Friday, September 26, 2014

Somewhere in Time, Mackinac Memories

Somewhere in Time, Mackinac Island, Michigan

The 2014 SCBWI-MI Fall Conference was held on Mackinac Island last week. Conference coordinators, Charlie Barshaw and Anita Pazner worked their tails off to ensure that everyone had a grand ole' time. Indeed, the experience seems to have aged them a bit.

They had loads of help from our chapter RA's Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson, the AdCom team, J & J book sellers (that's Whistler and Rumberger), Illustration Coordinator Ruth Barshaw, and the numerous conference attendees who stepped up as needed. A fantastic line-up of speakers devoted hours of their time and expertise. Thank you to editors, Arthur Levine and Christy Ottaviano, agent Jodell Sadler, author Candace Fleming, author/illustrators Eric Rohmann and Laurie Keller, and our home-grown talent Kris Remenar, Sandy Carlson, Lori Taylor, Ed Spicer, Julie Hedlund, and David Stricklen!

Congratulations to Wendy Sherrill who took 1st place in the 2014-15 Novel Mentorship competition with author Edith Hemmingway! Bravo to Ann Finkelstein (2nd place) and Magdalena Roddy (3rd place), and to everyone who took a risk and submitted their manuscripts.

Enjoy these photo memories and please help by answering the question about organizing notes at the bottom of this post. Thanks for sharing your pictures: Sandy Carlson, Jennifer Rumberger, Kirbi Fagan, Diana Magnuson, Ann Finkelstein, Rachel Anderson, Lori Yuhas, and Vicky Lorencen. We'll have reports and more photos from the many conference sessions in the coming weeks.

Plein air painting at the butterfly house was a huge hit. Thank you, Lori Eslick!

Sketch by Diana Magnuson

Traveling mates: Kathy Gilson, Heidi Sheffield, Lori Yuhas, and Jennifer Rumberger

Kirbi Fagan and Sandy Carlson.

Funtastic faculty!

Everyone came home with reams of notes from the informative and inspirational sessions. I have a stack of identical SCBWI folders from many years worth of conferences. I labeled some of them, Sept. 2010, etc. For awhile I remembered, oh yes that was the conference where I had a critique with editor Cheryl Klein, or that was the conference where the editor set off the fire alarm trying to steam the wrinkles out of his clothes. But it's not long before all the years blur together, and I have to sift through every folder and all the papers inside to find what I'm looking for. So, here's a question:

How do you organize all of this valuable material?

Please share your organization tips and strategies in the comments below, and stayed tuned for more conference reflections in the weeks ahead.

Happy reading!

Kristin Lenz

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: flashback photos from fun-filled conferences

Just for fun, I dug around in the SCBWI-MI archives. Presenting Throwback Thursday...

2011 fall conference on Mackinac Island. Ahhh... Sadly, I will not be packing my bags for the return trip to Mackinac this weekend, but here are some flashback photos from fun-filled conferences over the years.

Karaoke Queen: Catherine Bieberich. Ask her to sing Devo's Whip It, then watch her friends leap to the dance floor. (I'm not allowed to share those photos.)

That's me! Photo-op with a brilliant pink-haired author. Laini Taylor is my hero. (Her husband is pretty cool and talented, too.)

Notice the theme? It's always Halloween at SCBWI conferences. Yes, that's the same Monica Harris in all three pics. Along with Leslie Helakoski, Vicky Lorencen, Jody Lamb, and Sarah Perry. 

Ahem...  Add your own caption here. Ryan Hipp with Jay Asher and Julie Chase.
Remember when Tracy Bilen won the novel mentorship in 2008-2009? Her winning novel, What She Left Behind, was published in 2012 by Simon Pulse. Here's Tracy signing her newly published book with her mentor, Shutta Crum, at the book launch party!

The SCBWI-MI 2014 - 2015 mentorship winner will be announced at the fall conference on Mackinac Island this weekend.  See the full listing of previous mentors and mentorship recipients on the SCBWI-MI website.

