Sunday, February 10, 2013

SCBWI New York Conference 2013

I was sitting on a train headed from New York City to Boston with a woman who knew exactly where she needed to be but had no idea how to get there. She didn't speak much English, which wouldn't help when the train attendant asked for a ticket or a photo ID. "Ticket or ID please." "I don't have one, you already took it," the woman replied in much more broken English than I convey here. "Unless I see your ID or ticket, I have no idea who you are and I can't let you stay on this train." "But..." The heated, back and forth conversation persisted for nearly 3 minutes before the attendant finally asked her to clarify, "Well, where are you going?" To which she replied, "New York." The attendant shook her head. "We just passed New York and we were sitting there for 15 minutes! You have to get off at the next stop and go back." Completely stupefied, the woman stared at the attendant with her bottom eyelids and jaw hanging down.

And this moment of extreme clarity is a great analogy to the way I feel after attending the SCBWI conference in New York.

To rewind a bit, I arrived in NYC on a Friday afternoon. I didn't participate in the illustrator intensives, though I have always wanted to. Instead, we ventured to the Flatiron Building to meet some new friends and visit some old ones! 

The elevator of the Flatiron Building was so beautiful I couldn't resist taking a picture of it, though there was no escaping a selfie in this well mirrored machine: 

I had a great time meeting Noa Wheeler, Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and Colleen AF Venable at First Second Books. There's so much to love about rooms spilling over with books and chatting about them with people who adore them enough to alphabetize. A million thanks to both of you for making me feel so welcome. 

Afterward, it was back to the Grand Hyatt to explore all the hubbub that was the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Station! My most favorite part of the whole terminal was the Market. We waded through gobs of people at rush hour and spied piles and piles of color in every direction. My friend, Kate and I decided that if we walked through Grand Central Terminal every day on the way home from work, we would be broke.  

Aside from all the sillies, colors, and adventuring... the conference, itself, was inspiring as usual. A few of my highlights will do better in list form:

-I finally met Giuseppe Castellano, Art Director from Penguin US, in person! (I wish I grabbed a picture!) Giuseppe has been tweeting useful art tips and publishing advice, check it out!

-Molly O'Neill, Editor at HarperCollins Children's Books, gave a really smart, insightful presentation as to what kind of projects she's looking to add to her list:

-It was also a joy to speak with Kate Fletcher, Editor at Candlewick Press. Her presentation focused a little more on the visual side of what she looks for, and as an illustrator, it was helpful to see. I live 3 minutes away from Candlewick Press, so it's ironic to me that I would get to meet someone in NYC who normally is so close in Somerville! 

-I got to spend time with many of my kidlit art friends! I regret not taking more pictures, but I do have more in my Facebook Album. L to R: Me, Kelly Light, Courtney Pippen-Mathur, and Heidi Stemple:

-I met and heard Tomie dePaola speak...twice. I learned he is the reason for the "I" in SCBWI, to which I am forever grateful. Here he is speaking at the Illustrator's Social:

-I got reintroduced (mostly from my seat) to the team at SCBWI who collectively run the whole event, plus the blog, grants, website, twitter, bi-monthly bulletin, and more. Here is Lee Wind directing a massive crowd wave to celebrate our hashtag (#ny13scbwi) trending on Twitter:

-I also got some invaluable time in with my hotel roomie, great writer, friend, professional cab hailer (*see below), and also my coworker at FableVision, Kate Cotter. My proudest accomplishment of the whole trip was introducing her to this brilliant community of writers and illustrators. I just knew she would feel the embrace that I felt at last year's conference, and it would inspire her to keep pursuing her dreams. She hates this picture, but I love it because she is so confident and doesn't even realize (do you see the metaphor here?):

It would take a really long time for me to describe all the presentations and feelings I felt. I think that SCBWI Team Blog did a really great job of recapping the events so I highly recommend skimming through the posts.

My way of taking notes is to doodle. I don't document everything that is said, but with every curl of my line I'm recording an emotion.

In some cases, I took inspiration from an event.When I got off the train at Penn Station, there was a man yelling "More cats, more cats..." To which I internally replied, "Ok."

And this drawing came out of what I took to be the most important bit of advice from Magaret Peterson Haddix: "Plot."

When I got home, I laid all of my collected postcards out on the table, stood on a chair, and snapped a photo. I met most of these talented folks (that's a lot of folks!), some for the first time, some the second or third. It makes me feel great to know that all of these people (and more) are just like me:

To get back to my story of the woman on the train: 
It may be a bit vague how it relates to my experience at the conference, but let me explain. When you attend a conference, you know you're going to leave feeling inspired, that's a given. Everyone can take the information they receive and filter it in their own way. I like to use the conference as a means to pull back - to recognize that I might be overdoing it here and there. 

And it's when that *extreme moment of clarity hits me like a brick, the moment that sends a knowing tingle up my spine, that I know I'll be rerouted to the right track. It sure is not a bad thing, it's just someone (or in this case, a large group of people) helping to steer me towards the correct path. 

And I will gett off this train, wait for the next, and continue to do this dance for as long as it takes...because I love what I do. 

Thanks for reading this far, and hope to see you again soon! 


*You've almost got it, but you're going the wrong way! 


  1. I really relate to your experience, (except I took the bus from South Station instead of the train this year!) Thanks for showing of your postcard stash! I love seeing my giraffe paper-toy creation looking back at me at the end of your post!

  2. Very inspiring post. I've been so afraid to attend the "BIG" conferences because I never feel my work is good enough, you said at the very end of your post *You've almost got it, but you're going the wrong way!" The more I work, the more I sketch the more I feel like I am getting a little bit closer...I am just waiting for the nagging voice of doubt to go away.

  3. Renée, you are just darling! Loved seeing your conference notes and reading your thoughts on NY. I would love to go to a big conference someday, and hopefully see you there! xoxo

  4. Great post Renée! Thanks for sharing your unique conference experience. I especially love your sketch-notes!

  5. What a wonderful post, Renee. Thank you so much for sharing! It's been several years since I went to NY, but your post reminded me that I'm on track to return before long. And congrats on signing up for NE, hope to meet you in person for the first time there!

  6. Hey Renee Thanks for the post about the conference. I never ran into you but we must have been in the same room at times. The illustrator intensive was amazing.

  7. Thank you for sharing your conference experience. So lovely for those of us who couldn't make it across the ocean!

  8. You're the sweetest. I'm so glad even though we literally didn't ride the train together, we both are on the right train together.

    And I will add that one of the funniest moments happened over risotto and wine and me talking loudly about my ass--won't forget that for a long time.
    kiss, kiss.

  9. Thanks so much everyone, I'm glad you enjoyed the post! I could have gone on and on and on... it was fantastic.

    Sam - it was great meeting you! Your postcard totally stands out, I love giraffes :D

    Jenn - it's not about the work as much as it is meeting people and connecting, that is one thing I've learned! You should try to go if you can!

    Nina - I can't wait to meet you in person at the NE conference! I hear the regional conferences are a more personal, less intense experience.

    Melinda- Hehe, thanks! I have other notes too but they always end up as doodles!

    Gina - I can't wait!

    Sherry - Someday I will attend the illustrator intensive...I'm glad you liked it!

    Candy - hopefully someday you'll be able to come! I hear the LA conference is great too and it's in a much more reliable season ;)

    Kate - You always have such a poetic way of putting things. <3 I had a great time with you in NYC!