SCBWI Illustrator Day

I just finished attending a webinar hosted by the KS/MO chapter of the SCBWI. I have been doing illustration long enough now that a lot of these seminars (in person and online) are sort of reviewing things I’ve already picked up. But I did get a few points that were sort of new, or at least good to be reminded of. And it’s always good to get out there (metaphorically because it was on zoom) and actually discuss things.

The subjects were picture book dummies and working with art departments.

There was a lot of information, but the advice I took away was:

Illustrating kids with ambiguous genders and race/ethnic identities is really good right now. This is because, if it’s not obvious what category the child character belongs to, then more children reading the book will personally identify with the character. So, some ambiguous children are on my to-draw list. Similarly, I imagine some ambiguous adults wouldn’t hurt either.

Little recurring details, side characters, or subplots that are shown in the illustration, but which aren’t actually in the text adds interest. So, look for opportunities to go beyond just what’s described in the story.

Portfolios should include samples that are more than just posed character shots. Instead, make sure the picture shows something actually happening. Doesn’t necessarily require exciting action, but not characters just standing there smiling either. I’m guilty of that one sometimes, so that’s something for me to work on.

In your portfolio, try to have more than one sample for each style you work in. That shows you are capable of consistently drawing the same style through multiple images, which is important for book projects. I can do that, of course. But I need to make sure my samples show it. I think having more than just 10 samples, like I can on my website, also helps with that.

They mentioned Instagram several times. So. I need to figure out how to get more followers on my Instagram because ADs are looking there. That is the least appealing takeaway from this webinar. I have very little idea of how to increase my Instagram following. Something I’ll need to research, I suppose. Anyone have any suggestions?

A reminder, both for the actual picture books and for the portfolios, to vary angle of view, size of images (spots vs. spreads), and how close the shot is.

Dummies should include 2-3 finished pieces, and those should be on some of the first few pages. The rest can be sketches, but the first few pages should have your finished pieces in case the AD gets bored and doesn’t flip through the whole book.

Seasonal Stories are always in demand. Kids among seasonal plants or doing seasonal holiday things.

Try to find a niche that doesn’t currently have very many books out on that subject. (Easier said than done, but good advice none-the-less.)

Pay attention to color palettes in other media (lifestyle magazines, fashion catalogs, etc) to get ideas of color schemes to use.

A suggestion to illustrate something trendy. If some new movie or TV series is popular right now, illustrate a character from that. Put it on Instagram (again with the Instagram!) and see if it can attract followers. I had sort of thought of that as fanarty and was avoiding it, but it makes sense. Maybe I’ll draw some marvel characters when the Loki series comes out or something.

A reminder that CMYK prints differently than RGB and to keep that in mind. I knew that, but always good to be reminded. Also, there’s the suggestion to draw in a slightly higher resolution than the one it’ll be printed at so the publisher has a little more wiggle room if they need to increase the size slightly. I usually work at 300dpi, but maybe I should bump it up to 350 or so. It would be easy enough to do.

Later, after the main session, I had signed up for a critique session with an AD. Unfortunately, I think they need to schedule these for longer than 10 minutes, at least while we’re all still using the online format. I say that because half of the session was taken up by making sure she had the right portfolio file open, which she didn’t at first and had to scramble to get it. I ended up sending her to my website instead, because that had the same 10 images at the top of that portfolio as she was reviewing. Then her mic cut out at one point. It just took away from my precious 10 minutes and I didn’t really get a whole lot from her on the live session because of that. But, in case you think I’m just complaining, I’m not. She did send a detailed report yesterday reviewing my portfolio. That report DID have some very useful stuff and was worth the submission. I’m just a bit disappointed that the live zoom session didn’t work as well.

Anyway, from the report, I got some compliments. Always nice, but not the important part.

The meat of it was that I’d chosen too broad a selection of images for the 10-image portfolio I submitted. To the point that my pieces look like they could have been done by different artists. What I’m taking away from that is that when submitting to Art Directors, I need to be sure to target my pieces more to what I want that particular AD to hire me for. That way I don’t have to grab such broad selection and can really focus on just certain types of images.

However, I asked and she seemed to agree, that for the portfolio on my website, the broad selection approach is probably fine. That’s because I’ll get a broader selection of ADs (and other potential clients) from different parts of the market visiting the website. Plus, with the website, I can include more samples than just those first ten to go into more of what I can do and to show I can be consistent.

She seemed to think I should be less wordy and more visual on the intro page of my website, which I’ll certainly think through and probably make some adjustments along that line.

She also was less impressed with my ninja turtle and other two animal samples. She thought they were older pieces, since they were less involved. In fact, two of them were some of my newer pieces created specifically because I’d lost a job for lack of cute little animal samples. What I’m taking from that is that maybe I should make a sample or two with cute little animals, but add in more detail and storytelling. The ones I picked are too simplistic and posed. So, that was valuable feedback. I have some ideas on what to draw to help with that.

She really liked my girls in a treehouse, but wanted to see some more samples in that style. So, add that to my to-do list as well.

Anyway, it’s always useful to have someone in the profession to look over my work and provide feedback. So, it was well worth the time and fee. I appreciate her time.

If anyone else wants to check out my portfolio and give me a critique, I’d welcome you to do so in the comments below. The ten images at the top of my portfolio are the ten I submitted.

I hope all the other illustrators that participated enjoyed the event.

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