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.


  1. Super interview, Heidi. I loved the part about sending themed postcards to art director. What a great tip for our illustrators. You are a perfect example of putting action to dreams. Go, girl!

    1. So glad it resonated with you, Carrie! Yes, trying to lasso those dreams. Round 'em up...

  2. Really enjoyed reading the interview!

  3. Great interview, Heidi. I can attest to the amazing mentorship we just went through with David Diaz and am so glad that we continue to work together. You are an inspiration, Heidi.

  4. Sylvia, it's been so great working with you. Isn't it an amazing trail we've been blazing with David? Looking forward to the NY conference in Feb!