This is my journey in creating concepts, writing, illustrating, finding a literary agent, and becoming a published children's book author and illustrator for the picture book genre.

Monday, October 14, 2013

the conference experience...

Wow. As you all know, I have been hard at work putting pieces together and creating a portfolio that holds true to my vision as an artist and my passions in children's literature. At 11pm on Friday evening, I caved into the idea that I could no longer improve on all that I aimed to achieve. I asked that question over and over, "am I putting out my best work"? It would be my best work until the conference. Art has an ability to expose vulnerability. As proud as I was to have this opportunity to show what I could achieve, was I ready for the repercussions of this giant leap into the critiquing abyss?  Does it sound scary to you? Well, it was more frightening than any Japanese horror movie to me.
The drive to Alabama started off at the very early time of 5am. It was dark, cold, and a foreboding mist would intermittently creep it's hazy gloom onto the unlit highway. Ever see that movie " The Mist"?? I had made a plan to drive over giant bugs with force befitting of my highlander. Daylight began to shine over the horizon as I made my way to the Alabama border.I made my plea to the road trip universe for a Starbucks to manifest from one of the side roads. "Dear GPS", I began, "please lead me to that which I so desperately crave!!!!" The glorious green mermaid presented herself behind tall trees lining the haunted highway. With haste at the speed required by law, I turned into the coffee shop. My clock read "7:30". My eyes stung with lack of of sleep. As I entered the shop, the barristas greeted me with chipper pleasantries.
"What would you like to order this morning?", sh inquired.
"Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, please" What an adventurous drink for an adventurous road trip. While waiting on my beverage, I commented on the hour. She corrected me and stated the hour was 6:30.
Dear heavens. Was there a time change? Seriously? Lovely. I could have slept just a bit longer. Now that coffee was in hand, facebook was updated, and pandora began it's music playlist.  I headed onward to the conference...and hour and half earlier than intended.
The conference was at a high school. It was about the size of a private university. I found my way to a set of doors. Inside, there was an area where lethargic teenagers gathered with solemn faces. They sat staring at their backpacks and cell phones with expressions of frustration and dutiful acceptance.  Further down the hall was a table and a man in casual attire with a clipboard. My first thought was that this could be the registration area and I was just very early.
After conversing with him, he shared that this was a group of teens destined for a day of Saturday detention. I began to look for a trench coated Matt Dillon. His teenage angst and verbal rebellion were no where to be found. No breakfast club here.
After pacing the locker lined hallways, I finally found the registration table. I was supposed to help man that station as a greeter and registration packet distributor. Well, that didn't happen. The table was well manned by those who have done this before. I was thanked for my contribution (of nothing) and directed to the coffee. Yes, I love coffee.
I sat up my portfolio up at a table full of portfolios and illustrators. When directed to the table, I was informed that I am part of the rockstar elite. Well, elite was true. Illustrators were few and far between. Out of the couple hundred in attendance, Maybe 20 or less were illustrators. My classes were for the PB illustrator and  authors. Majority of attendees seemed to be for the middle school and YA genres. My first class was from a published author illustrator. She offered information to make your story POP! Yes, there is a formula and she had a written down into checklists. She shared with us her successes and her failures. In her power point, she demonstrated the importance of detail. How details define your character. Importance of the conflict was paramount, but you need boundaries to keep it age appropriate. My second and third classes where more about presenting in the schools and marketing illustration. My fourth was the class that made the most amount of impact. The teacher inspired me. Finally, an illustration class where sketching occurred. How I love to sketch. I do ! I love it. It is like painting with a pencil.. It was a well organized class with handouts, examples, take home activities, and more. He began the presentation with his inspirations. I am very passionate about my inspirations. It was a door into his artistic soul. He was conveying the very same thing that my fears faced in preparation of my portfolio. He put his vulnerability out there for all of us to witness. We were able to know him, his adventures, and his passions. This man was a person who loved what he did. Instead of continuing to lecture, the class became interactive. Sketching began to happen. In a 5 minute time, life would imitate art and art would convey a vision. Some drew literally, some drew abstractly, I sketched where my imagination took me. My first sketch was that of a caffeinated mad scientist (coffee on the brain). My second was that of a scaredy cat: a cat with arachnophobia. The class ended and I smiled and made my way to the auditorium.
I am not going to bore you as I was bored at this time. Oh yes, introductions, thank you's, awards, and recognition for this, that, and everything else.It was an hour long...Grrrrrr.
I had a formal critique at 4pm. Needles to say, SCBWI southern chapter did not plan this well. I was shorted my time and interrupted during my critique so they could talk with Mr. critiquer about something that could have waited. At exactly 15 minutes after, they told him he had to stop. I had maybe 10 minutes with him.  Mind you, those 10 minutes made all the difference in my world. He was another eye, 30 years of experience, and gave me the guidance to make the next step to improving on what I have to be to become  more marketable. He asked me to attend the Georgia conference. He strongly encouraged it. Did I mention that he extended the offer for me to email a piece for him to look at it? that was above and beyond. I appreciated it immensely. I now understand my next game plan for paving my way to becoming more than aspiring.
What I took away from this event was far more than I had expected. It was an emotional roller coaster as I confronted fears, demons, and ego head on.
Will I attend this conference again? Well, honestly I just don't know. The illustrator track wasn't what I had hoped for, but it met other expectations without boundary. It was worth the time and financial commitment. It was worth the stress and emotional ups and downs. The Atlanta one in March has a 2 day illustrator track, from what I understand. The list of agents and publishers in attendance seems to go on for days. Scholastic will be there accepting admissions. This conference had a nice list of agencies and publishers looking for submissions. Attending a conference allows you to get your work seen without the fretted free fall into the slosh pile. It is worth the work and you learn from others who have been successful. One conference down. I am excited to use these new tools I have learned and create a better product. Manuscript and art this week!!!! Let's start another journey on the road from aspiring to published!
As always,
Aspiring Children's Book Author and Illustrator- Cassaundra Dunbridge

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