Author Interview: Samantha M. Clark on Being a SCBWI Regional Advisor & the Austin Chapter

Learn more about Samantha M. Clark,
photo by Sam Bond.

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Today we take a peek behind the curtain at the planning and preparation required to organize a successful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators chapter.

I chatted with Austin’s Regional Advisor, Samantha M. Clark to get the inside scoop.

How long have you been the Austin RA and what prompted you to take the position? 

I’m now in my fifth year as the RA.

I really love doing it, but it was not something I could do before. I’ve volunteered for SCBWI for the past 10 years, first running a critique group for the Houston chapter and, when we moved to Austin, coordinating the critiques for the conference, among other tasks.

When the former RA left, author Bethany Hegedus, a good friend and generally wonderful person, said I would make a good RA, to which I responded that there was no way I could do the job.

Author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson ended up taking over from the former RA, but she asked me to be her assistant. I was a little nervous, but ultimately thought it would be an amazing challenge and experience. And I was right, I loved it.

A few months into the job, however, Shelley was finding a big squeeze on her time. She was doing her MFA (in Writing for Children and Young Adults) at Vermont College of Fine Arts at the time, so she called me up one day and said, “You should be the RA.” I told her no and that she was doing great, but at every meeting she kept saying the same thing.

So finally I said that if she was serious, I was open to it. Even though I never imagined that I’d head up an SCBWI chapter, I’ve found that it’s something I really enjoy.

Amy Farrier, Samantha and Shelley Ann Jackson, Austin SCBWI’s leadership team in 2013.

How many members are in the Austin chapter? 

We have close to 330 members, which is double the number when I first took this job. I’m astounded at the growth we’ve had in the last few years and always excited to see so many first timers at our monthly meetings and conference. Come on, join us!

Tell me about the local conference. When do you start planning it? How do you choose speakers? 

I do love our local conference. When I took over as RA, I revamped the (now two-day) conference and gave it the name Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference.

I had envisioned a blend of a retreat and a conference, and while we’ve never ended up with alone working time in the schedule, like at a regular retreat, we do try to offer sessions that go deep and get attendees working.

Our goal is the same every year—and we tell our faculty this when we send out invitations: For our attendees to go home able to lift their work to the next level.

We try to have something for writers and illustrators at all levels, from beginners to advanced, and we try to cover both craft and career.

For our Saturday breakouts, we have tracks for writers (picture books, novels or both), illustration and professional development for the business side. We also have keynotes that are geared at being more inspirational as well as learning, a panel with our speakers from the publishing side to answer attendee questions about the industry, and, on Sunday, intensives for picture books, novels and illustration.

A few years ago we added a panel of local authors and illustrators to kick off the whole weekend. I especially like this because everyone on the panel was once in the audience and I want all the attendees to know that, with hard work and perseverance, they could be the ones on the stage soon. 

We start planning at least a year in advance—I’m working on 2019 now but also thinking about 2020—and after organizing five conference, I’m starting to feel like I’m getting a handle on it.

It begins with deciding who our out of town faculty will be. We bring in one author, one illustrator, two editors, two agents and one art director. We aim to be as diverse as we can, with ethnicity as well as what they create. So, if we have an author who writes fantasy one year, we’ll try to get someone who writes a different genre the following year. Same with illustrators and their styles and mediums.

With agents and editors, we try to bring in people from different publishing houses/agencies, big and small, from year to year, as well as match agents and editors so that collectively, they represent as many age groups and genres as possible.

It takes a lot of planning, and we have to invite people early because speakers’ schedules fill up fast. We often have to do multiple invitations because people are busy, so to create the best faculty possible, it takes a lot of research and time.

While we’re looking for the out of town faculty, we also open up for proposals from our local faculty. We use a proposal system because we have so many amazing authors and illustrators in our local area and they have much better ideas about sessions than we do.

We do try to share the spots from year to year, so we can showcase as many of our local creatives as possible. But ultimately, we look at all the proposals along with the sessions from our out of town faculty and choose ones that combined will make a balanced conference that covers many different topics.
It’s a lot of planning, but my hope is that through it, we’ve got a conference that is living up to its mission to help attendees lift their work to the next level.

There are several scholarships connected to the conference. Can you tell me about those? 

Yes! I’m very proud of our scholarships and awards. Through our Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit Award, named after our oldest member, who’s now 102 and a huge inspiration, we honor three young writers every year, giving a $500 scholarship to the high school student when they start college. We hear these writers read their work at the conference and I’m always so impressed.

Betty X. Davis with the 2017 Young Writers winners and Lindsey Lane,
SCBWI volunteer. Photo by Sam Bond.

