Sunday, September 12, 2010

SCBWI 4th Annual Illustrator's Day at the Fort Mason, San Francisco

samples, samples, was awesome!

Warning: This is a loooooong thanks for your visit and comments, I appreciate it!

It was a beautiful day in the city yesterday...time for reflection on 9/11 for me as I ventured up to San Francisco for a one day event at the Fort Mason Center. I parked at the harbor to witness a beautiful scene of the Golden Gate Bridge half visible and half in deep fog. It was a clear, blue morning and I was excited to begin the day with fellow illustrators and illustrator/writers. The events main speakers were Christy Ottaviano from Henry Holt MacMillan, and Barney Saltzberg, writer/illustrator/musician. Christy started the day by describing her imprint at HH and areas which she is most interested in. It was very informative to know that she preferred author/illustrator submissions in the following areas: illustrations geared FOR children, and not art-house picture books; milestones in a child's life; curriculum themese such as language and process books; biographies; and humor. If you click on the link above, you'll find her books. She has an impressive list of illustrators and writers. Some of the artists whom she admires: Gustaf Tenggren, Richard Scarry, J.P. Miller; Eloise Wilken, Margaret Bloy Graham, Jane Thayer, Gus Fleishman, Arnold Lobel, Bill Peet. It was a treat to view the images of favorite Golden Books she adored as a child, and it was wonderful to hear of her appreciation for the illustrators of the past. She encouraged us to all endeavor to discover artists of the past.

Barney Saltzberg was an enthusiastic speaker who (from his website) states: "my goal is to encourage everyone to find his or her own stories, songs, poetry and art!" His current book, "Beautiful Oops" celebrates mistakes and what beautiful things happen from mistakes, or accidents. If you have a chance, please visit his site to discover his books which include Animal Kisses, and Crazy Hair Day. He self-acknowledges that he does not illustrate well (he often declared how he would love to have his or her skills) but that did not stop him from telling his stories. {correction: he in fact illustrates well and has illustrated numerous picture books...please read Barney's comment below as he corrects what I unintentionally miswrote here, again my apologies to Barney.}. He showed sketches from his sketchbooks...thumbnails of ideas, and encouraged people to sketch, draw and do a lot of it. From one sketch, an emotion might present itself which could end up being a book! He described how his neighbor (real-life) would if a ball ended up on her lawn, would keep the ball. He illustrated that person as an animal and a little boy wondering what this person did with all of the balls she took. Did she make a soccer-ball witches brew? It was great to see how he developed the concepts for the illustrations, and how after many iterations, he'd come up with an image that didn't follow word-for-word what the text said, but added depth to the book.

After Christy and Barney, we discussed amongst the group (about 60 people) anything and everything about getting published; artist representatives; mailers; query letters; and showing your portfolio in New York. While we discussed, the faculty: John Clapp, Asst. Professor of Illustration at San Jose State University; Abigail Samoun, Editor of Tricycle; Dana Goldberg, Publisher for Children's Book Press; Renee Ting, Publisher for Shen's Books; Barney Saltzberg and Christy Ottaviano, viewed all of our portfolios (we were able to share our portfolios downstairs for viewing) and they each sticky-noted their "favorite" piece which we could think of as potential mailers. Great, huh?!

I met a few fellow bloggers who were super cool and was wonderful to meet them in person!! - Tracy Bishop, Joy Steuerwald, Laura Zarrin, Sarah Ackerley, and I also met some more fellow artists whom I shall now follow through the internet: Woody Miller, Chiaki Darski, Tim Mitoma, Bethanie Murguia, Sungyeun (Sansu), Felicia Hoshino . It is wonderful to be able to connect via the net after something like this event. : ) PS: By the way, congratulations, Bethanie regarding your upcoming 1st book release!! Woot woot!

We then had a first-look panel review of illustrations that we sent in. We could choose one image and it was compiled into a Powerpoint presentation and we as the audience could not say a word about it, while the faculty gave their first impressions. Thought/criticisms, etc. ranged from severe (I would say!) to very generous. It was a relief to get somewhat positive reviews of the following. Immediate reactions were very positive but then the comments swayed to the question of "is the bunny on his tummy or back?" I will need to re-paint it seems, as this was an area of confusion. The panel did, however think it was a piece that "the artist has a strong "inner-voice" which comes out". I liked that! : ) Whew.
This was the "first-panel" image that was in the Powerpoint presentation

After the first panel look, we had the option for a $50 fee to have our portfolio reviewed by one of the faculty, and I was able to show my work to Renee Ting of Shen's Books. It was wonderful to get a candid review of my work, and Renee was very helpful in answering my questions about what editors typically would like to see when receiving mailers/inquiries and what she responds well to. Namely 8.5 x 11 sheets (double sided). Cool! Initially, she viewed my work as very cute. It progressed to the last piece which was of my very sad Asian girl, which she thought almost went toward "fine art" - which she thought I could work on pieces that would fit in-between my "cute" work to the fine art side. Interesting, huh?! Her comment that the work was very high on the "cute" meter and that it would be a little less marketable as a whole. She thought that it would be good to show a broader range of abilities. I must say, this gave me food for thought! What do you think, everyone?It was fascinating to hear of showing more than one "style" (I hate to use that word) in a mailer...have any of you done this? Thoughts?

