NOTE: The Avalon Full Manuscript Critique Writing Retreat will be held on Sept. 27- 30 and Oct. 1 – 4. If you are interested in attending, please let me know and I will put you on the list and send you more information within the next month. Both sessions are small with two industry professionals and only 9-10 writers, so space is limited.
A while back Sylvia Liu told me about the SCBWI Mentoring Program she attended in Nevada and ask if I would be interested in her sharing her experience with everyone on my blog. Of course, I said, “Yes.” The mentor programs is open for applications now, but I will let Sylvia give us the lowdown. Below is one of Sylvia’s illustrations she developed during that Mentoring Program.
My Experience with the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program
By Sylvia Liu
Authors and illustrators: let me give you some advice. Run, don’t walk, to apply for the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, now open to applications until June 15, 2015.
A year and a half ago, I participated in this program, and it was one of the best things I’ve done for my development as an illustrator. Every couple of years, the Nevada SCBWI runs a six month mentorship program for about 25 writers and illustrators. Each person is paired with an established author, editor, or illustrator mentor to work with for six months. The program opens and ends with in-person conferences in Nevada. It is open to any SCBWI member worldwide, with some preference given to Nevada region members.
Participants on the writing track work on a full-length novel or three picture book manuscripts. Those on the illustration track work on their portfolio. Here’s a recap of my experience.
Assignment of Mentor and First Conference
I did the illustration track and was assigned to Caldecott winner David Diaz as my mentor. The other illustration mentor was E.B. Lewis. Each of them had three illustration mentees, and the rest of the Nevada program was composed of writers and their mentors.
We kicked off the program October 2013, at The Fallen Leaf Retreat, near Reno, Nevada. How can you not be inspired at a place like this:
The conference was the Nevada SCBWI regional conference, with a day added for the mentor program.
• The Illustration Track. The illustrators met individually with our mentors, and we also met as a group for a portfolio review with both E.B. Lewis and David Diaz. Listening to their feedback was amazing.
E.B. Lewis also gave a workshop on setting up and taking photo references for illustrations. [insert Reference photo shoot.pg]
David Diaz taught us his Photoshop tips and tricks.
• Writing Tips. I took full advantage of the writing parts of the conference, taking part in small writing critique groups and learning from industry heavy weights (editors, agents, and authors). Agent Sarah Davies spent the weekend and provided excellent insights.
I blogged in more detail about this conference: Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program: An Illustrator’s and Writer’s Dream.
Six Months of Hard Work
After the thrill of the conference and meeting fellow creatives, the hard work began. David Diaz created a Facebook group for the three illustrators he mentored, and we met regularly via Google Hangouts. He worked with each of us and tailored assignments to our individual needs and goals.
My goals were to develop a more cohesive style and improve my portfolio. When I began, my portfolio was a mishmash of styles. For example, I had moody digital pieces like this:
And colorful acrylic pieces like this:
David had me develop my characters and explore different approaches. In a period of a couple of months, I redid an illustration of a girl meeting the giant raven at least six different times, in completely different styles and media.
These were some of the various attempts, which included pencil, digital, linocut, acrylics, and water colors.
My most successful illustration from that series was one that didn’t even include the raven.
It turns out that six months is not all that long in an illustrator’s life. I continued to explore and develop my style after the mentorship, but it was that period of exploration and feedback that jumped started a lot of growth. My portfolio now includes pieces that have a more identifiable style:
• Closing Retreat
The closing retreat was an intimate affair- it included the 10 mentors, 24 mentees, and an invited agent, Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. We stayed at St. Mary’s Art and Retreat Center, an old (haunted) house in Virginia City, Nevada that also housed artists in residence. Meals were casual gatherings in the kitchen and we met with our mentors, the agent, and attended workshops.
Some highlights from that weekend:
• Portfolio review. Seeing how each of us developed over the six months was extremely gratifying. David Diaz reviewing fellow illustrator Heidi Woodward Sheffield’s work:
• Agent feedback. Each of the mentor groups met with Kathleen Rushall who gave feedback on our works in progress, whether it was a picture book manuscript, dummy, or portfolio. Kathleen Rushall reviewing Sidne Teske’s pastel paintings:
• Bonding time. The best thing that came out of the mentorship program was our group of illustrators became great friends. We continue to meet on Google Hangouts almost a year after the program ended. We share and critique each others’ works and keep up with each other. The illustrators in our group who still meet are Heidi Woodward Sheffield, Sidne Teske, Lori Ann Levy-Holm, Kary Lee, and me.
So there you have it: six months of tremendous creativity and community that continues today. I was so lucky to have David Diaz as my mentor, as he continues to stay in touch, and has invited me to join events that he puts together for the SCBWI Illustration Mentor Program, the national SCBWI program he runs.
SYLVIA LIU is a former environmental attorney turned writer-illustrator. She won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices award and her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, is scheduled for publication (to be illustrated by Christina Forshay). She is inspired by aliens, cephalopods, bunnies, and pigs who want to fly. Her portfolio is: http://www.enjoyingplanetearth.com, she blogs at: http://www.sylvialiuland.com and she helps run the kid lit resource website http://www.kidlit411.com.
Thank you Sylvia. Sounds like an amazing experience. SCBWI members should check to see what programs are being run in their area.