Our Creators of Diverse Characters Scholarship offers one full scholarship and one half scholarship to a picture book writer, novel writer and an illustrator to go to our annual conference. This is designed to encourage the creation of diverse worlds, in race, sexuality, religion, etc. We’re also working on a program that will award scholarships to writers and illustrators in marginalized groups and hope to begin that next year.

We also have two-year-long mentorships, one for writers and one for illustrators. Our newest is the Emerging Voice Illustrator Mentorship. The winner is chosen from the Portfolio Showcase at our conference. We rotate the mentors, and this year, it’s Don Tate, who’s a wonderful author-illustrator.

For illustrators at the conference, we also have a Portfolio Showcase Contest, which awards two honors with gift certificates and a winner with gift certificates and a free year’s membership to SCBWI.

On the writers’ side, we have the Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award, named after Cynsations’ own Cynthia Leitich Smith to honor how generous she is to those starting out. The mentorship is modeled after the Houston SCBWI chapter’s Joan Lowery Nixon Memorial Award.

I won the mentorship years ago with the manuscript that will be published by Simon & Schuster next month, The Boy, The Boat, And The Beast (June 26, 2018), so it was really important to me that Austin have a similar program to help other writers.

Cynthia was our first mentor for the award, and since then, other local authors have been the mentors on a rotating basis.

Our 2018 mentor is Jennifer Ziegler, who is choosing her mentee from manuscripts nominated by our conference faculty from their critiques.

How has SCBWI helped you in your path to publication?

I could write a whole blog post on this question alone!

SCBWI has helped me enormously, with learning at conferences, meeting people, making friends… But I can give you a specific example with the journey of my debut book, The Boy, The Boat, And The Beast.

Laurent Linn

I started writing the manuscript when I was volunteering for the Houston SCBWI critique group. They helped me hone the opening pages.

The manuscript won the Houston chapter’s Joan Lowry Nixon Award, which was a year’s mentorship with the fantastic Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt.

I was recommended to my agent, Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency, by agent Liza Pulitzer Voges, who had met me at the first Austin SCBWI conference I organized. Liza loved my work, but said she wouldn’t be the right agent for it. She recommended me to Rachel, and after being in the query trenches more than two years, the manuscript finally found its agent home.

Coincidentally, the art director we had brought in for that same conference, Laurent Linn with Simon & Schuster, is now the art director for my book. I had told him about the book at the conference.

Four years later, when he heard my editor talking about it in a production meeting, he remembered the story and asked to work on it. I couldn’t be more grateful for the work he has done to make it beautiful.

All of these things I can directly point to SCBWI, but as I said, over the years, I have learned so much at SCBWI conferences, webinars, books, podcasts, articles…

And, perhaps, most important are the friends I’ve made through SCBWI. The organization promotes support and encouragement, and its members follow suit. I’ve made friends in the chapters where I’ve been a member and, as an RA, I’ve made friends with chapter volunteers from around the world. SCBWI has been and continues to be my teacher, my guide, my cushion. I wouldn’t have a career without it.

Samantha with other RAs at the 2016 SCBWI LA Conference

Are there other Austin events beyond the monthly meeting and the annual conference?

Oh, yes! We stay busy. We have webinars at various times throughout the year, but we also organize workshops, networking events, and new since last year, retreats.

Last year, we held our first Novel Writing Retreat, with workshops, roundtables and lots of writing and social time. This year, we’re working on our first Picture Book Retreat, Sept. 14-16.

We also have Online Book Clubs for PB, MG and YA, where members can discuss and analyze books to help their own work. We have critique groups all over the Austin area and more being organized all the time. And from time to time, we try to arrange a lunch with an author or illustrator so people can ask questions.

What’s the best part of being an RA?

This is a fun question because there are so many best parts of being an SCBWI RA:

  • Working with our fantastic Assistant Regional Advisor P.J. Hoover and Illustrator Coordinator C.S. Jennings, as well as our other wonderful volunteers.
  •  Meeting new writers and illustrators—I feel like I gained a huge friendly family when I took on the job.
  •  When one of our members says they learned something or made a positive connection through one of our events.
  •  Getting thank you emails from members after I’ve helped them in some way. Everyone is seriously so nice!
  •  When one of our members signs with an agent or gets a book deal that came out of a connection or advice received at one of our events…

    I could go on.

Being an RA is a lot of work, but the rewards are endless.

C.S., Sam and P.J. planning Austin SCBWI events.

Are there any downsides? 

Well… the job is a lot of work.

Outside of what our members see, the events require a lot of organization and brainstorming, much of which is time consuming. Plus, the RA has to submit a number of reports to the SCBWI HQ, keep up with what’s going on with international SCBWI programs as well as other chapters, and respond to emails from members, prospective members and people seeking information about kidlit.

A lot of emails…

Being an RA is a voluntary position and I have a lot of commitments outside of that—especially right now, with next month’s release of The Boy, The Boat, And The Beast—so I have to fit in all the SCBWI work when I can.