This was my leave behind postcard. I was kinda happy with it though it printed a bit dark..from VistaPrint.
These are my new business cards.

I must say, feedback of this caliber (from the panel including Renee) is SO makes me even more determined to venture farther into this field. I love the challenges that it brings, and the people that I've gotten to meet and get to know through the net, and now in person. It is truly a wonderful adventure and I'm loving it.

Thanks for reading this lonnnnng post! I hope you all have a great week ahead, and many thanks for your past are the best!

New note: please see the addition of faculty names above for the "first panel" look. And, please read my comments in the string below regarding Renee's review. Thanks everyone!


  1. How lovely!!! I especially love the flying bear illo ^_____^ V magical and charming!

  2. I really enjoyed hearing about your conference experience Shirley! They always leave us with so many things to ponder!

  3. Wow, what an amazing recap! I'm glad to hear your review was thought provoking :) That image of the sad girl is definitely stunning. Thanks for the shout out. So glad to have chosen a seat next to you...

  4. Heeee ladies ROCK! Thanks for weathering through that long post. I forgot to mention the faculty members so I must add that to hit the hay now. But thank you Alina, and Roberta for your super visits..someday we will meet in person! : ) And Bethanie, yes, it was so fortunate to get to meet you are so kind (and so talented!). Go Vizslas! : )

  5. it's cool vistaprint does it right! i've got problems printing my drawings in a place next home! i'm waiting for moo now! :-((
    Your illos are cute and magical! i looove them!

  6. Very interesting post!What an experience:)

  7. Huh! High and on the cute meter and therefore less marketable? Who says that children's books illustrations should not be cute. Who are reading and looking at the books? It seems to me these new critics have forgotten the classics. Arthur Rackham was scary to children with his animal and old women and old men illustrations, yet cute with his illustration of children in the books. Alice, Alice's illustrator, Lord Ten... can't remember right now, too early, his illustration of Alice with the long neck was scary but the regular Alice was cute especially when peeking up the mushroom. Your illustrations remind me of that innocence. Kate Greenaway - Cuteness Supreme!!! Oh my. Edmund Dulac - look at the faces of the children - so innocent - like yours. W. Heath Robinson! Look at the children's faces. It seems to me these new critics are subscribers of Dadaism, ugly is beautiful. I do not agree with them. So we patronize artists who illustrate deformed faces, long necks, big heads, lopsided faces...I am getting all hyped up. Commercialism is very important if we have to sell to these critics, I suppose. Oh my goodness. I have perused the blogs and I am addicted to children's books with fabulous illustrations, the ones I buy remind me of the classics, but I suppose the children should be the judges. Yes, they like simple lines and cardboard pages because they love to eat the books, not look at them.

    Anyway, it sounds like you had a blast. Did you take a photo of the Golden Gate bridge with the fog? Oh, I have only seen it from the sky.

    Shirley, good luck with your adventure. I want you to be successful and famous so I can selfishly say, that is my friend Shirley!


  8. So glad you had a good time and were able to get such great information! Your new cards look, fab, btw! :)

  9. I had a wonderful day with all of you. I am hopeful people were inspired by things I spoke about. Reading your recap concerns me that I might have said that I don't illustrate well. That wasn't my intent. There are illustrators who can technically draw 'better' than I can, but that in and of itself doesn't mean they can illustrate a picture book. If I couldn't illustrate well, I wouldn't be publishing books.

    I was really happy to see so many people who love picture books and are interested in keeping this incredibly special genre of publishing alive. We needed two days to really get to sink our teeth into the subject and visit more. Again, thanks for having me! Sincerely, Barney Saltzberg

  10. Dear readers, my sincerest apologies to Mr. Barney Saltzberg for incorrectly stating that he "doesn't illustrate" well. It was definitely not what he meant as well as what I meant though I now know it can definitely be taken wrong. I have emailed him and I hope he does accept my apology as I do not wish to incorrectly portray someone who in fact inspired me. The key takeaway for me from his presentation was that he stayed true to his inner voice and is able to by his means (acrylics, watercolor, pen and ink, computer) tell stories. His insistence to sketch, doodle, create and focus on the telling of the story was definitely spoken about and I unfortunately did not get the story to all of you correctly. I'm sorry about that.

