Little Dog Lost

My good friend Monica Carnesi has recently published her first picture book!! It's called Little Dog Lost.

It is a true story of a dog called Baltic, who was found stranded on an ice floe in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Poland. Monica's simple watercolour-and-ink style is so graceful, and her text fits perfectly with the illustrations.  It even comes with a little Baltic! 

I'm very proud to have my own signed copy.

you can read more about Baltic's story on her blog here:

Monica and I met at an SCBWI conference in New York several years ago. I'm so happy that we have maintained our friendship and it's a thrill to see my friends have such successes! Well done Mon!!!

Travelling home.

I am back from my 5 week trip to the US!

It was such a great time....

Getting inspired, and meeting new and old friends at the SCBWI conference in Seattle (see previous post)....

Dancing all day and all night in New Orleans....

Catching up with family including two little nieces....

And to top it off a positive meeting with a publisher in Boston....

And I've returned to some fun news too:
 My illustration is one of the chosen ones for They Draw and Cook's Cookbook, out now! (buy it here)

I will also be featured in 100 illustrations next illustration Annual

I will be starting work immediately on 2 books for Five Mile Press.

It's always nice to have some good news and something to dive into to help dispel the post-vacation blues!

Back in the Pacific Northwest

As usual, the SCBWI Conference I attended just outside of Seattle was fun, entertaining, informative and inspiring.

I was lucky enough to get into the awesome illustrator's masterclass with the formidable Dan Santat and Anne Moore from Candlewick Press. Dan was first up and took us through some basics of colour theory and composition which is always good to review. But THEN he took a portfolio piece from each one of us (submitted earlier) and photoshopped them to make them stronger, using those principles. It was EXCELLENT.

We also had some homework for Anne and she took us through each piece speaking from the publisher's point of view, which was very insightful. It was so interesting to see how everyone had interpreted the same text (like with illustration Friday).

Then it was 2 days of inspiring and informative talks. I was also given a (very lovely) gift bag for being the person who had travelled the furthest to get there - true, there weren't any other people from Australia!

I think the best sessions i attended were:

Victoria Jamieson on creating book dummies, where she took as through the multiple versions of her story in dummy form, from beginning to publication (including agent/publisher notes along the way)

Rollin Thomas on story book structures and myths

Anne Moore on book and type design, which is something I've always been interested in.

The other wonderful part of these conferences of course, is meeting wonderful people. I finally got to meet Stacia who is the diva of Creative Cup, our online critique group. It was so lovely to hang out with her all weekend!

I also met Shane Watson who is a fantastic illustrator with sci-fi bent, and also all-around great person. Go check out his work!

And luckily I also got to see Richard Jesse Watson, the amazing illustrator who critiqued my portfolio at last year's LA SCBWI conference. It was a treat to catch up with him and also meet his family including his son illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson. At one point I found myself sitting at a table with Richard, Jesse, Dan Santat and David Hohn, wondering what alternate reality I had stepped into?

I have left with so many ideas swirling in my head, and a definite direction to go in both my writing and illustration.

Even though I'm on holidays, you can't stop these things working in the background.

But, next stop New Orleans. A city of music, food, culture... And not a moment to waste!

I-F: Toy + IA for JP auction LIVE

I am soon heading to the bustling metropolis of Redmond, WA, USA for the regional Western Washington SCBWI conference. woo! I was quick off the mark this time and managed to sign up for the Illustrator Masterclass which promises to be VERY cool.  We were asked to illustrate some supplied text as "homework". The text I chose was:
"I love socks," said Blink.
"Some socks are more lovable than others," said Gollie.

Also, Illustrators Australia's fundraiser for Japan (IA for JP) is now ON for the next 6 days. PLEASE go visit this link and buy some wonderful art at bargain basement prices and help rebuild an amazing country. My piece (post below) is also included for sale.