But I try to get as many volunteers involved as possible, which I think is key for two reasons:

  1. If I have less to do, I can do more for the chapter with the little time I have. And, perhaps more importantly, 
  2. It’s important for our members to feel like it’s their chapter and they’re contributing as part of the greater family. 

We give lots of perks to our volunteers to thank them for their time, but people sign up to volunteer because they want to get involved and meet other members. Volunteering is the best way to do that, so to me, having lots of people involved is the best all around.

Cynsational Notes

Samantha M Clark has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own.

In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas.

Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Guest Interview: Dina von Lowenkraft & SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery Winners 2018

By Dina von Lowenkraft
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This is the first in a series of interviews focusing on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair


SCBWI Belgium + Luxembourg Regional Advisor Dina von Lowenkraft talks with the winners of the Bologna Showcase: Alexander RoweFelia Hanakata and Toshiki Nakamura 

Welcome, Alex, Felia and Toshi! Thank you for joining me for this discussion about your award-winning work in SCBWI’s 2018 Illustrators’ Gallery.


Alex Rowe’s piece, ‘Poirot and the Kimono’ won top honors with Felia Hanakata and Toshi Nakamura both getting honorable mentions for their works, respectively, ‘First Day’ and ‘Monsters in the Dark.’


Alex is originally from Tuscon, Arizon and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Felia is from Indonesia and graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Toshi is from Japan and also graduated from the Academy of Art University.

Felia to Toshi: I can’t believe we went to the same school! Your work is great!

Toshi: I know! Such a coincidence! We probably overlapped a year or two, I guess. Thank you for the kind word, by the way. I love your piece. Great storytelling!

What struck me looking at your winning pieces is how different they all are.

Alex, can you share a bit about your creative process and what techniques you used to make ‘Poirot and the Kimono’?


Alex: Totally, and that’s the thing I love the most about the illustration world! We all have a voice, and a vision to match with that.

It stressed me out when I first graduated, just how many talented illustrators there are out there, but each one of us out there has a story only we can tell. It’s exciting to see!

Poirot and the Kimono by Alex Rowe, used with permission.

My works are also each different because I want to work to illustrate for all ages and genres. My process is always the same: start with the thumbnail, and the first things I think of are light and color, then the character studies I’ve done prior to the piece.

My underpainting is done with the complementary colors to get me to think more about their relationship – for example, the first layer of the red kimono was lime green!

I use gouache most often, it’s by far my favorite medium!

Felia to Alex: Your winning piece is stunning! I love the mysterious atmosphere.
You mentioned that you used lime green as the underpainting. I worked and used gouache a lot in the past, but never used underpainting for it.

Did you mix both watercolors and gouache? (I love acryla gouache, I think it strikes the perfect balance between transparent and opaque.) And since you work traditionally, how troublesome is the scanning and editing process?

Alex: It was really tricky making sure that the digital file matched the traditional, but the best way to go was finding a good friend in photography who helped show me the ropes in catching a good quality image of the work. At first, the biggest challenge I had was making the images too over saturated when I first started editing, it all looked awful! Now I’m excited to mix more digital media into the creation, not just the editing.

Toshi to Alex: Your piece is gorgeous! I have some experiences using gouache, but I’ve never done underpainting. I am just wondering if you paint complementary colors underneath, would it get a bit muddy or something since gouache is water-based medium? I’d love to know your method of working.

Alex: The paint doesn’t get as muddy as you would think! The first layer of color is very thin, almost a wash, and I start getting thicker in application from there.

In some other pieces, I’ve been playing around at acrylic on top, but there are places in almost every painting where I like letting the original underpainting show through.

Felia, you mentioned that you worked with gouache in the past, what do you work with now? And can you tell us a little about your creative process for your piece ‘First Day’?

First Day by Felia Hanakata, used with permission.

Felia: I’m 100 percent digital nowadays! Except my sketchbook, which is all done in graphite.

I used to work with gouache a lot in the past and I love its opaque look, so even when I paint digitally, I try to achieve that “dry brush, texture-y” feeling.

As for the artwork itself. Whenever I feel frustrated with work I will move away and browse my sketchbook.

It was during this downtime that I found this old sketch I hadn’t got to draw yet. So I decided to work on it on weekends. I thought it’d be nice to draw something school-related and I wanted to convey that “lonely, nervous feeling” on your first day of school.

From a very small thumbnail, I moved to the actual size, creating a cleaner sketch on Photoshop. And then I would make color roughs and decide on one. From there I made the clean line art, filled in base color, and organized my layers. After that, I painted to finish. This is how I work all the time–very streamlined.

Usually the hardest part is the sketch/thumbnail part because I have to brainstorm a lot!

Toshi, what was the inspiration for your piece ‘Monsters in the Dark’?

