Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 16, 2015

The Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program

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.

kite flyers

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.

Fallen Leaf lake

Fallen Leaf Lake

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.

Some highlights:

• 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]

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:

Nail forest

And colorful acrylic pieces like this:

Penguin balloon

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.

Raven compile 2

My most successful illustration from that series was one that didn’t even include the raven.

crooked tree

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:

Pirate parrots

shoe town

• 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:

Diaz portfolio review

• 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:

Sidne Teske

• 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:, she blogs at: and she helps run the kid lit resource website

Thank you Sylvia. Sounds like an amazing experience. SCBWI members should check to see what programs are being run in their area.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Sounds amazing! Thank you for letting us know about it.


  2. Having been an illustration mentor for their first program, I can tell you too how VERY special this op is…the two meetings out there, and year of conferencing and building is wonderful for all.


    • I was amazed by the caliber of the mentors, and it sounds like every year Ellen Hopkins, Heather Petty, and the other organizers do a fantastic job.


  3. Sylvia, your work is so beautiful. I’m thrilled you had this opportunity. This line is perfect: “It turns out that six months is not all that long in an illustrator’s life.” HA! Indeed, nor for any artist. But look how much you accomplished. 🙂


    • Yes, isn’t that so true? Thanks, Renee.


  4. So happy to relive the experience through your words!


    • And I’m so glad we got to hang out in person and share this journey together.


  5. Loved hearing more about you, Sylvia. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your artwork. You are one talented lady. 🙂


  6. This was such an amazing glimpse into your experience, Sylvia. Such beautiful work! I am definitely interested in more nformation about thisas a writer.


    • Look at my comment below with the application link. The writers in the program had a great experience. It is actually more geared to writing.


  7. The link wasn’t posted, but you can find the application for the program here: and it is open to all SCBWI members, not just the Nevada region.


  8. What a terrific post about the Nevada Mentorship Program! Sylvia makes it incredibly tempting to apply. I wish I had the time/funds to do it this year. It’s definitely something to think about for the future. Thank you!


    • One day you should apply, Teresa. One of the best programs out there.


  9. Wow, Sylvia – I can totally see how your work has grown!! What great portfolio pieces! Thank you for sharing all about the mentorship program. Your recap and insight relays concrete evidence on how this program is so valuable.


  10. I love your illustrations!!! Nevada is a bridge too far for me, but it sounds wonderful.


  11. I love your ravens, Sylvia–they’re so adorable, as are the pirate parrots 🙂

    I’d love to someday apply for this.Glad it was so helpful to you!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: