the character shows emotion throughout his or her physical stance, facial expression, and attitude, the reader will totally get it. Pro tip: use those eyebrows!

Lauren had us do several exercises to try out these ideas. First we came up with a character:


After talking to us about gesture, she invited us to revisit that character and give him or her some energy through gesture:


In another exercise, she asked us to convey an emotion without showing the character’s face. We drew an emotion out of a hat —can you guess what mine was (answer below)? I found this pretty difficult, not sure how successful I was.



I was much happier with my results in the final exercise. Lauren had us draw 3 prompts from hats — physical attribute, action and emotion or attitude–combine them in one character and create a little narrative in 3 or 4 images. I wonder if you’ll guess what prompts I picked for this one?



I appreciated the nudge to draw something I never would have drawn on my own! The exercise really pushed me out of my own head space and freed me up to show my sense of humor. I cracked myself up while drawing these images, and I think the fun I had with it shows. Now I am hoping I can retain that silliness and energy when I refine these sketches and make a color set of playful nose-pickers for my portfolio.

Thanks to Barb Herkert, SCBWI Oregon, and Lauren Rille for a great day!

prompt 1 : happy

prompt 2: playful; coke-bottle glasses; nose-picking


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