Posts Tagged ‘SCBWI’

How Did I Come To Be … Here?

Filed under: Events,Growing Up Artsy,Lessons of an Artist | September 21, 2015


Before I answer this question I want to say that I experienced one of the the most magical conferences of my career this past weekend with SCBWIMidSouth and my critique group! It was my first time attending this particular conference, but I was blown away by the surrounding talent, the speakers, and the kindness I encountered. And I’ve been to lots of conferences, believe me- this one was stellar!

I also had some encouraging feedback (the kind that will carry me through another week … another month … another year)! John Rocco even high-fived me! He’s awesome. Him being on the faculty list sold me on this conference in the first place. Not only did I get to hear him speak and have him sign my favorite book, “Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom,” but he said I had “mad skills.” I’ll never forget THAT. 

So…. “how did you come to be here sitting in front of me?” Kristen Nobles from Candlewick asked as I sat down for my portfolio critique. She wanted to know a little about me and my background up to this point. I answered her back, but what I said wasn’t strung together very well spur of the moment. And of course I was a little nervous. But when I left the conference, that question circled and circled in my head. It’s a really good question, and I’d like to have a really good answer should anyone ask me again.

So here’s my answer… my long, thought out answer…

I was the art kid. I was good at it in elementary school, middle school, and high school. It was a strong sense of my identity and still is. It’s what made me (feel) special. 

I was not a particularly gifted reader, I was so very average. I loved the book fair! It made me want to want to read – are you following? In 3rd grade I was given a little money each book fair to get some books. I usually bought picture books (even though I was “too old” for them). But I could see that words and pictures played beautifully together. Then, I picked up “The Witches” by Roald Dahl… it was a thick book with a pretty witch on the cover. So I started it…and finished it- a thick book! (Revolutionary for me :) Again, it was words and pictures. I fell in love with reading then. I still wasn’t a bookworm or anything, but I experienced a secret, sweet, magical something when I found that perfect book. It usually had pictures and was funny. 

Fast forward. I go to art school. I figure out that I gravitate to art that reaches many people vs. art that hangs in galleries. It was the art that almost every person could relate to, feel something from, and get a hold of that I wanted to make. I finally figured out that what I really wanted to do with my life’s work was make pictures for the words in books. 

 I didn’t quite know how to make that happen. It’s not a straight path. So, I became an art teacher in a high school to pay the bills, but I knew this was only a stepping stone and not my calling. But I don’t regret it one bit. I learned how much I loved kids, even the big ones. I shared my love of books and illustration with them! I’m not sure if I affected any of them, but they affected me. I wanted to practice what I preached to them about following dreams, so I quit. And my husband and I moved to Brooklyn, NY!

It was only for a year, but I had my New York experience in a little apartment living in the same city as so many artists have, are, and will. I worked at Fishs Eddy near Union Square, and attended night classes at the School of Visual Arts. I will never forget THAT. 

I joined SCBWI in the middle of teaching, but I didn’t get very active until I came back to Georgia and longed to be near artists and writers again. SCBWI filled that void well and continues to feed my soul. I met my writers group through SCBWI, and this single thing has shaped my work more than anything. I am surrounded by talent that abounds me once a month. In their midst, I started writing and really began pushing my art. I’ve also met and/or become friends with several inspirational people: Lori Nichols, E.B. Lewis, Kelly Light, and now John Rocco are all mentors of mine whether they know it or not.

Then I had a child. There isn’t anything more bonding than experiencing stories together. I fell in love with books again, as a mommy. Now, the draw was/is bigger than ever. I WANT to be a part of that world. I want to be among the creators of children’s books!

So, that’s my answer. That, in a nutshell, is how I came to be … here!



Lesson#7: Go To New York

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.)

Photo Feb 23, 10 59 08 AM

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.

Photo Feb 23, 9 52 55 AM

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.

Photo Feb 22, 5 55 10 PM (1)

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 :)


Local Authors & Illustrators Excited to Visit Students!

Filed under: Illustration,SCBWI Southen Breeze | January 9, 2013


SCBWI Southern Breeze PAL Postcard front 2013 designed by Shanda McCloskey


SCBWI Southern Breeze PAL Postcard back 2013


Hello! It’s a new year, and I was glad to have a project to do right away to get me warmed up to illustrating and writing in 2013! I’m excited for this new year, wondering what surprises (and hopefully lovely surprises) this year may have in store for me and my family. As I reflected on the past year, I am so very proud to be a part of the SCBWI community, my local SCBWI chapter: Southern Breeze, and my amazing, wonderful, how did I ever live without, local critique group of 7 incredibly creative folks!

So when I was asked by Southern Breeze to create a postcard for the published (PAL) members of our chapter I of course said yes! A chance to give back to one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of!

