Earlier this summer I officially embarked on my journey as a full-time freelance illustrator. One of my main goals was to get involved more in the fields I have a strong interest in. For years I’ve had a passion for kids picture books and graphic novels. After talking with many friends online who are in this field already, 5 letters kept popping up, SCBWI. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a non-profit organization where both writers and illustrators are able to unite in their love of children’s literature. Now, there’s all sorts of things being involved and having a membership with SCBWI can include; lots of great information and resources to help jumpstart your career in the industry, awards that focus on writing and illustrating and two major events/conferences that take place annually in both New York City and Los Angeles, to name a few. But probably the coolest thing they offer are regional chapters and conferences.
Over this last weekend I was able to attend not only my regional conference (SCBWI Mid South, Tennessee & Kentucky) but it was my very first event with SCBWI. The weekend was full of fantastic keynote speeches and classes taught by some of the industry’s top professionals. I’m not exactly sure how many attended but if I were guessing it was somewhere between 200-300 people. A few really cool things that happened outside of the classes and speeches were the opportunities to include your illustration portfolio in an evening showcase, meet one on one with an editor or art direction from a respected publishing company, compete in story and illustration based contests and intensives and best of all, just meet people.
I won’t go into this too much, maybe another post for another day, but I’m pretty introverted. Big surprise! Honestly, if you know me, I’m friendly, I like to talk and I have no problem holding a conversation with anyone, but there’s another side of me that just wants to avoid it all together. Like many introverts, I have a bit of social anxiety. While I’ve been waiting for this event with much anticipation, that introverted part of me wanted to jump ship altogether and just eat snacks in a hotel room all by myself. Fortunately I knew of a few people going which was super helpful and I knew, deep down it would be ok because of that.
Friday night I was able to attend the author/illustrator autograph session/portfolio showcase/dessert party. Yes, all 3 happened at the same time and it was great! I caught up with fellow illustrators Rob McClurkan and Scott Soeder before the activities began to say hello and introduce myself in person. We hit it off immediately. Rob was one of the guests who was signing books that night so I had the privilege to hang with Scott and meet a whole new mess of people. We were also abel to showcase our portfolios and promo pieces (postcards) to the attendees while snacking on cookies. See!? You show up to places and you get snacks! You don’t have to hide out in your room alone.
Throughout the next two days the conference was jam packed with great classes and speakers, a nice lunch and of course after conference hang outs which involved grabbing drinks or enchiladas. It was great getting to meet so many new people, hear about their journey, share about my own and also get feedback on the portfolio I’ve been building for last several years. I was able to leave the conference with so much more insight on how publishing works, “do’s and don’ts” in the field and a better overall direction on where my focus needs to be in the future. I already can’t wait for next year. Who knows!? I may try to attend the NYC conference before next year’s mid south, we’ll see. These things aren’t cheap but totally worth going to.
So what’s the point of this post, rather then me fully endorsing SCBWI and telling you that I attended it. The point is, I left my house. Since I’ve been working freelance, I’m not around people anymore, hardly at all. Sure my daughter and wife come in my office occasionally, and we eat lunch together and run errands, but they don’t really need to hear about what i’m working on or anything work related for that matter. Being cooped up in my office is part dream come true and part isolating, in a bad way. It can get real lonely, even for an introvert. Leaving the house allowed me to meet people who are just like me. I was able to talk about what I’ve been up to, hear what they’ve been up to, share tips, stories, struggles, dreams, laughs, you know, just talk shop! I can’t tell you how refreshing that was. When I was a kid, I used to go to summer camp and would always leave with a bit of a “mountain top high”. I always felt so good and ready to take on the rest of the year. I had that same feeling when I left the Embassy Suites this last Sunday. I shook hands, made memories, made friends and it was fun. I encourage you if you are working from home or working alone, find your people. Find the ones who are doing the same things as you or have similar interests. There’s lot of conferences that happen throughout the year whether you design, like horror movies or enjoy gardening. Find the ones that interest you and go. I can honestly say that it’s worth it. If you can’t find a conference close enough or your funds are limited (mine surely are) find people you can Skype with or create a SLACK channel with. Just being able to communicate a couple times a month can do wonders!
A little shoutout to both Rob McClurkan and Josh Lewis for helping me prepare for the conference and look over my work beforehand and a special thanks to Rob and Scott who were the NICEST dudes on the planet. Never once did they hesitate to include me in their hang outs, dinners and conversations. I can’t thank them enough to making what was a scary situation in my mind a very fun and exciting time. You guys are awesome! Also thank you to all the nice and hard working people in the SCBWI organization for putting on such a great event and making it a weekend I’ll always remember.