    I agree, it was a great day being with people who love illustration and writing. It would have been super to extend to two days!

  11. Great post Shirley!! I can't wait to check out your links to other great illustrators you mentioned. I have to agree with Ces, I really like your style and the innocence of your characters. They do remind me of the classics too, and I think children will love them. Have you had any other art reps look at your work, it would be interesting to hear what another had to say. But you are right, every little bit of constructive criticism is so helpful and food for thought. Sounds like it was a fabulous conference, and very inspiring- awesome!!

    BTW your new business cards are great!

  12. Hi Shirley,
    I really enjoyed reading this blog, it must have been a great but challenging day. As I have discussed with you before your beautiful illustrations transport me back to childhood and I think you should stay true to your style. Everyone has a style and although we all strive to improve/develop, untimately we can no more change our style than become another person. If we do there is a danger that we are actually in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar skin.
    Keep up the great work, I don't care if they are called cute either - they rock! Greetings to you from the UK,
    Jane x

  13. Ces, and dear readers! I'm so thankful that you've read the long post..but I hope that I may also add that my reviewer was also very kind to state that some of my pieces were "perfect" for a different publisher. So I thank Renee for stating that as it helped me to feel that the work was worthy as it stands.

    Thank you Ces for your always candid comments. It is so great to hear of past illustrators and your perception of how their work was viewed by children, as well as books you gravitate to and purchase...thank you for this! I appreciate your kind words about my work and I do hope to find my place in the marketplace. I do not wish you to be upset, as I do hope to convey that I am so happy to receive feedback of all kinds. I hope all of you readers know this. I am new to receiving editor's reviews, so this feedback is also good to hear, and with it, I grow (at least I hope so).

    Ces, I'm off to visit ya know...
    thanks for reading everyone!

  14. PSS - Mr. Saltzberg - you rock. Thank you for your kind email and visit to this blog.

  15. Great, great, GREAT post! I was captivated to the end. Sounds like a very constructive and informative day. And I guess it's always helpful to receive feedback, even if it does sting.

    I must agree with Ces. I do not think your illustrations are too cute or less marketable. I think you capture an innocence and purity that children love and that parents crave. It can be a heartbreaking process, but absolutely, there is a publisher who will go nuts over your illustrations. It's just a matter of finding the right match. I think of all the wonderful books that were passed over many, many times before becoming what is now considered a classic.

    I recently read a book written by accomplished artists and illustrators. In it, Maurice Sendak wrote that the more styles you have, the better!

    P.S. Alice with the looooong neck scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid!

    P.P.S. Yes! Go Cheeze!

  16. Hey Honey Bunny, just read your post and I am left without words for some reason. You and I have to talk over the phone honestly. I agree with our fellow bloggers and illustrators and that is all I will say right now. Everything and I do mean EVERYTHING happens for a reason and what doesn't kill us fatten us for the journey. You have a journey ahead of you and one day you will speak to many students and children and adults as well and tell them about all this. We will speak soon. I plan to come you soon. Having a root canal done on tomorrow. Pray.V

  17. Noooooooo! lease do not misunderstand me. I have nothing against critics, they do their job and serve a purpose but I am so wary of critics in general. Kate Greenaway would have never made it today for her illustrations were CUTENESS TO THE MAX! And then there was Maxfield Parish who was a fine artist, not a line illustrator. I think it is good to have many styles and meet the needs of the market, but in the end, you lose your identity. Look at Edward Gorey. We see his illustrations today, we know, it is a Gorey. And so today, I see Bella's illustrations and WHAMO! - that's a Bella Sinclair, much like Susan Branch or Mary Engelbreit and then you! There are no illustrations like yours, you are so Shirley Ng Benitez. I can spot your art ten book cases away. But we need to be pragmatic today, yes but I hope you don't deviate from your style. My children love your characters and they are, well, teenagers. I am hoping praying for that publishers with a keen sense for the beautiful. SHe, no doubt will agree with me.

    But truly, we need the professionals' points of view. They study the market. I am so happy that she was kind and helpful.

  18. Love the post Shirley. It sounds like it was a productive and helpful event and I hope that you take from it only what you feel you need while staying true to yourself. I think that this is part of how we grow as artists :). You also must remember that essentially it is all opinion(and as we know everyone has one that is his own) and you will get a lot of differing information based on personal likes and dislikes. But it is great to be able to get that kind of feedback from someone in the business right? How awesome, and I agree with Bella, it is just a matter of finding the right match.

  19. It sounds like a really great conference. how exciting for you! :) I love your vertical business cards too-- a perfect blend of professional, classy and yet adorable with your little water color. how you do you produce those? Are they professionally printed or do you use your inkjet printer or what?

  20. Hi Shirley, it was nice to meet you at the conference. I love your work and your blog is so nice. Thank you for posting about the SCBWI conferece and my name.I will come back to your blog very often. Happy Illustrating!

