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I bumped into Peter Harren on Etsy where I discovered his adorable illustrations. We had a few convos and I encouraged him to join SCBWI. Peter and I got in touch again a couple weeks ago as he was gearing up for the SCBWI mid-winter conference. So I asked him to blog about it as a first-timer. Take it away, Peter!

The co-founder of SCBWI Lin Oliver is hilarious. Part of her first day welcome address (at 7:30 am or some ridiculous turd hour like that) was this quote from the famous body builder Ronnie Coleman:

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

Of course the conference was going to be awesome, but Lin knew that it had a shadow for some people. The days were packed with activity starting at the wee hours and there was going to be a serious amount of information whipping past our heads. As Lin said, it was going to be work. And for people like me and my fiance Kayla Skogh (kick-ass children’s book writer and illustrator), one other shadow, one big shadow, was the socializing.

We’re introverts, and peppered throughout the info package for the conference and people’s advice for us was some scary stuff— “you gotta network”, “introduce yourself”, “mingle”  and “talk to people”. We spent 5 years of our lives in New York City squashed up against people and still, the mention of a Saturday night Gala for networking and “fun” made our mouths dry.

The good news for us was children’s book people are really sweet. There were so many warm smiles and rosy cheeks. I think there were over 1000 people, and something like 70% of them were ladies. With 700 children’s book ladies in there you could really feel the nurturing energy. There were lots of hugs. When I remember the Ballroom I see a peach colored glow coming from the room.  And as for the structure of the weekend, it went beautifully. It was really well organized and there were some nice breaks and awesome lemon poppy seed bread.

Now, on to the juice. I’ll share the words of wisdom from all the children’s book world royalty that I deemed worthy of note taking. I guess that’s called ‘noteworthy’. And before I start I should mention that everyone felt the children’s book industry is strong and steady. One guy even said it was robust!

Unfortunately, I didn’t write down who said what, but it’s safe to assume they’re a serious-ass children’s book professional of some sort.  Also, all these quotes are in reference to picture books. So, here’s some quotes:

  • “The keys to a good picture book are: character driven, brief, witty, light on text, and very young.”
  • “Great children’s books have clear ideas, an emotional arc, simplicity, and compositional variety.”
  • “Keep the story moving, don’t waste pages.”
  • “Illustrations need to be narrative on their own.”
  • “Make sure the left to right action is strong and promotes page turns.”
  • “Character Driven!”

After writing those quotes I’m realizing that they don’t feel as huge as they did when I first wrote them down. I guess that’s evidence of a real benefit to the conference; being there. The conference was hugely inspiring and motivating. And the main reason I went was the portfolio review. My portfolio and book dummy were viewed by over a hundred editors, agents, art directors and book professionals.

If you want an in depth view of the conference you can go to and find tons of information and videos of the conference. They had a whole team of people blogging the crap out of it.

And just for the fun of it, I added one of my pages of notes.

The bird’s lyrics are from Devendra Banhart’s song “Be Kind” which was in my head all weekend. In stressful situations I try to remember to be nice to myself and avoid judging myself for being anxious. This song shows up a lot when I need it.

Peter Harren is an aspiring author/illustrator. Track his progress at

Today is my first official day at work for 2012. Both kids are in school and I’m sitting in the library’s teen section, where it’s typically quiet all day. The seniors stay out of here and the children’s library (with the occasional screaming toddler)–is tucked away downstairs.

But I need a little help getting motivated again. And it’s not just because they moved my favorite table away from the window. I’ve been hanging out in my jammies for two weeks! It’s tough to get moving again when you’ve gotten used to being stuffed in rainbow flannel.

