This was my first time to do the "big" New York City International SCBWI conference. I've done the Los Angeles one twice, and the regional New York conference held at the Society of Illustrators, but this one raised the bar on them all!
I attended in my official capacity as Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI (Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida panhandle), which meant I had to work several sessions in various capacities - something I don't mind at all because it's fun to have something to do in the middle of such seeming chaos. (I also love New York City!) And wow were we busy!
We barely had time to eat lunch most days and for some reason it kept creeping past midnight when we finally got to bed! (Had nothing to do with the restaurant bar which became our gathering spot.) The Grand Hyatt Grand Central had these funky statues in the lobby, which they had donned with Cat in the Hat hats for our arrival - ha! And I somehow managed to grab a quick breakfast each morning at the hotel restaurant. Can you imagine starting your day with this view every day?
On Thursday, to kick off the event, we RTs (Regional Advisors and Illustrator Coordinators from all over the world) arrived on Thursday for a meeting and the traditional pizza and a Broadway performance ritual. We ate at John's Pizzeria and went to see MATILDA.
I have to say, the very expensive ticket was completely worth it. The show with its amazing music, set, dancing, choreography, and fantastic child actors blew me away! If you get the opportunity, go! It was nothing short of impressive!
Friday was the Illustrator's Intensive (there was also a Writer's Intensive). I was surprised to find it incredibly educational and illuminating - something that doesn't happen often after 13 years in the biz. It was totally worth my time.
I was also asked to be one of seven attending illustrators (there were about 180 in total - intimidating!) to contribute sketches of my impressions of the conference for the Official SCBWI Conference Blog. I began with the intensive and Tomie dePaola. I even got him to sign the portrait I did of him. He said his nose was too big - and it is. But I can't help it. The sweet man reminds me of Santa Claus!
Paul Zelinsky also spoke. He's one of my idols of children's book illustration who I hold responsible for making me want to do this for a living. It's so nice that we've become friends. Here's my rendering of him:
Kathleen Bradshaw (Co-RA), Jo Kittinger (Co-RA Emeritus), and I dashed to Deluca's and Grand Central Station's food court for meals. They were also my roomies, which made for a very slumber party-like vibe for the entire trip. We had a great time! (Here I am with Kathleen being the goofs we are in Grand Central station...)
The best event to my mind took place Friday night - the portfolio viewing/VIP party. Only 200 illustrators were permitted to show their portfolios and the party was by invitation only to local publishers, art directors, editors, etc. and all us RTs. (Ever wonder what the benefits of volunteering are? This was IT!)
What a room! It was full of folks I've been sending postcards to for years but had never met face-to-face, as well as industry professionals who have become friends after years of mingling in the same circles. And me being the social butterfly that I am, I think I said 'hi' to almost every single one of them.
It was also fun being on the hunt for speakers to come to our Southern Breeze conferences. I nearly got whiplash folks pulled their business cards out so fast! If you've ever been in a room full of publishers, you know it is a very odd sensation to have them trying to get your attention! SO much fun!
(Photo credit: Patricia Wiles - click to see it larger.)
Afterwards, a bunch of fellow Illustrator Coordinators and I gathered to talk shop and new ideas for our regions. Very cool.
Saturday the regular portion of the conference began. The line-up of speakers was amazing - what you'd expect from an international conference in the heart of New York City. Jack Gantos and Kate Messner gave the two best talks I've ever heard at any event - no lie. And of course, I was sketching. This was a great quote from Jack:
And this was my view:
After the morning keynotes, I helped moderate a session with Jeanette Larson, Senior Executive Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Something she said gave me an idea for a picture book, which I've been scribbling on ever since. It will have to go to her first if I can noodle it out...
So, I fess up... I skipped the two afternoon keynote sessions to go see Leonard Marcus' exhibit at the New York Public Library: The ABC of it: Why Children's Books Matter. He was still pulling the show together when I met Leonard at the Decatur Book Festival a while back, so I got to hear some of the stories behind the amazing books and letters he gathered for the show. There was no way I was missing it when I just happened to be in New York while it was still showing! (Ironically, there was recently a great write-up of it with some photos at Carter Higgins' Design of the Picture Book Blog.)