This postcard is for sending and handing out to schools and libraries in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Basically, it’s a quick list of the published authors and illustrators living locally that are available to come speak to kids about reading, writing, and illustrating books. This list includes picture book authors/illustrators, middle grade authors/illustrators, and young adult novelists. And not ALL of them out there are on this postcard. More can be found at then click on Find A SpeakerIf you are a teacher, media specialist, or parent, please consider organizing a visit from a local published author or illustrator. I would have really benefited from a visit like this when I was in school. For most of my life, I assumed successful illustrators only lived in New York City or something – but that is NOT the case!

Until asked to design this postcard I didn’t realize Southern Breeze produced a promotion like this to reach out to schools and libraries. I think it’s amazing, and it just impressed me that much more!

Happy New Year, y’all! May it be filled with creativity and joy!


P.S.) After I created this postcard and sent it in, I realized that the young illustration may not be the best type of image to encompass all the different children’s genres. It’s okay for picture book folks and decent for some young middle grade/early chapter bookers, but I might have missed the boat on representing books for older children. And for that, I apologize. No one said anything to me to make me think this. It’s an observation of my own. Hey, I’m still learning :) If asked to do this project another year, I will definitely approach it with a more all-encompassing image. I DO hope I get to asked to do more stuff like this. I really enjoyed it!

Recap of Illustrator’s Day 2012

Filed under: Shanda's Journey | September 7, 2012


As I said in my previous post, Southern Breeze Illustrator’s Day 2012 was just awesome! We had award-winning illustrator and artist, R. Gregory Christie (pictured above) there urging us to take chances and get our work out there. He said- That’s the great thing about art. It keeps advertising for you no matter where it is. You never know who might see it in a public place, someone’s home, etc. (A chef bought a painting from him in a night club and it ended up in Oprah’s magazine one day :) Greg offerred very wise advice such as reminding us illustrators that we are responsible for the imagery in our books for young eyes. Kids don’t have the filters of experience; it hits them pretty literally. Also, how important it is to find a passion- a niche, and how important librarians are to kids, us, and the book market. Greg also has an entrepreneurial spirit – he said we are Americans- you can make your own book store if you want to. It was also comforting to me as an artist, that he has a hard time visualizing what his art will look like until it’s done. I know from my own experience that it can be scary sometimes how much of an “accident” art-making can feel. I know it’s not an accident, but I feel that out-of-control at times.

Then we got silly/funny/cool Peter Brown! Illustrator of “Children Make Terrible Pets” and “Creepy Carrots”. He’s a picture book super star, and it was such a privilege to hear him talk to us as fellow artists about finding our “style” or “artistic voice”. It was just nice to hear that this amazing illustrator once had all the same questions as I do now. I especially loved his method of making a list of all the art you love, then try to find patterns or any similar strings in this list. And then figure out how you can incorporate all those attributes that move you most into one style that is undeniably YOU. He ended his talk with us saying, “You definitely won’t get published if you give up.”



The last speaker was Kelly Barrales-Saylor, Editorial Director for Albert Whitman & Company. She gave sound business advice from her side of the industry about getting noticed and hired. She voiced her fondness of working with artists and said that we are, by far, the funnest part of her job :) She said illustrations should take the a manuscript farther than the writer could’ve ever imagined; to elevate the book to a level that simply wasn’t there before. She spoke on the importance of making a personal connection with industry people like herself (crap- that means I can’t let being shy get in my way anymore), platform, a current website, and a portfolio that shows published and unpublished work (so she can see what we art we choose to do for ourselves which reveals our passions). “Persistence pays off”, she said, “and be flexible.” “Try new things, but stay true to yourself. Never stop learning and growing.” Something I thought was especially interesting was that she said many publishers are asking for layered artwork from all artists (even traditional, non-digital artists) for the sake of ebooks and apps. So for example, an artist like me who works with paints may want to paint the background as one painting and the characters on a separate painting so they can be digitally layered together so scenes can be moved around if needed to fit standard book dimensions as well as ipad and e-reader dimensions (which are all different!) Kelly also encouraged using agents, because it usually just goes smoother when negotiating etc. etc. This woman really appreciates artists and presented the business side of things with truth and grace. I would love to work with her someday.

At the VERY end of the day, I finally got up the courage to go say hello to Kelly. I’m so glad I did, because she handed me her card! She didn’t provide her contact info to everyone at the event. I think she purposefully gave cards only to those who approached her. I learned my lesson right then and there, because I could’ve missed that opportunity altogether. Please Lord, heal me of my shyness! In all seriousness, I pray that prayer. I’m so outgoing and comfortable with my friends and family- I am! But the more I attend SCBWI events, the more they become like a family to me, and the more comfortable and open and un-shy I will become too. Thank you, Lord, for Southern-Breeze and SCBWI!

At the end of this educational day, my husband took me to P.F. Changs to eat. Here were our fortunes- a relevant ending to my day!

So that’s the run down of Illustrator’s Day 2012! Hope you enjoyed it.

Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator & Author