Ha, I knew it. Filthy. Every last one of you. But as long as you’re here, let me tell you about the NUDITY FREE workshop I attended Saturday.
The AZ chapter of SCBWI did indeed bring in Dan Santat www.dantat.com for an all day art intensive. Yes, yes I know what you’re thinking, “Laura, sitting still for an entire DAY?” I will admit, and the folks sitting next to and behind me will attest, that my pants were indeed full of ants by about two o’clock, but the day was was well worth it. Dan brought an entire art studio with him and proceeded to bare his process and technique souls for all of us. The first couple of hours provided a thorough and concise synopsis of my entire Freshman Foundation year of art school, and left me really wishing I could have just read Dan’s packet and kept the tuition. He shared dummies, sketches, a traditional painting tutorial AND a Photoshop tutorial, which as a new digital convert had me riveted. It was capped off by Dan removing his shirt (he had another on underneath-you PEOPLE) and scanning the pattern in to demonstrate a computer collage technique. If you attend enough of these events, you become used to the jaded and the condescending. These were not Dan. He LITERALLY gave the shirt off his back.
I am currently in the early stages of a career reinvention. These things happen to us forty-somethings, but rather than start knitting hemp butter churns and selling them on Etsy, I’m trying to work up the cred to sit at the writer table in the lunchroom, and also bring my illustration style more in line with this writing since as you might have noticed, me likey the funny. I mean, I have a “hamsters with props” calendar for cryin’ out loud. For the workshop, Dan had us copy an illustration by an illustrator we admire and for me that illustrator was the amusing and giggle-inducing Mary Sullivan www.marysullivan.com The wittiness of her work cracks me up every time. Go ahead, go look, I’ll wait…da, da, da dumdee do dum…See! What did I tell you.
Anyway, Mary has no worries about me plagiarizing. My copy was superficially accurate (-ish) but missing all of the spontaneous joy that makes her work hers. The second part of the assignment was to do another illustration INSPIRED by the illustrator you chose, and this sketch to the right is what I ended up with. You can see a little of Mary in the arms and of course the squiggly line border (I am stealing the squiggly line border, that I can do, if I measure first, and make sure it’s straight, and go back over it a few times…) I was snickering to myself while I drew it (partly because it is semi-autobiographical. I’m not sure my sister would find it as amusing.) It was FUN. That for me was the biggest message of Dan’s workshop.The work may be frustrating at times, but you should still be having fun.
I have a secret. It is not one I share often, especially with young impressionable minds. Mine is a secret so shameful I can hardly speak the words, but I feel I must share it now, so that all that comes after will seem wondrous. As a young child, I was a…a… a QUITTER.
There. I’ve said it. Whew. That’s right, I was a quitter. It started innocently enough. The year was 1976, and my elementary school was in a fervor of patriotic extra-curricular activities. I somehow found myself elected to the Bicentennial Club, an organization much like Student Council, but devoted to the reporting of aforementioned patriotic activities. I think I attended two, maybe three meetings. Even the requisite small notepad with spiral bound top, something that said, “I have important things to say, so sit down and shut up,” could not hold my interest. My blowing off of that post was clearly forgotten a couple of years later when I was elected to the real Student Council. One meeting, tops. Church choir, quit. Clarinet, quit. Piano, well, I WANTED to quit, but by that point my parents were pretty sure they were raising a future deadbeat and so I was force-marched to lessons.
I blame the fact that every group, every organized activity interfered with recess. And if there was one favorite time of day for me, it was recess. I had no interest in athletic activities (had I ever actually begun such a thing I can assure you it would have ended with a major quit). Four square and dodge ball were the banes of my existence, but my friends and I whiled away hours and hours with on-going action-adventure sagas. With a nod to the Little House on the Prairie style of dramatic storytelling, it was one continuous blizzard/scarlet fever outbreak, blizzard/starvation or blizzard/mountain rescue for the better part of first through fourth grade. I had no time for plodding meetings. Besides, if one was late arriving at the recess rendezvous point, one got stuck in the role of the dog.
As a recent grown-up, I can no longer avoid group activities, but still find myself glancing at the clock as my rear-end goes numb and trying to remember why exactly I signed up for eight hundred million hours in a metal folding chair. I am still not a joiner, so it was with no small measure of trepidation that I committed myself to National Picture Book Writers Week or NaPiBoWriWee, begun three years ago by author Paula Yoo (www.paulayoo.com) as a way to help children’s book writers of all levels achieve that most difficult of tasks: beginning. Participants are asked to write seven picture book manuscripts in seven days, and no, it is not that easy to write picture books. These are meant to be horrible, awful, embarrassingly crappy first drafts, not suitable for public consumption, but again, a beginning, words on a blank page, something to build on for the rest of the year. Like so many of my illustrator counterparts, I have many nebulous story ideas rolling around in my brain, several Word folders with quirky titles, a list of concepts for “someday.” Could I actually keep my butt in a chair long enough to turn seven of them into stories or would I revert to my organized activity defense mechanism and quit?
Thanks to daily blog pep talks from Paula, and daily interviews with authors and illustrators and of course the lure of prizes at the end (names drawn from a hat, no actually reading of crappy drafts involved), I did it, and yes, I feel a real sense of accomplishment. I realized that even banging something out in the last hour or two of the day can count, can be something workable. Do I have seven stories with potential? No. Do I have two or three? Yes, absolutely. Am I wishing that I had stuck out Bicentennial Club? Nah.
Forgive me readers, it has been two months since my last post. My work load has picked up considerably, and by considerably I mean I finally have some after the economic meltdown of last year that left most of us scrounging in the couch cushions for grocery money, if one was lucky to still have a couch and hadn’t traded it for toilet paper or a shot at being first in line for the grocery bagging job.