Monsters in the Dark by Toshi Nakamura, used with permission.

Toshi: ‘Monsters in the Dark’ is actually something I made as a concept piece for an animated short film that I’ve been working on with my friends for a while. This is an early concept that I made for a director of the film as an inspirational piece, so the film is going to be a quite different look from this. As for process, the concept of this piece came up in my mind pretty quickly. I believe this was just done in a day or so.

The director of the film had a vision vaguely, so I took the idea and translated in a visual image.

Synopsis of the film is this: ‘A boy, haunted by his abused past, fears the love of his new family and runs away into a dark forest where he meets a monster that will transform his life forever.’

Making an animated film takes a huge amount of time and I wanted to produce something promptly that would inspire us to move forward and would visually explore and say ‘this could be it.’ At that time, we didn’t have any monster design established yet, so it was quite challenging for me since I’d rarely designed creatures or anything like that.

The piece was done in Adobe Photoshop. I used to do this kind of concept piece with painterly techniques and more dimensionality, but for this piece I needed to create something flat and 2D feel because background in the forest scenes was going to be in 2D although the film itself would be consisted of hybrid technique combining 2D and 3D.

For the color, I was trying to make it as visually striking as possible. It is character-driven, so making contrast between character and environment could achieve to draw attentions from viewers.

Felia to Toshi: Since you’re working for animation, how transferable are animation skills into children-book making/drawing? Molly Idle and Claire Keane were working in animation studios before, and now they have released stunning picture books! It’s always fun to see other illustrators’ backgrounds and inspirations and/or influences, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Toshi: I’m working in animation industry and I do design characters, environments and props… this is what we call “Visual Development.” Basically, what I do is to design and develop visual assets that you see in animated films or animated TV shows. These design skills might not really be necessary in children’s book making. However, early on the production, we’d create some concept art, which is an illustration/painting based on scripts/story to show what the scene or the visual style would look like. This exact skill can apply to children’s book making: to infuse story into pictures.

One of Toshi’s other illustrations, used with permission.

As far as I know, many artists working in animation studios are actually making children’s books on the side. As a matter of fact, my agency, Shannon Associates, has several artists from major studios such as Blue Sky Studios and Dreamworks Animation. I hope I can do the same in near future!

As for the work style, I can totally understand your way. I’m like you, I do work almost completely 100 percent digitally with Photoshop. So many revisions come in the way, especially working in animation, so there’s no way for me to be more efficient than working digitally. I actually love using gouache and a few of my favorite illustrations I did were done in gouache. Hopefully, I can work on some gouache illustration sometime soon!

I’m really intrigued that this comes from a short film idea, Toshi! Can you tell us a little more about how the look and feel of the film has evolved from the concept piece? The colors are very striking, especially the play of light that you have, is this something that has been kept in the animation?

Toshi: So, the story has changed quite a bit since I made this concept piece, and the monster design is also quite different now. Unfortunately we decided to go with different color instead of the bright yellow glow… but this happens in the animated production all the time, so I’m just glad that the director’s got the vision to move along with. As we’re close to finishing up pre-production and just about to start the production, we still need to figure things out when it comes to actual lighting and stuff. I wish I could tell more at this point.

Alex, I agree with Felia and Toshi – your piece, ‘Poirot and the Kimono’ is gorgeous! I wish I could see it in real life.

Alex: The piece is actually hanging at steam espresso bar in Denver, come on by for coffee if you’d like to see it in person!

Oh, I’m so jealous of everyone who is in Denver right now! What was the most challenging aspect of making this piece for you?

Alex: For this piece, the most challenging part for me was balancing the focal point for the viewer: I knew I wanted to make the scarlet kimono a big eye catcher, but also Poirot’s face of being toyed with by the murderer in the story was second to me!

I wanted to make the scene conveyed with as few elements as I could.

I’ve always loved mysteries, and so I’ve always loved illustrating them. So leaving clues and hints in each painting, just like the writers do with their stories, is a big part of work like this for Agatha Christie’s classic story.

Felia, you said you work 100 percent digital, what it is that you like about working in that medium?

Felia’s studio

Felia: I like to be efficient, and digital makes that possible. I was surprised at how much faster I’d gotten in the past year actually! Streamlining my workflow is one of the keys to that.

As I mentioned, I love the opaque and textured look of gouache so I try to achieve the same kind of feeling on my art. I absolutely love Kyle’s brushes!

Many illustrators, when thinking about a career in children’s publishing, think primarily of illustrating picture books even though there are more and more graphic novels and illustrated books for older readers. Is this something any of you are interested in pursuing?

Alex: It’s so funny you should ask, my goal growing up was to illustrate nothing but adult stories! As a kid, I loved reading Sherlock Holmes, and those illustrations were another inspiration for me, so that was my big drive.