I know there are more flashback gems hiding out there - send them to me at kristinbartleylenz AT gmail DOT com. Safe traveling to all the conference-goers, and take pictures!


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Illustrator Interview, Part 2: Mentorship Opportunities

It's almost time to announce the winner of the 2015 SCBWI-MI novel mentorship with author Edie Hemingway. The winner will be announced during the fall conference on Mackinac Island next weekend. Read on to learn more about the value of mentorships as we continue our interview with Heidi.

Part 2 of our Q and A with featured illustrator, Heidi Woodward Sheffield

You've participated in several mentorships. Can you tell us how they came about, who mentored you and what you learned from each?

The first was through SCBWI Michigan’s mentorship competition. My mentor, Kathleeen Hartung was especially hard-working—an attribute that I could really relate to. She was quite dedicated to creating artwork systematically. That was a stretch for me, but I worked hard and learned from the experience. I created one of my first book mockups with her.

My second mentorship was through SCBWI Nevada. During a fall Michigan conference, I was asked to shadow author Ellen Hopkins.  We got to talking and I showed her my artwork. She mentioned Nevada's mentorship program. “You should apply,” she said. “And you don’t have to be a resident.” I submitted a book dummy and some portfolio pieces. The application process was a blind one, where each applicant is awarded a number, to ensure no bias.

Some months later, I was surprised to learn that I’d been accepted. Teri Sloat was my mentor. When she expressed her enthusiasm for wanting to work with me, I felt truly touched. Through the six month mentorship, I polished a new manuscript and created a mockup for it. Teri taught me much about the writing process and how to interpret a story, adding depth with illustrations that heightened the manuscript. Just having this ongoing dialogue with an accomplished artist like Teri really helped me view myself as a professional. It gave me that extra oomph to approach my first agent, too.

My third and most recent mentorship was through SCBWI Nevada, as well. Once again, I went through process of applying. I’ll never forget the phone call from writer Heather Petty, who informed me of my acceptance. I would be working with Caldecott winner David Diaz. Talk about tears of happiness! And as if it couldn’t get any better, I would have a workshop and portfolio review with E.B. Lewis, as well. I worked diligently to improve my craft and really dug down deep. Six months later, I ended up with a more cohesive story style-wise. And I have some new illustrations that propel my story in a fresh way. I also have five other mentees whom I’ve grown close to. One of the best and most unexpected parts? David still keeps in touch with us to talk, share work, and keep our dreams going. I’m both stunned and amazed at this, since once a mentorship has ended, so is the mentor’s obligation to help. David continues to be more than generous.

Heidi with her mentor, David Diaz, and fellow mentees.

Pictured from right: David Diaz, Heidi Woodward Sheffield, Sidne Teske, Steven Roe, Lori Ann Levy-Holm, Kary Lee, Silvia Liu

As of late, David has encouraged our group to come up with our own self-promo pieces. It’s my goal to send out postcards on a regular basis this year. David suggested sending them every two months and to wrap some sort of theme around them. For instance, take the protagonist from your story and feature her doing something for that inspires that month, such as a holiday. Or have a series where each sample sent eventually completes an idea, so the art director's interest is piqued with every card. David stressed you can’t quit with just one or two cards. "Think of advertising and how many times it takes to get into people’s heads.  At one card, they might say, 'Heidi who?' With two cards, they might say, 'I kinda like that.' At three cards, they’re starting to remember your name. At four cards, they’re placing you a bit more. At 5, 6, and 7 cards they say, 'Oh, I remember this artist, Heidi. She does these cool collages…what project could I use her on?’"

What are you currently working on?
I am focusing on the picture book that I’d worked on with David. He’s encouraging me to keep the momentum going and complete this story. I am trying not to disappear down the rabbit hole quite yet with new picture book ideas. But it has helped to have other work bubbling. One piece is a nonfiction biography. I was incredibly moved by an interview on NPR which inspired the idea. I haven’t written non-fiction children’s writing before, so this is a new adventure. Feels fresh and wonderful.

