Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MidSouth SCBWI Creating Your Best Dummy Workshop

View of the lake at Pickwick State Park. Photo courtesy of Teresa Robeson. 

A few weeks ago, I went to an amazing illustration conference at Pickwick State Park in Tennessee. It was the culmination of the MidSouth SCBWI Creating Your Best Dummy Workshop, a six-month program where 16 illustrators revised a picture book manuscript and created a dummy and illustrations.

In the months before the conference, we worked with Scholastic Editor Orli Zuravicky, who critiqued our manuscripts twice, and Penguin US Senior Art Director Giuseppe Castellano, who provided feedback on our draft illustrations. We developed a full dummy for the story, and at the conference weekend, we met with Giuseppe for critiques, presentations, Q&As, and discussions about children's illustration.

Weekend Highlights

  • DRAWING EXERCISES: The first evening, Giuseppe presented and answered questions about the imprints he oversees as Senior Art Director at Penguin RandomHouse: Grosset & Dunlop, Price Stern Sloan, Penguin Young Readers, Frederick Warne, and Cartoon Network Books. 
Then we launched into drawing exercises. Giuseepe asked us to draw six boxes on a sheet of paper and draw his prompts in under a minute each. This was my first sheet (prompts were bird, mammal, person, plant, texture, anything):


Giuseppe pointed out that almost all of us made equal sized boxes and drew without considering design, environment, or other creative touches. The next round, everyone got more creative with the prompts (insect, robot, city, little, car, anything). Here was my second set of sketches:



We also did a series of "draw offs" where people voted between two illustrators' interpretation of the same prompt. It was uncomfortable to both vote and be voted on, but a lesson learned--you will be judged in this industry. 
  • DUMMY CRITIQUES: On Saturday morning, Giuseppe critiqued everyone's dummy & final illustration. I learned so much from every critique, and got valuable advice on my kraken illustrations. Among other things, he suggested that I work on my character design to make him less octopus-y and more sea monster-y.  This is what my kraken looked like Saturday morning:
© Sylvia Liu

In the afternoon, we had free time to revise our illustrations, so I played with different looks for kraken:



  • PORTFOLIO CRITIQUE: Giuseppe gave me a great portfolio critique, with constructive feedback on things I need to work on (for example, my line work and textures), and he pointed out the more successful pieces and why they worked. 
I showed him my kraken character sketches and he pulled out tracing paper and gave me some great ideas by drawing his own kraken. Even though I was almost the last critique in a long non-stop day for him, I could tell he got really into designing a kraken. As a result of those comments, I came up with more drawings:


When I came home, I ended up with this (going back to the original face but adding some sea monster-y-ness.  It is still a work in progress):

© Sylvia Liu

  • SATURDAY EVENING SOCIAL: After a full day of work, we enjoyed a group dinner and hung out by the pool and in the common room. It turns out you can't get a group of kid lit creatives together without having a good ghost storytelling session. 
Poolside (photo courtesy of Mary Reaves Uhles)

  • SUNDAY WRAP UP: We all shared the progress we had made from the day before and continued the great discussions. Between Giuseppe's comments and the collective knowledge of the group, every person's presentation became a mini-lecture about the medium, chock full of tidbits. For example, one of the illustrators worked in color pencils. From that discussion, I got a great list of illustrators working in color pencils and information about the Color Pencil Society
Unfortunately, my friend Teresa and I had to leave early so I could catch a plane so I missed the final comments from Giuseppe. If they were anything like what he told us throughout the weekend, I am sure he was extremely inspirational and supportive.
    Getting feedback from Giuseppe Castellano (photo courtesy of Susan Eaddy)


  • NEW AND OLD FRIENDS  As usual, one of the best things about conferences and workshops is connecting with great people with shared goals. I loved seeing my great friend and critique buddy Teresa Robeson, connecting with online friends in person, and meeting new friends. Every person was incredibly talented and friendly (what are the odds of that? I guess in the kid lit illustrator world, quite high).  I am so grateful to Mary Reaves Uhles and Susan Eaddy who were the tireless organizers of this special workshop.

Teresa and me at the Nashville Airport 

So I'm newly inspired by Giuseppe Castellano and all the illustrators of the workshop.




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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Goodbye, Butterfly Dreams and Hello Good Stuff

© Sylvia Liu
I haven't done this in awhile, but here are some things I'm grateful for today:

  • I painted "Butterfly Dreams" last year and I've been enjoying it in my home since then. I showed it in an art show in May, and I just sold it today to a teacher at my kids' school. So I'm glad someone else gets to enjoy it, but I'll miss it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How I Got My Agent: Elaine Kiely Kearns

Signing with Linda!
I couldn't be more thrilled to present this installment of How I Got My Agent, with my Penguin critique partner and Kidlit411.com partner Elaine Kiely Kearns! She just signed with Linda P. Epstein of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency 

I could go on and on about how talented and hard working she is, but let's get on with the interview.

When did you start writing picture books and when did you start submitting to agents? 


I have always dreamed about becoming a picture book author but I didn’t start to seriously pursue the dream until about three years ago.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program: What are You Waiting For? Apply!

© Sylvia Liu

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experience with the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program on Kathy Temean's blog. Here's the beginning to that post:


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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Dance Party for Kidlit411!




My critique partner and friend, Elaine Kiely Kearns and I started Kidlit411.com last January. In a year and a quarter, it's grown into a real thing.  Writer's Digest (in its May/June 2015 issue) listed the site in its recent of 101 Best Websites for Writers.

So we are super thrilled and honored, and WOO HOO!

Elaine and I recently wrote about how we developed this site, at Rate Your Story: Successful Platform Building Doesn't Have to Be About You. It's been an organic process, and totally fun.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Please Join My Email List

© Sylvia Liu


Many of you subscribe to this blog, or follow me elsewhere on social media, and I appreciate it tremendously.  I am finally getting around to building my own email list, which I will use very sparingly, to share good news and information.

I was hoping to have something fun to give you for signing up for my email list, but for the moment, all I have is my gratitude. In the future, I may give my inaugural email subscribers a special treat…

so please sign up for my email list:



Subscribe to my mailing list

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Or head over to this sign up page for a snazzier experience.


(P.S. Why have my own email list in addition to my existing email feeds from this blog or other blogs? Katie Davis answers this question in her recent post, How to Use a Time Machine to Create an Author Platform. Basically, having your own email list is the best way to reach your audience without relying on someone else's platform, whose rules may change at any moment).