It’s only after college that I started working towards children’s books, but I’m exited for the growth in illustrations for young adult and older audiences.

I’ve been working on a pipe dream project for years, either book or graphic novel on the Black Plague of the 1300s, so here’s hoping!

Felia: I can relate with you, Alex.

I didn’t even know the children’s book industry existed and was this big until six months before graduation. (Reading children’s books is not a
tradition in Indonesia.)

I absolutely fell in love with it.

Illustrating picture books is of course my main focus, but lately I’ve been wanting to illustrate covers and for older readers as well. In fact I’ve written some rough drafts for a young adult graphic novel, although I’m stuck with the plot at the moment.

I also got some ideas for rewriting a fairy tale, and I look forward to working on it more. I really would like to write and illustrate my own picture book/graphic novel one day!

Toshi: I think I’m one of the many illustrators you mention. As I grew up with many animated TV cartoons and films and studied animation design in school, it naturally became my passion to illustrate picture books. Though it has been my primary focus and interest in the publishing, I’m getting more interested in adult stories lately.

To be honest, I’d just be delighted to illustrate any stories that may interest kids and/or adults! I look forward to opportunities to work on both genres for sure.

 #ownvoices and diversity have been very big topics for kidlit recently. What are your thoughts on the subject and has this changed the way you work? or the way you present yourself?

Felia: I think I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see more diversity in children’s books until I read Same, Same But Different (Henry Holt, 2011) by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw a long time ago.

As an Asian, I was always enamored by the grand European castles and architecture, but I never thought I would feel glad to see other parts of the world being represented.

I think it’s especially nice for children to find something they can relate to–a part of themselves–in the book they’re reading.

I wouldn’t say it has changed the way I work because personally I draw a lot of Asians, but whenever possible, I love to draw people from different parts of the world. It’s fun to construct characters with different cultural backgrounds.

I was born and raised in Bali where tourists of many countries gather. I lived in San Francisco for nearly five years and got to see a lot of different people and their stories. This seeps into how I perceive and see things. So when I tell a story… I want it to be inclusive.

Felia

For my “First Day” as an example, I guess I want viewers to acknowledge the fact that it is okay to feel nervous about your first day of school, wherever you are, whoever you are.

Toshi: Even though I grew up in Tokyo where is globalized and many from different cultures live, living there still feels somehow closeted.

The idea of diversity really kicked in my mind when I moved to San Francisco to attend the school. As big as the issue of diversity in kidlit currently is, it is very big topic in animation industry, too.

I believe that the content of animated TV shows and feature films has been getting more diverse the past years, but I’d love to see more cultures and ethnicities involved in the animation and kidlit industry.

I agree with you, Felia. It’s fun to draw from different cultural backgrounds, and it hugely inspires me and teaches me a lot of things.

It’s great when a client chooses you for a book because you may be familiar with the content of the book because of your cultural background. It’s certainly an advantage in a way, but I also would love to work on children’s books that include any subjects and/or cultural contents because as an illustrator I think it is such an amazing thing that I can be a part of stories that may inspire and encourage kids and maybe even adults from all over the world.

Alex: What you’ve both said about how fun it is to research and show other cultures and world views really speaks true!

For all my works, the research aspect is always the most fun – in a weird way, the simple things fascinate me the most! Textiles and crafts from around the world and through time, those little details I think can make a piece, and make it feel more real in a way.

For diversity in my paintings, I think our first instinct is to draw our own experience – so for a long time, and even still – I fell into the bad habit where my portfolio is full of white men.

Alex at work in his studio

Listening to other illustrators and writers has been hugely helpful with how I want to display diversity in my work, listening to how I can still help while seeing that the best way at times is to step back and listen.

I think I’ve first had to notice my own huge bias, and then realize that the most beautiful part of this movement is that it calls for all voices to be heard – like what we said earlier, we all have a voice and have to be able to share it.

For diversity in art, Geena Davis’ work on representation of women in film comes to mind first: “if you can see it, you can be it.”

I think we don’t just need diversity in the illustrations and the stories, but in the authors and illustrators themselves. We have so many rockstar and diverse authors and illustrators in the world, it’s important for kids to see that and be able to say, “it’s not impossible! I can do it, too!”

We have to listen to each other, see stories that are different from our own, to see how connected we really are.

Moving forward in my work I see this as a challenge to live up to: to represent diversity and to check and push back my bias.

I think that illustrators especially have to include diversity, because children need examples (in fiction as well as reality) to inspire them.

The key is you have to really connect to and understand the diversity you’re trying to depict, and find common ground with your own experience: because kids especially can see if work is genuine or not!

Learn more about Laurent Linn

I’ve heard Laurent Linn, art director/designer for Simon & Schuster, say that he looks for illustrations that have an emotional connection because readers need to be emotionally invested in a book’s characters… is this something you think about when you work on an illustration?