What's up next?
After considerable thought, I’ve decided to go the indie publishing route for my picture book, ABC Zoo. At a portfolio review with illustrator Henry Cole, he suggested making an ABC book, based on some animal illustrations of mine for use as a portfolio piece. I have not approached traditional publishers with it, as I’ve heard there’s little interest in ABC books. My agent at the time also thought it would make a good indie piece. The time seems right, with various places like Kirkus, Writer’s Digest, and SCBWI, now recognizing indie work.

It feels like I’ve vetted it and pursued the proper venues. I’ve shown it to various published illustrators for feedback. The talented poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich (who most recently created Grumbles from the Forest with Jane Yolen), edited the manuscript for me, so I think my ABC book is finally ready. I’ll probably begin with 1,000 copies or so and go from there. David Diaz suggested doing an online book first (that way you don’t end up with a garage full of books), but he understood my need to have a physical book for school visits. Whenever I do a school visit, folks seem crestfallen that I have no books to buy. I figure if ABC Zoo helps get my illustrations out there, builds a following for my other stories, and gets my books into little hands, then I’ll be happy. 

We're happy for you, too, Heidi!  Thanks again for creating The Mitten banner and taking the time to answer our questions.

To learn more about these mentorship opportunities, go here:

Thinking of applying for a mentorship? Read Heidi's artist statement for the SCBWI Nevada Mentorship on our Featured Illustrator page.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Illustrator Interview: Heidi Woodward Sheffield

Thank you Heidi Woodward Sheffield for creating the first banner for our blog! We'll feature a new illustrator every three months, but this is Heidi's moment to shine. Read on to learn more about her artwork and career.

Q and A with Heidi Woodward Sheffield

Tell us about the banner you've created. How and why did this piece come about?
This pup was originally created for the Ann Arbor District Library’s “Born to Read” program and earned ALA recognition. This CD of songs and stories was given out to new moms. The idea came about when I was looking at an old button one day. As I gazed at it, the distressed texture, hair and face looked to me like a much-loved puppy.

How long have you been illustrating and how did you get started?
I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon, somewhere around two or three years old. I loved using bright beautiful colors, which is ironic as black was one of my favorite crayons to use. They just ran out faster than others. As a kid, I always wondered why there weren't two to a box. Drawing has always been something that I didn’t just like doing. I needed to do it, every day. I have a degree in art, but I wasn’t taught how to create. I was just born that way.

After earning a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan, I attended College for Creative Studies, where I'd hoped to study illustration. Little did I know they were transitioning illustration out of their program (cut to 2014, where it’s been added back in). At the time, many teachers told me illustration was a dead art. One instructor felt a little sheepish and researched things for me. The only program he came up with for studying children’s book illustration was in Switzerland, at the time! (Yes, it was long ago.) So when the same instructors introduced advertising and design to me and said I’d make a great art director or copywriter, I went with it. “I’ll pursue illustration after I build up a nest egg and have children,” I thought. (Ha! I had no idea the path was so difficult and circuitous!) Around 2004 I began pursuing illustration full-timewith a series of posters for the Ann Arbor Book Festival. The Ann Arbor District library contacted me about creating work for them. Many of these illustrations were recognized by the ALA. They became springboards for picture book ideas.

What are some of the things you learned in your advertising work? Has this informed your children's writing and illustrating in any way?

You can’t work in advertising unless you can tell a good story. Ads are emotional. Great ads are elegant in their simplicity without being simple. With copywriting, I learned to use each word. Wisely! You also throw proper grammar out the window. You learn to write in sentence fragments, because that’s the way people think and speak. Another thing you do as an art director and copywriter is pitching ideas to the client. Tell them the story, get them to identify with it, and make it their own. Other things? You learn to fly by the seat of your pants, follow deadlines—“be creative” at the drop of a hat, and trust your instincts. That experience directly translated to elevator pitches in publishing and cold calls at conferences. It helped me introduce myself to various editors, art directors, and agents. That’s how I got my first agent. I was amazed with one of his talks at SCBWI NY. Afterwards, I introduced myself and thanked him. I kept it very brief, gave him one of my illustration postcards with a few words about how his speech had resonated with me. Within two weeks he offered me a contract.