SCBWI L.A. conf : Part 3 : BUDDIES

One of the best parts of going to a writing/illustration conference is.... meeting other writers/illustrators! So, here are some I'd like to tell you about:

I arrived at the conference late on the Thursday before the early start Friday morning, so I was so relieved to be greeted by my roomie Jill Kassander, who I had met through the SCBWI forums. Jill had been to the conference 4 times before and so knew the ropes, and was a fantastic roommate, tour guide, carer, advice-giver, and confidante. Thanks Jill!! :-)

It didn't take long before I met the aussie contingent:
The unmissable Chris Cheng who was named SCBWI member of the year!
Then I found the fantastic Western Australia cohort: writer/illustrator Samantha Hughes, and writer Caz Williams. Here is some of Sam's spooky work:

It was fun meeting up with these ladies throughout the conference. Sam and I ended up waiting nervously for our portfolio critiques together, and then sharing a still-jittery tea afterwards to hear the outcome (she got really great feedback too!) And I knew if I wanted to find someone to sit with that I could scan the crowd and find Caz's bright red hair. :)

I also got to meet fellow Melbournian Angela Driver and I also briefly met aussie Kandace Mavrick (no link). HEre's artwork from Angela's up-and-coming-book:

At the illustrator social on the first night, I was introduced to the inimitable Kelly Light, who incidentally has just raised $10,000 through her Ripple blog -- Way To Go Kelly!!

Kelly in turn introduced me to the lovely Angela Matteson/Angelato (whale and boy image below) and Linda Silvestri/Sketched Out (monster image below), and together we formed a terrific trio. We talked, we laughed, we badgered Loren Long. It was such a joy to meet them. So funny because we all knew each other from bloggy land, but didn't know what the others looked like.

Then LAST but not least, I met and had a good chat with Priscilla Burris who just has such an incredible amount of bubbly energy it's amazing! (even after 4 days of organising disorganised illustrators!) As I mentioned before, Priscilla bought my ripple painting for her daughter Laura, who I also had the pleasure of meeting.

WEll I don't think I missed anyone. It certainly is such a pleasure to meet all these amazing artists in person. It's funny when you know someone by their work alone, you think you know them already. But meeting in person and sharing experiences, facial expressions, hugs, it really cements those friendships.

Everything is still sinking in for me -- the inspiration, the career opportunities, these new friendships -- but all I know is I am so happy I went.

So, all I can say to anyone who is considering going to the SCBWI conference.... do it do it do it!!!!

SCBWI L.A. conf : Part 2 : BUSINESS

When I went to the NY SCBWI conference a few years ago, I was excited about hearing illustrators talk and gaining inspiration.

This time, with my first trade book under my belt, I was much more business focussed. My little group kept saying I was channelling Leeza, who I met in NY, and who is the queen of networking. Well it's not so easy for me. I have to force myself to talk to strangers, but I figured everyone was there for the same reason so everyone's open to being approached. Plus, I had made these:

business card size mini portfolio I figured I owed it to myself to be bold and hand out as many as I could.

And while I'm at it, here are all my promotional materials: portfolio, mini-folio, postcards, business cards.

So, armed with these goodies, I tracked down as many editors, publishers, agents, and all-around good people as I could....

I got them into the hands of Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney-Hyperion), Justin Chanda (Simon & Schuster), Claudia Gabel (HarperCollins), Jennifer Rees (Scholastic) and by mail post-conference to Josh Adams (Adams literary) (who was actually the one I really wanted to talk to but could never find him) Anyway, some salient points from them:
• Your book will be judged against publisher's 'list' - it could be a great book but if they have recently published something similar, it may not be attractive to them (so much of this business is about timing!)
Your pitch/query letter should capture in 30 seconds or less
• An agent or publisher wants to build the career of the author/illustrator
• They will help with grow and shape your career but will not be your shrink, or your mother. you still need to work hard and give them something to work with!
• The ideal author/illustrator: keeps their audience in mind always, is selective on publishers, willing to promote the book, and is open-minded about future technology.
• Many editors prefer to receive material through an agent, but gems are still found in the 'slush pile'
• Think about how your story could be converted/used on new technology and think globally

I should say there was a lot of discussion at the conference about ipads and the like and how it will change (or more likely 'add to') the role of the author and illustrator. What wasn't discussed was whether the digitisation of books will ruin the industry as it has the music industry - where companies lose so much money because the free proliferation of the art is so rampant, it is unable to be monitored. that means less money to promote up-and-comings, and less confidence in the printed market...... but i digress.....

