Filed under: Events, Lessons of an Artist, Shanda's Journey • February 26, 2014

Photo Feb 23, 2 00 58 PM

The New York SCBWI conference was wonderful! My weekend was magical! Not only did I learn more about my craft and industry, but I got to meet new people, got to know some Southern Breezers (that I already knew) on a deeper level, saw and met writer and illustrator celebrities, witnessed my friend, Lori Nichols, WINNING the portfolio showcase, participated in the showcase myself (who knows if someone important might have made a mental note to watch me grow), spent some real quality time with my sister, and my husband, saw some old friends in Brooklyn, saw the “Why Children’s Books Matter” exhibit at the New York Public library, and experienced a fancy hotel stay in Manhattan! I’m exhausted… in a good way! There’s just something special about New York, and I’d like to continue to attend that conference as much as I possibly can. I feel like it will be important for “going faster”, if you will, on my journey.

Tomie DePaola

Tomie DePaola speaking at the 2014 SCBWI NYC Conference

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My room at the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central

Here’s a list of some of the most important things I took with me from this conference…

For illustrating-

1. Go see as many live plays and ballets as possible. Here are valuable lessons in staging, storytelling, body language, and costuming. Funny thing, Ben actually got to see the New York City Ballet with our friend, author/illustrator, Monica Wellington! I’m so jealous!!!

New York City Ballet

The New York City Ballet

Art at the New York City Ballet

Art at the New York City Ballet

2. DRAW EVERYDAY. I can’t tell you how many speakers said these words. I think I finally heard it :) But if we draw enough, our personal style WILL emerge… it’s in our DNA!

3. The creative process is a mystery and unique to each creator. You can’t rush it. You can only feed it by making art over and over and over again. (The process of becoming an author and illustrator sounds similar.)

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Panel: Arthur Levine, Shadra Strickland, Oliver Jeffers, Marla Frazee, Raul Colon, and Peter Brown!

4. Everything you need to know you learned in your first art class. But it takes time for your brain and hands to trust it. Every time you start to draw a face, you start with an oval and divide it up, every single time. Over and over again.

5. When creating a character, draw it so much that the “generic” gets pushed out of it.

Me with Oliver Jeffers

Me with Oliver Jeffers (illustrator of The Day the Crayons Quit)

6. You may need to imitate art you like in practice to help you find your way. It’s okay.

7. You will know your art is working if you feel something when you look at it. Your goal is to create an emotional response.

8. Will they fall in love with your character? If so, they will probably love the rest of your book too.

9. Viewers of your illustrations should be able to “get it” right away.

10. Most important things to see in illustrations: relationships and emotions.

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11. Magnify what you do well. Don’t force what you don’t.

12. Put enough discovery in an illustration for interest a second time around.

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Portfolio Viewing

13. Go as fast as you can. Get in the express lane if you are able. (For me, I think that means going to the NYC conference often.)

14. Self publishing does not have the negative stigma it used to.

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For writing-

1. Jack Santos said: the perfect ending is when action and emotion meet. A physical and emotional ending wins the prize! For ex. Not everyone will be able to relate to the physical experience of a teacher smashing your watch because you can’t not play with it, but EVERYONE will be able to relate to the emotional experience of not feeling mature enough for something.

2. Your characters HAVE TO change, otherwise its not worth reading or writing.

Me with Lori Nichols after she won the showcase!

Me with Lori Nichols after she won the portfolio showcase!

3. Find a work habit that works for you.

4. Good stories always have an emotional core and deep emotional human experience.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Children's room at the New York Public Library

Children’s room at the New York Public Library

5. Kate Messner said: If you aren’t nervous about this journey, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Why Children's Books Matter Exhibit

Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit

Why Children's Books Matter

Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit

The Great Green Room

Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit

6. Remember to celebrate the small accomplishments along the way!


Me and my sister, India!

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Bryant Park

Well there you go :) Every conference I attend confirms my desire to be a part of these people that make books for kids!

When Ben and I finally landed in Atlanta again on Monday night, we cranked up our rap music for our last kid-free drive home. What can I say? It gets me ready to fight… for my dream :)


Comments: »

  • Awesome job, Shanda. Great tips and a beautiful message.

    Comment by colleen — February 26, 2014 @ 2:36 pm
  • What a great post Shanda. Thank you for listing the things you learned. They may wind up on my wall to read each day.
    This conference is definitely one I want to attend next year. Thank you!

    Comment by Beth Rommel — February 26, 2014 @ 2:43 pm
  • Great wrap up! Sorry I didn’t get to meet you, perhaps illustrators day this March?

    Comment by Neesha — February 26, 2014 @ 3:21 pm
  • Good luck Shanda. You have been energized and now have more fuel to propel you in the right direction. This appears to be a long, evolving process. But we grow and evolve in our everyday lives anyway. So…with that said, get crackin’ Shanda! Your life will be super busy once baby #2 gets here. I look forward to your success!

    Comment by Julie Caponigro — February 26, 2014 @ 3:32 pm
  • GREAT wrap-up Shanda! And I’m glad you wrote all the points down. The emotional connection one resonated with me too. I’ve added a link to your post on my wrap-up blog – hope you don’t mind! Hugs, e

    Comment by Elizabeth Dulemba — February 26, 2014 @ 3:36 pm
  • Great post, Shanda. I really enjoyed talking with you at the Gala – it was one of the best parts of my weekend ;) I can’t wait to see what you do next. I stand in awe of your talent. Best wishes with your budding career … and family!

    Comment by Vaughan Jinks Dickson — February 26, 2014 @ 7:26 pm
  • Shanda,
    I just love this post and that you are sharing your personal journey, especially this trip! Any post that uses words such as magical, fancy, deeper, special, and emotional certainly pulls me in, so in case I have never told you . . . you are a great writer!!!
    I liked the part about magnify what you do well, go to live plays, and that self publishing no longer carries the negative stigma. But, your last line truly made me cry (and smile)! I have no doubt you are gonna make it big and I can hardly wait. :)

    Comment by Donna Hicks — February 27, 2014 @ 12:13 am
  • Thanks for the post. Someday I’m going to go to this one!!!!!!


    Comment by Sarah Frances Hardy — February 27, 2014 @ 1:57 am
  • Awesome post Shanda!! You described a lot of what I feel when I go to the RWA National conference. It energizes your creativity and reminds you why we do what we do and are so passionate about our craft.

    Comment by T. L. Sumner — February 27, 2014 @ 3:24 am
  • Thanks so much for this info. I am interested in children’s illustrations too. Thanks!!

    Comment by Juliana Hall — March 2, 2014 @ 4:49 am

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Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator & Author