What is the one thing in your studio you couldn't live without? What are your favorite tools?  What mediums do you work in? The one thing I can’t live without is a window. Something about looking out, beyond yourself, when you’ve spent the whole morning looking inward. Favorite tools? Plain white 8.5 x 11 paper for storyboarding and Uniball Deluxe Micro pens. The pens are hard to find, but nothing feels so right to draw with.

I love thumbnails—the fastness, the fluidity, the looseness of them. Keeps you limber and your thoughts flowing. It’s something from my advertising days. More often than not, I take the thumbnail and blow it up to create final art. If your art (and concept) can hold up as a postage stamp size, it’ll be good as a larger piece, too. Blowing up the thumbnail to use in the final helps maintain the vigor and freshness in the final piece.

Other tools? Gouache paint, water-soluble oils, Photoshop, a 8.5x11-inch wacom tablet, plus a Canon Digital Rebel for creating collages. And a crazy huge monitor. I use my camera a lot, but don’t consider myself a photographer. I use the Rebel over other cameras because it takes photos in real time with no shutter lag. That’s especially important when taking reference pictures of children. I’ve taken literally thousands of texture pictures, which often inspire different stories from the get-go. I must have been a bowerbird in another life, for my studio is chock full of bright and shiny things, buttons, and old stuff in general. I like to think about the person who lived with that item. What their lives where like. I also surround myself with hand-stitched embroidery from various cultures, old paper, books, textiles and vintage clothes. My new office mate Buster Brown, (a Boston terrier) helps keep things real.

When you're absolutely stuck, where do you turn for inspiration?
It’s unusual for me to get stuck art-wise. I’d say the writing side is sometimes a bit stickier.

I have a tiny 2-inch x 2-inch photo of my family when I was five. Looking at it immediately transports me to a simpler time. I read quotes taped to the bottom of my computer: “Without fear, there cannot be courage,”—Aragon,  “Do not let great ambitions overshadow small success,”—fortune cookie wrapper, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit,”—Richard Bach.

If I’m having a hard time letting my guard down and getting into the nitty gritty of an emotionally-filled piece, I listen to the blues. There’s something about the raw power of human emotion. I might listen to introspective tunes like “Help Me,” by Johnny Cash, “Let it Be,” and “The Long and Winding Road,”  by Paul McCartney. When I’ve chosen a direction to pursue art wise, I celebrate and amp up the volume listening to vintage Beetles, stuff like “Hard Day’s Night.” It helps keep my art loose and organic and keeps me moving forward, rather than nit picking details. And the experience becomes extra sweet, living in the moment. The art becomes truly organic, taking on a life of it’s own. There’s always something that surprises me.

Other things for inspiration? My seven-year-old daughter Lauren. She’s a whimsical little pixie and she inspires many sketchbook ideas. I go to the museum. Or visit online museums. I look at closeups of brushstrokes. Something about feels immediate, intimate, like the artist and I are present, together. The brushstrokes themselves feel private, like a secret that the artist is sharing with me. Sometimes I call my good friend Charlie. His enthusiasm inspires me. He makes me feel like I’m standing on my head and all the ideas come rushing down. We take cameras and go shoot stuff. Mostly pictures of the ground. We get lots of strange looks. But it’s worth it! Try it sometime. Look down. There’s a world in the granite you stand on.

A huge thanks to Heidi for creating our first blog banner and participating in our first Illustrator Interview!
Heidi created this image for t-shirts and book bags for the SCBWI Nevada Mentorship program. Come back tomorrow for part 2 of Heidi's interview and learn about her mentorships - maybe one of them will be a good fit for you, too. In the meantime, learn more at