One of the most amazing parts of the conference for me was on Day 2 at 8am: My one-on-one portfolio critique with the man who created this:

To say I was nervous is probably an understatement. I mean LOOK at that lion! You can see each inidividual curl. It's insane. He's an amazing artist.

But then the moment I sat down with Richard I was put immediately at ease. He is the kindest man you would ever hope to meet. Especially because, after introductions and niceties, the first words out of his mouth were 'I looked at your website - I really like your work!'

He proceeded to go through my portfolio and point out all the GOOD things I had done! What a revelation! I thought I was going in to have my folio picked apart. But I realised what he was doing was so much more valuable: this is what is working for you, this is where your voice is strong, work on this, develop this.

Of course he gave me lots of areas to work on, all completely on the money:
• My characters are all very 'happy' -- show a range of emotion & experessions
• there should be a story behind each image. (I heard this several times throughout the conference)
• Show some B&W work and even some sketches
• my images are all quite flat -- work on perspective

and then..... came my million dollar question.
I asked Richard if he thought my work was ready for an agent.
--hold breath--
Yes, he thought so. I could talk to his agent who was at the conference.

so i did.

2 days later, I met for a glorious 5 minutes with Rubin Pfeffer from East/West literary agency. He said Richard had talked very highly of me (really?). He leafed through my folio and picked one image (which Richard liked too):

and said if I could build up a story around this little guy for him, he'd be interested in working with me.

so that's my homework assignment. I've already brewed a lil story around him on my 14 hour flight home. I can't tell you how exciting this is for me. Now I just need to follow through on this amazing opportunity.

So I have to say, that business-wise, for me, this conference was a definite success...

next post.... conference buddies :-)

SCBWI L.A. conference wrap up : Part 1 : INSPIRATION

I'm home! Back to winter.... back to work.... back to real life....

but let me delve back into a childrens bookmaker's wonderland for just a moment. oh please...

The SCBWI conference in LA was fantastic on many levels. I'm splitting it into three: Inspiration, business, and personal.

I'll do more of a general wrap up of my time and experience there as opposed to a workshop-by-workshop synopsis, seeing as you can get those in multiple places, not least from Team Blog who was blogging about everything live from the conference!

It was such a thrill to hear people like the ones below speak. (It was also great to hear M.T. Anderson sing a love song to Delaware.) Unfortunately I missed the last keynote Ashley Bryan because I had to leave for the airport.

A few tidbits of advice from the heavyweights:

The stinky cheese man himself
• read every picturebook you can!
• be proactive and determined getting your work out there
• if you have written a pb manuscript, cut it down by half, at least! (too true)

amazing work and wise words
• start one sketch at a time
• work should have that "emotional hit" and tell a story -- think lighting, posture, mood
• what music might be playing during the scene? try to evoke the same feeling with the pictures. (I love this!)
• the characters and book should be your friend

• a great way to build a 'new world' is to base it on your own (eg. Delaware) but then twist it a bit. A place you recognise partially is more powerful than something completely outlandish.
• show children new ways to see

this guy was hilarious!
• Do what the kid in you thinks is 'cool'
• Subtlety isn't lost on kids

E.B. Lewis, artistrator:
amazing inspiring art
• uses models for his characters
• find simplicity in compositions

Overall the main thoughts/feelings I came away with were things I already knew but are always good to have affirmed: do what you do. work hard. get it out there.