And me being the corrupting spirit that I am, I had a small gang with me. Here's Kathleen and me with one of the lions - anybody know the name of this one? (On the left.)
Along with some of the first children's books in the world, there were some great photo ops in the show. Here I am with Rob McClurkan in the silhouette of a wild thing. (There were also two other guys with us - Keith Frawley and Adam Winsor - busted!)
And surely I don't have to tell you what this window is from?
Back at the hotel, we had a gala with tables for each region so we could gather with our peeps. I had a great conversation with Justin Jones and Dennis Jolley - two amazing English teachers from Cherokee County who may very well be the answer to the booking agents soap-box I've been preaching about for the last ten years - cross your fingers - we're talking! (That's Justin then Dennis then me in the photo below.)
There were smaller gatherings of topic-specific groups afterwards, but I slipped out to catch a cab down to south of Delancy for Michelle Knudsen's birthday party. How awesome that I was in town to help her celebrate! (We met years ago at the Savannah Children's Book Festival and I just love her something silly.)
It was held in a speak-easy hidden behind a door that looked like a broom closet at the back of a gallery. I had to know a password to get in - "Evil Librarian"! (Or was it "Bruce Willis"? At any rate, I got in.)
I won't tell you how old Mikki is, but it was a big birthday and ALL her friends were there - even one she'd known since she was two-years-old. How cool is that? They were all super-friendly and I had a great time. I even knew a few folks there - Rebecca Stead (Newbery winner) and Sarah Ketchersid (Candlewick editor). Here I am with Sarah:
And me hugging the life out of Mikki:
I was still wired when I got back, but the wall was beginning to hit. (Or was I beginning to hit the wall - anyhow...)
Sunday were more keynotes, including Kate's talk. I'm not kidding when I say how good it was. It was all about Failure and she shared some great quotes:
"A ship in harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are built for." - John A. SheddAnd her own words:
"Fear gives us the opportunity to be brave and awesome." - Kate MessnerThere was a great panel of illustrators, which included my bud Shadra Strickland. And final words from Nikki Grimes.
Her closing talk was followed by a mad rush on the bookstore and then book signings. I was thrilled to be assigned to help Paul Zelinsky. I made sure folks had sticky notes with their names spelled correctly on the title pages, took photos, and kept the line moving. Paul and I also got to talk some more, which was awesome. Here he is in action (photo by Harold Underdown who was also at our table):
Kathleen got assigned to the longest line in the place - Tomie dePaola and Lin Oliver who have done a sweet book of poems together. I know this photo is fuzzy - but I will treasure it always:
And that was it! I hugged all my friends good-bye - for we have all truly become friends in this tight kidlit community. And while I miss them terribly, it is so much fun to have these events where we can connect and squeeeeeee. (Look for Ruth McNally Barshaw - her hugs are the BEST!) So, thank you, thank you to all the folks who worked hard to make this such a special event, and until next time m'dears - I wish you all happy creating!
READ MORE WRAP-UPS!
Shanda McCloskey's Lesson #7: Go To New York
Sherry Meidell (fellow PBAA member) at Teetertottertales
I HAVE MORE PHOTOS!!!
These were sent in by Jo Kittinger, our Southern Breeze RAE - Regional Advisor Emeritus (well earned!)
Here is me and Jo in front of the theater and Matilda!
And me and Kathleen in Times Square.
Here's Lori Nichols winning the entire portfolio show!!!! (This is a BIG freaking deal!)
And here is our Southern Breeze table during the Saturday night GALA:
And almost our entire Southern Breeze Regional Advisor team (we missed Heather Montgomery): Kathleen Bradshaw, Co-Regional Advisor; Jo Kittinger, RAE; Claudia Pearson, Co-Regional Advisor; and Me, Illustrator Coordinator.