PAT CUMMINGS SUPER CHILDREN’S BOOK BOOT CAMP
at HIGHLIGHTS FOUNDATION in the Pocono Mountains by Patricia Keeler
Camp counselors Pat Cummings, Denise Fleming, Greg Pizzoli, Peter Brown in center. I am on Peter Brown’s left, with Alison Myers far left, Martha Rago far right. Campers include Tom Bartlett, Sheryl Haft, Lori Ann Levy-Holm, Lynne Moerder, Carolyn Dee Flores, Liz Hall, Aram Kim, Sunny Lee, Nancy Meyers, Ruth Paul, Sheli Petersen, Wendy Sherrill, Juliette Watts, Tia Yao, Lina Maslo, Robin Rosenthal, Taia Morley, Akiko White and Renee Zulawnik.
I lay on my back in The Barn loft, sandwiched between the rain hitting the roof and the voices of Pat Cummings, Denise Fleming, Greg Pizzoli, and Peter Brown drifting up from below. I was thinking whenever I feel disheartened about developing picture books, I should come back to this moment, as I am completely happy.
I’m in the Pocono Mountains at Pat Cummings’ Super Children’s Book Boot Camp because I have created a picture book dummy that needs help. My idea is fine, fine, fine, but the dummy needs work. I came to see what the creative minds of today’s children’s book industry could do to help me develop my book.
Twenty of us campers were divided into four groups and spend 1/2 hour each discussing our dummies with a camp counselor. The author/illustrators came from a variety of states including Texas, Indiana, South Carolina, and from Wellington, New Zealand.
After lunch we spent 15 minutes with the other camp counselors individually. The next day we present our dummies to Martha Rago, (Creative Director, Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group) Nancy Paulsen, (President & Publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Books USA) and Rubin Pfeffer, (Agent, Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC).
I expected to have my work edited. I hoped to be told what wasn’t working. There were a lot of helpful suggestions. But the difference between good editing and great editing I found at the boot camp were the suggestions about widening my thinking, not narrowing my focus.
I begin illustrating a picture book text by determining the trim size. I design within that page spread. It was suggested that I take a large sheet of paper and cover the paper with what I imagine is happening. Then I isolate the page spread within that sheet of art.
Make a map. The map doesn’t need to be used in the picture book. If I know where my character is going, I know where my story is going.
I always use a watercolor brush, and it was suggested to try new mediums like PanPastels. I’d be going brush-free, as they are applied with sponges or a painting knife.
I expected my vision to be narrowed. Instead it was widened. I had been focusing on creating within limits I have set.
Saturday night Peter Brown shredded cereal boxes and broke up sticks to build an outdoor fire. But things didn’t get hot until Ruth Paul, from a farm in New Zealand, showed her Girl Scout abilities. Martha Rago told of her early days when she was pasting down a board book by Marc Simont and paused to look out her window over Central Park thinking how lucky she was to be in this industry. Other stories, silly and sad, that should only be shared with wine under mountain stars, made everyone’s experiences in the children’s book industry feel connected.
Trading stories with an editor, art director, agent and Caldecott winners, also opens me up as an author/illustrator. When I feel intimidated by the work of others, my work becomes conservative. When I remember everybody struggles, and everybody wants to help, I take creative leaps.
Pat Cummings Super Children’s Boot Camp at Highlights Foundation is a four day workshop designed for author and illustrator campers with a picture book project. The Boot Camp takes place at Highlights retreat center, 10 miles from Honesdale, PA. Beside a stream and hiking trail, is the Founders’ farmhouse. Further up the hill are twenty-one cabins, a lodge, and a 5,200-square-foot conference center known as The Barn where we meet and eat.
One dinner I went to the grill and found Kent Brown, Executive Director of Highlights. With a grin, he asked me how I liked my burger? There is a 24 hour ice cream bar–both scoop and stick. And there are fresh-baked frosted ricotta cookies I thought only my grandma had the recipe for. Usually ‘develop a picture book’ and ‘get pampered’ don’t go together, but with Alison Myers, Coordinator of Highlights Events, it does.
Denise Fleming demonstrating how to share a picture book through movement with a group of young children.
On the last day, braving bears and ticks, I hiked to the stream and listened to the water cascade around me. The critiques on my picture book dummy sorted themselves and took direction. I knew what to do. The hardest part was leaving.
To learn more about Pat Cummings’ Boot Camp or other Highlights workshops visit www.highlightsfoundation.org or follow them on Twitter @highlightsfound. Connect with Pat Cummings at www.patcummings.com or follow her @PatCummingsBook or facebook.com/PatCummingsBooks.
Patricia Keeler is the author/illustrator of LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL, (Sky Pony Press), due out Spring 2017. Patricia is represented by the Liza Royce Agency. Connect with her on Facebook at facebook.com/patricia.keeler.12 or visit www.patriciakeeler-author-illustrator.com.
Thank you Patricia for sharing your experience with all of us. I have many people ask me about the workshops that Highlight offers, so I know this will help.