WRITING MASTERCLASS: Strong Emotions on the Page
The illustration masterclasses booked out so quickly, but I was able to get into a writing class by Arthur Levine, the VP at Scholastic and owner of his own imprint, Arthur A. Levine Books. It was really fun to put myself into a writing situation. We even had homework! Although the assignments were very interesting (write about a place, then write about it again evoking a totally different emotion), I don't feel like we got through very much in the class because there were 26 of us! Maybe the classes need to be even smaller next time, for more hands-on interactivity.

So I don't know if I'd sign up for a masterclass again, unless it was something I was 150% into. Because it was run for an hour each of the 4 days, that meant 4 other workshops I couldn't go to -- and there was so much to see!!

But Arthur was fantastic - a very patient, insightful, funny, deeply engaged and engaging teacher.

THEN, there was the portfolio show, with about 100 illustrators (including mine) displayed for all to see. So amazing to see everyone's work, perspective, creative presentation, aptitudes, talent, dreams. There was a winner: Molly Idle, whose work is, yes, jaw-droppingly beautiful (below).

The folio extravaganza was squeezed in between a 10 hour day of speakers/workshops and the 'heart & soul' themed dinner/ball, so after about an hour of looking at folios, thinking alternatively 'wow! this is amazing! how inspiring!' and 'wow! this is amazing! what am I doing here?' I took my leave to ready for the partay....

knitted heart 'brooch' my friend made for me to wear at the heart & soul ball

so next post, the business side....

Pick me! Pick me!

One of the amazing things about going to an industry conference is that you just.. never.. know.. who.. will.. be.. there.....

In my case, it could be the publisher of my dreams, the agent of my dreams, or someone else of my dreams (except for husband, I already have that!)

And the only way they are going to find you is if you stand out from the crowd in some way. I guess, truthfully, your art should make you do that. But promotion is a such an important thing, though sometimes irreconcilable with being an introverted artist.

But I do my best to talk the talk, and um.. paint the paint? So here is my promotional postcard for the SCBWI conference in all its glory!

My folio is also being printed and bound this week, and I have a few other little tricksies up my sleeve... heh heh....

t minus 4 days to lift off!

I-F: Giant

Imagine going on a surreal flight with a giant turtle?

I wanted to do something unusual and a bit whimsical this time -- this will be the last piece that makes it into my folio for the SCBWI conference in LA. I leave in TWO WEEKS !! wohoo!

and... I've finally discovered a few other people who are heading there too, (thank goodness!) through Chris Cheng at SCBWI Australia. So hello to fellow aussies Samantha Hughes, Caz Williams and Angela Driver! (Angela's website will be live July 10th) Looking forward to meeting all of you in person!

'Tis the season...

...for Christmas parties!

I went to the Victorian chapter of SCBWI's Xmas dinner last weekend and last night was Illustrators Australia's. Two very different parties and each rewarding in their own way.

The SCBWI dinner was a casual sit down and chat with some (mostly) older ladies who had been in the business quite a while. I felt like a little fledgling learning from the masters. "Yes, grasshopper, you have far to go, so much to learn, but you will arrive at your destination and the journey will be worth it". or something like that.

Then last night was IA's party. As some of you know I am "vice-prez" of IA this year so it was fun to help organise - lots of food, heaps of alcohol! a bit of dancing, lots of Xmas lights, a rooftop with a view, and good conversations. I nominated to be on the committee again next year, in what capacity I'm not sure yet, and a few new faces nominated as well so that was great. ALSO, I made this cake, in the shape of our logo:

now, I have NEVER decorated a cake before - not even your garden variety rectangular, chocolate icing and nothing else cake, so this was quite a challenge - but lots of fun! everyone loved him. Maybe I should start a new business...? haha, I don't think so!

SCBWI New York catch up

Well I'm back from the big apple. I had hoped to do a big write-up/sketch-up of the conference but very punctually lost my notebook on the last day! But thankfully, Leeza has pretty much covered everything, and she even did it live - yes, direct blogging from the conference, so go check it out!