  21. Thank you so much for posting this! I was so jealous when Tracy and Laura said they met you in person. Sounds like an incredible day with lots of direct useful feedback. I received some conference feedback that made me think about my direction, but ultimately my plan is to follow the course that is most self-fulfilling while also giving some thoughts to the marketplace. I just wish I could have gotten 10 more critiques to hear even more opinions. That stuff is gold as I'm working to better myself. I know you will get it all sorted and I'll be seeing your books out there real soon!

  22. Hi Shirley! What a great post! Sounds like it was a wonderful conference. It was really fun to read about! :)

  23. Loving your new business cards, they look so clean and well designed with the focus being the ART! Imagine that!!! :)
    Thanks for sharing your pieces and experience at the event.

  24. Wow Shirley, it really sounds like you got a lot out of this event. I'm so happy for you and I think you are on the right path. I know you'll get a book published soon enough, just keep on keepin' on ;)

    And thanks so much for sharing your experience, that's really sweet of you. I can't wait to check out all of the illustrators you've mentioned.

    P.S. How fun that you got to meet some blogger friends in person. I'm so jealous :P


  25. Hi, Shirley! I've just email you, but I'll also post here.
    Thank you for posting my name!
    It was first time I attended this kind of events.
    It was so inspiring.
    I got energy to create more work!!!

  26. Hey Shirley, I had a root canal on yesterday so I was in no condition to talk to you. Eric had to talk me through the whole thing I was so scared. He is such a good brother. I am feeling better today. I need to go and take some pain killers after I comment. Dear heart, I love SCBWI. I really do. I remember my first conference and how it changed my life. I also remember the ones that followed. You have done the hard work Shirley!! I do mean the hard work. Each day I get email from people who want to know how to break into the children's illustration world. They want to know how to get their foot in the door. I get these wonderful email daily now. You, E, Bella, Brad, Michael, Ces, and few others are family to me. I care about you all so very much. There is so much hard work that goes into Children's book illustration. Not to mention the rejection, and the hard criticism that sometimes come along with it. It's funny how one person will view our work and then another comes along and says something so encouraging that you think you can FLY! It just send your spirit higher and higher and you know in your heart that this is what you have been created for. I don't know that cute was the right word to use when referring to your work. Mo Willems encouraged my heart so much with his wonderful story about how he got started. They didn't like his story and told him so. He was rejected , I believe, at least 30 times or more on "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus" on his last attempt someone took a chance on him and now look where he is!!!! I feel this same thing for your Shirley. There are people who are watching what you do. Your illustrations have been a bright spot for me!!! What I want to know is DO YOU LOVE YOUR WORK???? I believe you do. You create the most fabulous scenes that stay with us. Book deals are coming and maybe even some tv things as well. Products are coming. They are going to find you doing what you love. Be of good, good cheer!!!! I see great things in the works for you Shirley, just keep doing the hard work just as you are. I am soooooooooooo proud of you. If you can take the hard comments about your work, then you are built for this business cause you are a FABULOUS illustration. A Illustrator to know for sure. Be encouraged and keep it moving forward.
    Love you,

  27. Hi everyone! I'm glad to read all of your thoughts/concerns, and just want to let you know that I am always so thankful of your generosity! I am doing great with the feedback so hope it doesn't come across that I am feeling badly...oh, no fretting for sure, as I am working hard, and definitely having FUN along the way with all of this. My illustrations come from a happy place and it's so awesome to hear that it speaks to some of you in that way.

    I am comin' round to ALL of you who have stopped by....I've been stuck under a pile o' work-work and will peak out soon. Hugs to you - Shirley

  28. It was a fabulous post! Looks like you had an amazing time and how wonderful it must have been to be surrounded by such talented illustrators and writers. I would have been in heaven. Thank you for sharing your adventure. It was well worth the read. :) Theresa

  29. Heya Shirley, cute meter? Heh, well I always thought your work was great. Cute? Well cute is so diaphanous. I think your imagery and delicate technique takes me back to childhood books, something that I can identify with.

    The flying bunny wasn't one I would have shown them - as you have so much good work with lots of things going on to demonstrate your skills. I love that image on the postcard - lots of depth we can explore

    Good luck, I'm sure you will be grabbed.

  30. Thanks for sharing your account of this fun day! You are wise to listen and learn from experiences, but as an artist you also have to follow your heart...I know your heart is leading you towards great rewards! :o)

  31. I just found you wonderful blog while taking a journey through some blogs and I have so enjoyed reading your posts and your most wonderful illustration, I think they are so beautiful.

    I loved reading your experience of this day, it must have been a wonderful!!!

    I am making sure to join your site so I don't miss any of your wonderful posts. Have a beautiful day. xxx


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