In between juggling assignments, updating my Facebook status and expressing my deep disgust, both verbally and through the written word, of the final Lost episode, time has flown by.
This is typical for life here in the trenches. Projects never come nicely spaced, and if they do the space is soon eliminated by some crisis of biblical magnitude, anything from an editor going on vacation and “forgetting” to send you the revisions, to the washing machine deciding that draining the dirty water is too much trouble and it will wait for you to do it with a length of tubing and some lung power.
No matter how carefully one plans and schemes and pores over the calendar, it will never be a leisurely pace to the finish. Never. No, no, trust me, NE-VER. Remember those frantic college all-nighters? That is your life on freelancing, and unless you consider that grocery bagging job fun (it’s not) you will be thankful for it. Your social life will consist solely of the aforementioned Facebook updates, which is good considering personal hygiene also takes a back seat when deadlines loom. I like to alternate between Facebook and checking my website stats. For us regular Janes, even those of us who rocketed well past the planet of the horribly jaded in middle school, there is always the faintest glimmer of hope–maybe I’m about to be discovered (by whom and for what remains a bit nebulous). Maybe that hit from Moosebutt, Alaska is an editor on vacation. Perhaps right now, he is being wowed by the depth and skill of my work. Maybe he is picking up the phone RIGHT NOW. Maybe…huh? What? Oh right, right…where was I? You know on some level that it’s more likely your mom’s hairdresser’s cousin who just happens to be writing a children’s book and will soon be contacting you about some pro bono work, but still…checking one more time can’t hurt, can it?
The thing about stats that is the most fun for me is seeing all the different hits from countries other than the U.S. I usually get a nice handful each week from all over the globe, but recently noticed a deluge of hits from China, dozens! A little worried that I was suddenly on a watch list somewhere, I clicked on the referring link and found myself on a Chinese website, which roughly translated by Google (and I mean VERY roughly, as in surely there’s a verb in this sentence) turned out to be a site where people in China post illustration websites they’ve found and like. How cool is that! Me! Big in China! O.K. fine, maybe “big” is overstating it, but it gives me a little thrill anyway. We illustrators tend to lead a very isolated existence, shuffling to the mailbox in our slippers at four in the afternoon pretty much sums up most days’ outings, and to think that somewhere, on the other side of the world, another human being and I crossed paths in a way that could never, ever have happened before, well, that’s pretty darn cool. I spend a few minutes wondering about those folks, the ones who liked my website. What did they have for dinner? Where do they like to go for fun? What does their house look like? Where did they get that rug on the floor? And for a minute I feel a little more connected to my fellow human beings on this incredibly small planet.
Then it’s back to work.
“Write a short paragraph describing an adventure you had as a kid.”
A simple enough task. Pencils began scratching around the room. All but mine. Simple enough unless you were like me and spent the better part of your childhood going out of your way to avoid adventure. Outdoor bathrooms, dirty socks, possible tapeworm infection, poky shirt tags, weird smelling cats, bugs, worms, snakes, unavailable dental hygiene and scratchy sweaters, all these and much, much more occurred on adventures–no thank you.
It isn’t a huge deal to miss the occasional sleepover or camping trip as a kid, but the bigger you grow, the bigger the adventures become and pretty soon it’s either leap or be left with nothing but the story of the one time you switched brands of tomato soup to entertain friends with at parties. And good luck with that.
I managed to scribble out some lame excuse for an adventure, a three block bike ride to my friend’s house in broad daylight, and sat silently thankful that my recent adulthood had brought a new perspective on taking opportunities that come my way.
When I received the Highlights Foundation e-mail describing the “It’s All About Character” workshop, I had recently returned from Honesdale, and was not in any big hurry to repeat the fun that is air travel today. The workshop was being led by Kim Griswell and Lindsay Barrett George. Hmmm…I knew both of them and admired their work. Special guest speakers would be librarian Martha Vines, author Pat Thomas, and one of my personal heroes author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom. Hubby had been giving me pointed “poop or get off the pot” looks whenever I whined about wanting to write. I went for it.
It was an exhausting and intense four days. Kim’s talk “The Picture Book Hero” was especially interesting and informative for me, and I highly recommend the full workshop she does on the “hero’s journey.” She is an editor and writer who knows her stuff. Lindsay gave us an honest insight into the lengthy and sometimes futile process of developing a book (eighty-four dummies does not guarantee a sale), but the process is valuable regardless, something important for those of us who get discouraged after…well…ONE.
The guests were all wonderful and Suzanne even hung around the next day listening to readings and offering her two cents, which if you’ve ever paid a small fortune to a certain national organization to be kept away from the speakers like the great unwashed, you know what a hoot this was for everyone. Add on wonderful scenery, a cozy cabin complete with coffee and mini-fridge all to yourself and oh the food, three scrumptious gourmet meals a day; I take my eats seriously, and my palate was deliriously happy. The workshop was limited to twelve, and we encompassed the full range, from newbies to the much published, and both Kim and Lindsay were thorough and honest in their critiques, with long one-on-one conferences and meticulous notes for each attendee. No false praise or hand holding. I came away inspired to get to work.
My adventure was not without mishap: almost missing my connection in Philly, where they put you on a bus and drive you to what appears to be an abandoned warehouse in Jersey to catch your plane, a couple of warmth-seeking centipedes invading my cabin’s bathroom (see aforementioned bug aversion), forgotten dental floss, and the apparent onset of decrepitude which seems to mean I cannot sit for long periods without my knees locking up, but despite, I was very glad I went. It was an adventure worth taking.