So instead I'll just write some general thoughts, which is probably better anyway.

I think the best thing about the whole weekend was meeting fantastic illustrators, some of whom I knew already from bloggy land, namely Courtney, Jannie (aka chickengirl), the aforementioned Leeza, Jennifer E. Morris, and Monica.
And it was an absolute and total pleasure to meet and spend most of the weekend with the wonderful Alicia Padron. It was one of those meetings that you just know will feed a friendship for years to come. :-) I feel very lucky (and slightly unworthy!) to be rubbing shoulders with these great gals, so thanks for a wonderful weekend ladies! I hope we meet again soon. LA conference 2009, perhaps??

And the other best thing was hearing totally inspirational out-of-this-world speakers. I realised that having only started illustration after moving to Australia, I don't know many contemporary american illustrators... so it was a treat to discover, most of all, David Wiesner. His specialty is the wordless picturebook, and when you see his illustrations you can understand why. Not only is his art absolutely incredible, but his concepts are completely original and just so creative. He showed his entire process from initial thumbnail sketches through to polished finished art. He'd also show things like how he went through a dozen different cover ideas for Flotsam before arriving at 'the one'. His way of working reminds me a bit of Shaun Tan, who has also just come out with a wordless picture book. I bet they'd love being stuck on a deserted island together.

If it's one piece of advice I take away, from hearing panels discuss the market trends to what publishers are looking for in an illustrator, it's that they want to hear what YOU have to say, in YOUR way. they look for illustrations of QUALITY. a book of quality will sell itself.

Here are some other highlights of the SCBWI conference for me:
-Seeing fellow illustrator's inspiring folios, in a big circle of about a dozen in the hallway of the Hilton (until they kicked us out)
-Walking from the conference down to Times Square for a coffee on a break
-Hearing speakers Nikki Grimes (poet) Carolyn Mackler (YA writer) and Susan Patron (fiction writer) speak - realising that they speak like what they write.
- laughing at Harry Bliss's dry wit as he non-chalantly flips through all his new yorker cover art.
- yummy food (especially cheesecake) at the Saturday brunch
- picking up some great books: Wiesner's Flotsam and FINALLY Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz, which every aspiring book illustrator must have. One other thing I learned from the conference is that all good work takes time. You can't expect to create a masterpiece in an afternoon - even David Wiesner had to go through a dozen cover illos to find the right one! it's okay if you don't get it right the first time, you just have to keep going... so I figure I know I want to write/illustrate a book someday, even though I don't feel ready for it yet. But i'd might as well start thinking about it.... so I got Uri's book and it's great - I'm halfway through it already!

These were all the great things about the conference. In other ways, I must say I was disappointed. I found that overall, everything was focussed more on writers than illustrators, and geared towards more established illustrators at that. Not much time was spent on how to break into the market, which is where most people were coming from, from what I could tell. I was told that the LA conference in August is much more workshoppy and hands-on that way, so I think I might shoot for that next time (which is actually easier for me to get to anyway!)

That said, I can't even imagine how much work it was to put together something like that with registration, 3 days of speakers, 1000 people attending, food for everyone, etc. so well done to all the organisers! - thank you, thank you, thank you.

Some of the girls have been saying they've got the post-conference blues. I think I got them WHILE I was there. Our little evening of casual folio viewing sent me into a headspin because the quality of everyone's work was so high - the self-doubt, "what am I doing here" thoughts started skulking into the corners. Luckily, my best buddy from Montreal arrived that night so a quick margarita fixed that!

But back home now I must admit I am feeling better. I know I still have a long way to go but I am excited to work hard and take baby steps down my path. It's the journey that matters after all, and what a fun one it is. You just can't let the fear grip you you know? you just have to keep going at it. When the 11th cover idea doesn't work, just try the 12th.

Since I don't have any of my sketches from the conference, I'll leave you with what I drew on the front of my portfolio, which i think is apt: