It’s been a full month since I had the pleasure of attending the Eastern PA SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Pocono Mountain Retreat at the Highlights Foundation. I was honored to give the keynote speech and lead two workshops for illustrators.
To be quite honest, public speaking is not something that comes easily to me at all. I spent a long time preparing and getting my brain into the right mind set months beforehand! Luckily, I have a supportive husband, Denis Markell, who is not only a fantastic middle grade author and knew who my audience would be, but is also a consummate editor and public speaking coach. (Yes, he occasionally gets paid to help people with their speeches/interviews when he’s not writing novels!)
At the SCBWI conference, I was joined by a stellar faculty of presenters, which included New York Times Best-Selling YA author, Lisa Maxwell, Henry Holt Art Director, Mallory Grigg, Editor/Publisher/Writer, Eileen Robinson, Simon & Schuster assistant editor, Amanda Ramirez, David Black Agency’s Jennifer Herrera, and Author and Literary Agent Marie Lamba.
The facilities at Highlights are so cozy and inviting. I stayed in a room at The Lodge.
I had really great room karma and discovered that my friend Matthew Winner of the All the Wonders podcast was the last guest in this room before me!
Friday kicked off with a wonderful dinner in the Barn.
There were also short presentations we could go to, and I especially enjoyed Anni Mastick’s tutorial on painting skin tones.
The great thing about this conference is that it is a relatively small one, so we could really get to know many of the participants and other faculty members there. And the Highlights facilities are so warm and comfy — it’s a wonderful space for exchanging ideas, meeting new people, learning, and being inspired.
The big day was Saturday when the conference began in earnest with workshops and critiques all day long, ending with a dinner and a silent auction. I kicked off the day’s events with my keynote. The theme of the conference was VOICE. My talk was about rewriting the stories we tell about our lives, our careers, and ourselves as people. It was about all the negative voices we also have in our heads that we can redirect and change in order to create an outcome that is more in line with our goals. I used my last book project, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, and the various obstacles I faced illustrating it as an example.
Thanks to Hallee Adelman for this photo - I was so verklempt afterwards by the audience’s reaction and also so relieved that I had completed my speech!
I was thankful I had tissue that Denis had thoughtfully bought for me for the occasion :)
Afterwards I taught a workshop on how to start a daily art practice and how to use social media as a tool to show your work and increase your exposure.
I sat in on Marie Lamba’s fantastic talk on the common “Pitfalls in Picture Books (And How to Fix Them”).
Then Lisa Maxwell gave her stirring keynote speech about failure and how she used it to her advantage to create her second career as a novelist. I wish I had a good photo to share! I was so caught up in what she was saying I forgot to take a picture. It was interesting how both of our speeches had similar themes!
The rest of the afternoon was spent critiquing manuscripts and doing portfolio reviews. I met some very talented picture book people.
After some impromptu cocktails (boxed wine in coffee mugs) with some faculty-mates on the porch of the lodge, it was back to the Barn for dinner, festivities, and a silent auction.
I was wiped out by 11:00 pm and ready to turn in for the night back in my room, when someone slipped a letter under my door!
Of course my curiosity was piqued, and I had to check it out. There was a big gathering of women in the lobby chatting and laughing and it was like being in a dorm in college again, only everyone was legally above the drinking age! It was such a warm, funny, supportive group and hanging out with them on the enormous leather couches talking about life was a perfect way to end a magical day. :)
On Sunday morning I sat in on Beth Bogert’s workshop on emotions in illustration, which I found so interesting. I love how she used so many examples from different picture books and broke down how the artists’ choices allowed them to convey different emotions through their art.
I did a short workshop on Hand Lettering for Illustrators.
Then it was a last meal together, prizes, group photos, and farewells.
It was such a wonderful, memorable weekend, and I learned so much and met so many interesting, talented, warm, funny individuals. Before I left, I made sure to leave a painting and my thoughts about time spent at Highlights in the journal of my room for the next lucky person who gets to stay there!
I’m looking forward to doing a webinar on my Hand Lettering talk that the Eastern PA Chapter will make available to SCBWI members who couldn’t attend this retreat. Thanks so much again to Virginia Law Manning, Alison Green Meyers, Lindsay Banning, and Rona Shirdan, who organized this wonderful conference and invited me to speak at and attend!