Toshi: Absolutely. It would be much more interesting especially if you had personal history behind an image that you’d create.

As someone who has some animation background, I’ve been told the importance of ‘emotional connection’ a lot of times.

For example, I have been going to portfolio reviews by pros from major animation studios so many times the past few years since I was a student. They could tell at a glance, what draws their attentions the most, emotionally. Usually it’d turn out to be something I’d spent very much and often based off my personal story.

The term I’ve heard when animation peeps talk is ‘Believability,’ which is very essential when I work on an illustration or concept.

Realism is not something I pursue when I create an image, but realism can be replaced with believability. As a newbie in the publishing industry, I can’t say this applies always, but if I were a reader, I would definitely feel more emotionally connected to a picture that has something believable or speaks something relatable to me.

Alex: I love that phrase “believability” for work, Toshi!

I think that’s been a big struggle for me to overcome as an illustrator, when I look back on work I made in the past and even some work now if I don’t focus on this. It’s about translating that story you need to tell as an illustrator, and making that visible to the reader.

For Poirot, I let my own fears and anxiety about the “mystery” of what to do with the future try to fuel the piece. I made this piece as I was struggling to discover whether I should keep pursuing illustration as a career, and Poirot’s frustration in the Murderer leaving the scarlet kimono in his luggage to taunt him felt like the kind of teasing life sometimes throws at you. I needed his little grey cells to help me figure out my own mystery as well.

One of Alex’s pieces in progress

And just like Toshi was saying, the pieces I’ve done that I’ve loved the most have been connected to the personal, not just the surface.

I wish I learned that lesson earlier, to always let my own vision show through – for the longest time I had this rigid idea of what “art” was, and it was full of works decades or centuries old.

I think those heroes of mine kept me from being loose and free and honest about my emotions in my work. That kind of raw feeling is what I think is so stellar about illustrations today!

Felia: Great topic, I love it! I agree with both of you. Believability is very important in storytelling.

Personally I love anything fantasy or magical. I watch a ton of magical girls and superheroes shows. For the longest time, I wondered what made me drawn to them so much – and then I realized, aside from the fantastical elements, it’s the “realistic, relatable” characters that connected to me on a personal level. They had their own flaws and struggles, and they experienced the same things I did. I think strong story-telling has that.

Nowadays readers always want to find something fun, something they can easily engage with – and the fastest way to establish reader-viewer relationship is by creating something that is emotionally strong and relatable.

It’s the same with my “First Day” piece. I wanted to show anxiety and fear and loneliness. I’ve felt how it’s like to be very far from home, alone, on your first day of school, and you know no one. It can get scary. (But you’ll be fine!)

Some friends actually came to me after I showed “First Day” to them, and they said, “that feel though, I can relate. I was clinging to my mom on my first day of school when I was a kid.”

I’m always amazed at how story-telling can do so much in sequential art, and I will do my best to improve my skills as well!

Thank you all for your enthusiasm and taking the time to chat! I’ve really enjoyed our discussion and learning more about each of you and the way you see illustration. Congratulations once again – your pieces are truly beautiful!

Cynsational Notes

Alexander Rowe was born in Tucson, Arizona and has always wanted to illustrate books for young adults and middle grade kids.

As a kid, the works of Harry Clark illustrating the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, first drew him to the craft, and illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker and Brett Helnquist confirmed his love of book illustrations. 

Alex graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013 and lived with his brother, a writer in Boston, before moving to Denver.

He is now working to build up his portfolio for children’s and middle grade books, as well as writing and preparing dummies of a few book projects and one graphic novel.

When not painting, Alex is a TA and contributor for artprof.org, a barista at Steam Espresso Bar, a dog owner to the talented Amelia, and a jogger of the greater Denver area.

Felia Hanakata is an Indonesia-based illustrator represented by Lemonade Illustration Agency.

She grew up believing in magic, dragons, and all things fantastical. She was a Visual Communication Design student for two years before she decided to focus on drawing, illustrating, and story-telling more.

She went to Academy of Art University and completed her BFA in Illustration in Spring 2017. To her, storytelling breathes life and colors into the world.

Her work is inspired by anime/manga, Alphonse Mucha, Henri Matisse, and Bernie Fuchs.

When she is not drawing, she usually reads, drinks lots of coffee, plays video games, or looks for inspiration in nature and her surroundings.

Right now she lives in the sunny island of Bali, Indonesia, where she works from home as a freelance illustrator. Aside from working with clients on different projects, she also dreams of one day writing and illustrating her own picture book and graphic novel.

Toshiki Nakamura is a born and raised Japanese illustrator/designer.

He graduated from MFA in visual development at Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2016. He was a politics major in his undergrad at university in Japan before he pursued art .