Maybe you need motivation, too. Well, you’re in luck. I roamed the stacks when I first got here and found the lovely “Artist to Artist”, a collection of children’s illustrators talking to children about their art. And here are some get-up-and-go gems I found inside:

“When people look at my work, they often say, ‘Your picture is so good. I can’t even draw a straight line.’ I think everyone can learn to draw. The important thing is to keep trying, keep drawing.” ~ Alice Provensen

“If I have an unusual gift, it’s not that I draw particularly better than other people—I’ve never fooled myself about that. Rather it’s that I remember things other people don’t recall: the sounds and feelings and images—the emotional quality—of particular moments in childhood. Happily an essential part of myself—my dreaming life—still lives in the light of childhood.” ~ Maurice Sendak

“The most important thing in the whole of life is to love what you do. If you want to be an artist, don’t draw from movies and television. That’s something someone else has already imagined. Draw from your life. Draw all the time. Expect to be different from other kids, because if you are an artist, you are different. Sometimes it’s hard to be different. Sometimes it hurts when people don’t understand you or laugh at you for not being cool enough, but stay the course. Believe in yourself. Believe in the paintings and drawings that come out of your mind and your hand.” ~ Rosemary Wells

“Your ability to see and respond sensitively to the beauty of the world around you will, in turn, be transformed into the ability to create art that other people will find to be beautiful. As long as you have this visual sensitivity, you will discover that the actual techniques you need for drawing good pictures are very easy to find. They are within you.” ~ Mitsumasa Anno

“Making pictures is how I express my truest feelings, my truest self.” ~Eric Carle

“In our earliest years there’s no how? to our plunge into art. The doing gives the answer. There is no one way. Your work is original and there is no end to the adventure…HURRAH!” ~Ashley Bryan

So get moving, friends. Keep doing what you’re doing. There’s joy for you and joy for the children who read and view your work. Joy to the world!

I drew this illustration to accompany an old story I wrote about my pencils and pens–who felt used and abused by my ceaseless creating, so they up and staged a revolt and escape! I never told my agent I could draw. I don’t think it’s good enough to be in books, but I thought I’d share it here. Maybe a coloring contest is in order?

Copyright 2011 Tara Lazar

jonwoodwardJonathan Woodward’s an artist, a nomad and a soon-to-be father. The man behind, a blog for aspiring children’s book illustrators, Jon shares his passion for creativity and his good business sense.

Woodward grew up in Nottingham, the home of Robin Hood. (Hmm, no wonder he was drawn to children’s literature.) He was known as the “arty one” in school, the kid who would always be asked to draw the posters for school plays.

After studying Graphic Design in college, Woodward worked as an in-house designer before going freelance in 2006.

To Woodward, freelance means freedom to explore. He and his wife rented out their UK home in 2007 and have been on the road since, living in Panama, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Toronto, South Africa, Thailand, Hong Kong and Dubai. The internet makes running their marketing and design business from anywhere possible.

Jon, how do your travels influence your illustration style?

I wouldn’t say that they have directly influenced it from color or style perspective based on the different cultures that we have seen (although that is an aspect I really love about the travel), but having seen so much beautiful wildlife and nature around the world, it has definitely influenced the subject matter that I illustrate.JWsorrow

Tell us about some of your most recent illustrations.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is the piece that led to my current collage style of working. I’d been flicking through magazines and noticed how much the hair on a particular advert looked like tree bark–it was one of those light bulb moments!

The idea for the final illustration came from a song I was listening to at the time that coincidentally tied in with my idea for the tree (and my love of crows!).


The Phoenix is from a recent set of four illustrations based on mythical beasts. Here I was trying to pare down the collage to a bare minimum–to create a bolder, simpler illustration style that might be more suitable for a children’s book.

I enjoy finding textures of a particular surface that are perfect for conveying a totally different texture in the illustration. This happened with the feet of the Phoenix. I found a picture of a model wearing a sparkly bejeweled top and instantly knew that I had to use it for the feet.

This piece was done mostly in traditional collage, with just a bit of detailing, adding the white eye and pumping up the colours a little in Photoshop.

JWsheep  JWwolf

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing is where I first started using acrylic paint alongside the collage medium. It’s a technique born out of necessity, as I was struggling to find a magazine clipping to represent the wolf fur, so I started working into the collage with paint. I got a bit carried away in the end and ended up painting the sheep’s head and zipper on top of the collage, too.

