Oregon SCBWI Spring Conference

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Matt de la Peña

It was a good one, folks! Wonderful faculty (featuring Newbery Award winners Matt de la Peña and our own dear Victoria Jamieson), lovely participants, and (for once) we missed only a drippy rainy day while ensconced deep inside the Holiday Inn, Wilsonville.

I did not take notes, sadly. I did have the good fortune to participate in a first pages picture book round table with Sylvie Frank. She has a remarkable ability to make a quick, lucid, direct yet kind critique in her very first encounter with a manuscript. I suspect that everyone at the table (myself included) went home with valuable insights from her comments and those of others at the table.

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Victoria Jamieson


I was also one of twelve participants in a two part workshop with Martha Rago. The homework was an immense challenge: create a wordless dummy, start to finish, and include two pieces of finished art as well as an array of process work (character sketches, storyboards, etc.). We had about two months to complete the homework, which seemed tight enough, but then life intervened, as it does, and, although I had developed my concept and had previously completed a piece of art that served as the starting point that inspired my  characters and finished art, I ended up with very little time to actually create the dummy and finished art. The final process felt kind of like a marathon or college finals week. Grueling, but so satisfying when I was ‘done.’ But of course I am far from done…Martha put in a stunning amount of time making reams of notes for each participant. In the words of our illustration coordinator, Robyn Waters, those notes are GOLD.

I always experience conferences as an emotional roller coaster. It ain’t easy for us introvert artist types to put the work out on tables and screens for the world to view and comment on. The overwhelm can be extreme, and it is difficult to process on the spot. But after a few days or weeks the valuable input begins to rise to the surface while the useless comments drift away.

The hurtful experiences are the hardest to deal with. It’s hard to ignore the stuff that stings and it takes a while to know if it hurts because it’s so true — or because it is so far off the mark. A year ago I had a session with an agent who really crushed me. And I am here to tell you (and by you, I mean anyone who has been through this kind of critique recently and is still feeling the pain) that a year later I can see where he was coming from, and I can really see that the main reason his critique hurt was because he didn’t at all recognize where my art was coming from or what I was trying to do. Which doesn’t mean my art wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. He just couldn’t see it because he was not a good fit for me. And that is good to know before I invest in pitching anything else his way!

This kids’ book business is not for babies, right? Time to put on my kick ass boots and get back to work…

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