Toshiki is currently working as a freelance character designer/visual development artist in animation industry.

As much as he likes working independently, he loves to work in a team and has been working on a few collaborative animation projects as a visual development artist and character designer as well.

He’s currently represented by Shannon Associates for illustration work. Toshiki is a newbie in kidlit and very excited to work on picture books hopefully near future. When he’s not drawing, he enjoys running, cooking and playing the piano. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Dina von Lowenkraft is regional advisor for SCBWI Belgium + Luxembourg and a writer of YA currently working on a PhD in Cultural Studies at KU Leuven in Belgium.

Dina worked as a graphic artist for TV for seven years and as a business consultant in the fashion industry for five years.

Her doctoral research project is based in the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard (1,200 km north of the Arctic Circle), where she is studying the impacts of climate change on the community of Longyearbyen that has about 2,200 residents.

Dina spends her time between Longyearbyen, Luxembourg and Leuven.

The Bologna Interview series is coordinated by Elisabeth Norton, SCBWI regional advisor for Switzerland.

2017 Europolitan Con Portfolio Winner Interview: Ana Larrañaga

By Sanne Dufft

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: SCBWI Germany/Austria‘s Illustrator Coordinator Sanne Dufft interviewed Ana Larrañaga, a winner of the portfolio contest that took place at the SCBWI Europolitan Con in Belgium earlier this year. This is the second of two articles.

Ana Larrañaga was born in San Sebastian, Spain. She grew up in the country surrounded by a huge family and a lot of animals. After studying art, she went to Scotland with the intention of staying for only one summer to improve her English; she ended up staying in the U.K. for seven years and became a writer and illustrator for children’s books. 
She moved to New York and then to Germany, were she now lives with her family. Ana has written some books and illustrated a lot of them. She likes drawing, walking and singing.

It is my pleasure to interview Ana Larrañaga, second place winner of the Europolitan Portfolio Contest. I am lucky enough to live so close to her that we were able to do this interview in person at Ana’s work space and, as it was a beautiful Summer’s day, in her garden.


Once more, I’d like to give you my warmest congratulations on your win. Stephanie Amster, Editor and Art Director at Bloomsbury (U.K.) and Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers (U.S.) were the jury. 



In their address, they emphasized they had especially been looking for portfolios featuring work which would be ready to be published in both the U.K. and U.S. markets.

As a Spanish illustrator who has lived both in England and in New York and currently lives in Germany, have you been published yet on any of these markets?

Yes, I have been published in all these countries, although never directly in Germany. But my work has been translated for the German market several times.

Can you share some of your experiences?

My first work was published in Spain but the country where I really took off as an illustrator was the U.K. The United States was much later. It is great to work with all of them.

Feeling comfortable in the language you are working is crucial.


Would you say there’s a market you personally feel most comfortable with?

I couldn’t say. In the end, you deal with individuals. But in general, people in this business are very nice people. We do it because we all love children books and that makes it a very friendly environment.

Can you tell us a bit about the creation of your portfolio? How did you pick the artwork?

That was very difficult! We were supposed to choose no more than 12 pieces, selecting the right ones was very hard. In the end, you go with your gut feeling. I tried to choose pieces that I enjoyed creating.

Do you have a favourite piece? Can you tell us a little about this?

My favourite one is The Polar Bear because the boy riding it is my youngest son and he is wearing a sweater vest that I knitted for him. He wears it all the time. 



As I understand, you work mainly digitally, but start with hand-drawn pencil sketches. Would you tell us a bit about your creative process?

I do a lot of tiny sketches in scraps of paper. Some people have beautiful sketch books.

In my case, it can be a napkin or a shopping bill. Most of it is just doodles; but when I like a character, I scan it and blow it up. 

This way I discover new details and directions to follow. I also have a lot of self-made textures and patterns in a digital folder. I use them for collage too. When I am drawing time flies, is a bit like being in a trance. And then, in the end, I have something surprising even to myself.

What was your prize?

My prize is an online meeting with Laurent Linn, art director and designer of literature for children and young adults. 

Would you tell us a little bit about how that went? 
The interview with Laurent was great. I was very nervous about it but as soon as we started talking all my shyness evaporated, because he is so friendly. Laurent showed a real interest in helping me. Was extremely kind and helpful.

We went through my web page and he gave me very clear and professional advice on what changes would improve it (now I have to do those changes!) It was quite wonderful.

Thank you so much for this interview. It’s been wonderful talking to you! I look forward to seeing your joyful illustrations in lots of kids’ books in the future.


Cynsational Notes




Sanne Dufft was born in Darmstadt, Germany. 
She studied Art Therapy in Nürtingen, Germany, and worked with children with a variety of special needs (and special gifts) in Northern Ireland.

She has illustrated several picture books, and written one. 