This was an interesting piece personally, as I had previously been creating collages digitally using scanned magazine clippings, but I realized that my choice of texture ended up being a lot more interesting if I did the collage traditionally using whatever I could find within the magazines and materials I had. I don’t think I would have chosen the printed text to represent the sheep wool had I been doing the piece digitally.

Who are some of your favorite illustrators?

My illustration inspirations and interests are quite diverse, ranging from artists like Jon Foster, Dave McKean and James Jean all the way to Shaun Tan and J. Otto Seibold.

What is your ultimate goal as a children’s book illustrator?

I initially thought I wanted to go into comics or sci-fi and fantasy illustration for book covers, but the theme and content of my illustrations always seemed to gravitate back to one of my other passions: wildlife and nature. If I was only ever allowed to illustrate creatures great and small for the rest of my illustration career, I’d be a very happy man.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful artwork, Jon!

If you’re interested in learning more about the ilustration and design work of Jonathan Woodward, visit his blog and follow him on Twitter at @jonwoodward.

This post is just one in a series about the 2008 Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Mentoring Conference. Click the RUCCL tag above to read them all.

Chad Beckerman is a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. He worked at Scholastic and Greenwillow before taking on the role of Art Director at Abrams BFYR and Amulet Books. Besides designing book jackets, he illustrates YA covers and creates the artwork for novel interiors. In addition to all that, he’s got a wry sense of humor and knows how to work a microphone.

Chad Beckerman, Molly O'Neill, Lisa Cheng, Lisa Ann Sandell

 Chad told us he’s unlike an editor. “They like to put their hands in everything,” he quipped. “I just have to make things look nice. And that’s…really nice.”

One of the things he likes to do is check out the competition. “I’m in the bookstores every weekend,” he said. He eyes what’s on the shelves, but he’s keenly aware that “you shouldn’t try to be what other books are being.” His job is to remain as unique as possible. “Look at what is out there, but do something totally original.”

Chad talked about translating novels into cool visuals and how difficult a task it can be to get it right for the audience. He recently worked on a book where a school prankster shoots classmates you-know-where with a watergun so it looks like they peed their pants. “That’s great,” he said, “here’s what we’re gonna do. We’ll put a watergun on the cover squirting yellow liquid!” But there’s some lines you can’t cross. It’s only a watergun, but it’s also a gun. And urine. “They told me we can’t do it, we just can’t. It made me sad, but I got over it.”

Chad is the savvy designer behind Jeff Kinney’s blockbuster novel-in-cartoons, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “That one was really hard to do, even though it’s really simple.” There’s no color in the book; the interior illustrations are simple black drawings. But the book still needed a color identity if it was to be noticed on the shelves. People often associate a diary with a brown leather cover, but Chad felt that was “too literal” a translation for this book.

The Diary is a journal that the character’s mom gives him, so Chad looked at a lot of different diaries to get a feel for what this book should be. They settled on a typeset font for “DIARY” to suggest it was a bookstore purchase by Mom, but they scribbled “of a Wimpy Kid” in handwriting to demonstrate it was personalized by the main character Greg. Then they placed a ripped piece of paper with a drawing of Greg on the cover, seemingly torn right from the diary. (I personally love the wimpy, slouching pose.) The background is red to make it stand out, but it’s not a solid red—it has a slightly worn, leathery appearance. And each book in this series is color-coded. There’s a green one, a blue one and a do-it-yourself version in orange. “Some people think it’s brown, but it’s not brown, it’s orange,” Chad reminded us. The different colors help kids easily pick out the ones they don’t yet have!

People often ask Chad where he finds illustrators. In this digital age, he loves to browse websites and blogs looking for new talent. But the best way to get to him is by sending a postcard with a web address. It sits on his desk and reminds him to go online.

One point Chad emphasized to the RUCCL mentees is that “if you like what you’re writing about, then you need to go with it.” No matter what it is, he promises to make it jump off the shelves.

To wrap us this series, next I’ll post about the audience questions!

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