Thursday, February 27, 2014

Top Take Aways from SCBWI New York, Pt. 1

I just got back from the SCBWI New York conference and I wanted to share some of the insights I came home with. If you want a rundown on all the details of all the sessions it's probably best if you head over to the official conference blog. They did a great job tracking it all. I'll just be sharing my own insights.

Day 1: Illustrators Intensive - World Building

This was easily my favourite day of the conference despite being terribly sleep deprived. Anxiousness and taxi horns had conspired to keep me up most of the preceding night, and then my daughter woke up at 5:30am. So I went into the intensive pretty tired. Luckily I had lots of coffee and even more anxiousness to get me through the day.

I loved the intensive because it had so much meat to it. The morning was all about the fundamentals of composition and character. The main points that I got were,
  • Use your tools to focus the viewer where they need to focus. Tomie dePaola uses architecture and doorways to frame the main subject, Paul Zelinsky recommends highlighting the focus through value.Whatever you use, make sure the viewer knows where the focus is!
  • Character is key. Reference for costume and facial types is everywhere, that's the easy part. Both dePaola and Brett Helquist go through many, many rounds before they settle on a character design. It takes a lot of trial and error. Helquist relies on the face for character, and dePaola says. That costume is key. The main point is that they have to feel alive, as if there is a mind within them. Contrasting your characters is also important. Skinny-fat, big-small, etc. A good exercise mentioned is to create 2 very different characters and then build a family around them so that they all share certain characteristics, but are also all unique.
The afternoon was even better. There was a panel crit, and then a round table crit. In the panel they selected 30 pieces to review and mine was one of them!!! How amazing is that? I felt very fortunate. First I'll share the recurring themes that came up, then I'll share the specific notes I got on my piece below.

The first main point is that the panel, Lily Malcom, Arthur Levine, and Holly McGhee were amazing.  All of their critiques were spot on. Interestingly enough they never discussed style. They were mostly focused on character and composition. But even then, mostly just character. 

They assessed each piece the way they would asses a promo postcard. So if you're planning a promo postcard, listen up! The most important thing is character and emotionality. If you don't have those, forget about it. Here's some of the basic take always for me,
  • Don't make your character stereotypical, or generic, (especially grannies, there were lot of those).
  • Give your character idiosyncrasies to make them feel authentic.
  • Vary the expressions and reactions, don't have everyone just smiling.
  • Vary the characters too - age, race, gender, size, personality. Character contrast is great.
  • Have your characters interact with one another, and vary the interactions.
  • Make sure there's an emotional pull, even if it's subtle.
  • Focus composition on the character, don't let the surroundings overwhelm them.
  • Have light and depth in the image.
  • The image should give part of a story to create tension and make you wonder what would happen next.
Here's my piece that they reviewed.

Arthur Levine actually said "I liked this one." So that was pretty damn amazing. Specific things that they liked were that my characters were distinctive from one another, and in particular that they weren't all white. They also liked that the characters had interesting expressions and that there was a sense of story.

They did have some really good ideas of how it could be approved though. They felt that the uniforms were blending with grass too much, and that the landscape could use more work. Holly McGhee pointed out that the monster was a bit too generic and could be made more interesting. The main point though was that it would create a lot more excitement and variety if one of the characters was reacting to the monster, which I think is very true.

As you can see, my crit reinforced the theme that character is key. They need to connect with the image on an emotional level for it to really grab them. For the future I'll be putting this list on my wall:
  • Character - personality, expression, idiosyncrasy
  • Variety - characters, actions, interaction, reactions, expressions
  • Story - Create some tension in the viewers mind about what happens next
The last part of the intensive was the round table crit with Rebecca Sherman which was also incredibly helpful. But I'll be writing more on that in next post when I discuss the crisis of style that I had over the weekend and how I (sorta) resolved it.


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