Sanne lives with her husband and three children in beautiful Tübingen, in the South of Germany.

Special thanks to Cynsations reporter Angela Cerrito for coordinating the Europolitan Con Portfolio Winners interview series!

2017 Eurpolitan Con Portfolio Winner: Simona M. Ceccarelli

By Angela Cerrito

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: Cynsations reporter Angela Cerrito interviewed Simona M. Ceccarelli, winner of the portfolio contest that took place at the SCBWI Europolitan Con in Belgium earlier this year. This is the first of two articles.

Simona M. Ceccarelli is a freshly hatched children’s writer and illustrator. A passion for visual storytelling and the success of her early whiteboard animation series “Drawn to Science” has actually drawn her out of a career in science to focus on creating worlds for children – with pen and pencil, keyboard and stylus.

Simona is represented by Andrea Cascardi of the Transatlantic Literary Agency. Instagram: simona.ceccarelli Twitter: @smceccarelli

Simona, Congratulation on winning the Portfolio Showcase Competition at SCBWI’s Europolitan Conference


What made you decide to enter your portfolio?


SCBWI conferences are great. You meet adults who don’t think it’s weird to talk about children’s books for hours. You can quote Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein and everybody gets it. The chance to show your work to such people – be it writers, other illustrators or industry professionals – and get their opinion is too good to pass up.

Fight and Flight – one of the illustrations Simona submitted at the Europolitan Showcase

How did you decide which illustrations to include in your portfolio for the competition?

Selecting images for a portfolio is a tough call, and, when it comes back from the printer, there is always some illustrations you wish you had included and some you would like to take out.

Luckily, you can also bring postcards – and ultimately, all your work represents you in one way or another. I picked the pieces I like most, trying to show a range of different subjects – children, animals, fantasy creatures – full scenes with background as well as vignettes and character design.

And of course a set of illustrations that show character consistency, which is very important in children’s book illustration.

Lucy’s Problem – one of Simona’s portfolio submissions for the Europolitan Showcase

Most of all, how did it feel when your name was announced by the judges Laurent Linn of Simon & Schuster (also an SCBWI Board Member) and Stephanie Amster of Bloomsbury UK

I had this sudden sense of having hopped thorough a magic portal into an alternate reality.

I often have that feeling when something good and unexpected happens to me: it must have happened to a different person…an alternate me. For a while, every time the self-doubt monster attacks (I should do a graphic short-story about that!), I can whack it on the head with this award and send it cowering to a corner.

Simona at her digital workstation. Photo by Idit Kobrini

I’m so curious about your use of Zbrush in your illustrations. The company, Pixologic, describes Zbrush as a tool for 3D painting and sculpting. What drew you to Zbrush?

I studied Visual Development for animation, where many of my teachers insisted that “the ability to visualize in 3D” is one of the most important skills an artist should have. My thesis advisor, Nicolas Villareal, wrote that in every single review: I struggled with turning characters in my head.

Photo by Idit Kobrini

ZBrush was just being introduced in the curriculum of Vis Dev artists, and I thought I would give it a try. I fell in love with it heart over heels (admittedly, I have a sweet spot for graphic software in general).

It has been a huge help in my ability to think dimensionally and for a while I experimented with introducing it into the illustration workflow. I don’t do hybrid illustrations anymore, but I still use it for character maquettes, as well as another 3D software, SketchUp, for environment models.

I love your illustrations from the 100Kids challenge. Have you done other 100 illustration challenges? Why did you decide to create 100 different, fully rendered, child characters?

When I decided to knock on the door of children’s illustration I was emerging from a two-year project designing goblins. My portfolio was full of them: good goblins, evil goblins, old and young, male and females. It didn’t take a lot of insight to realize that it was a little one-sided.

I knew that the number one thing a children’s illustration portfolio must include is children. At about the same time, I saw a video by Jake Parker talking about “design-100-thing challenges” and then the idea took flight. I decided to do full illustrations or vignettes rather than just sketches because I needed to beef up my portfolio and explore illustration styles.

Now, after nearly 70 kids, I am focusing more on stylization, so I sometimes post black and white work.

I had never done 100 illustration challenges before, but I am pretty sure I will start another one when this one is over. It´s a great experience, very impactful on many levels – and it got my social media channels rolling as well.

100 Kids – number 35

You’ve studied in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the USA. 


How has living and learning in multiple languages and cultures influenced your work?

They say “fish are the last to see water.”

I think it is the same here. When you experience a multicultural environment for a long time (actually from birth – my family is British-Italian), it’s part of you, as much as your handwriting and your gait – you don’t really notice it.

Laurent and Stephanie have paid me a wonderful compliment saying that my work appeals equally to European and American sensibility. If that is true, then maybe that is the biggest impact that living and working in different cultures has had on my work.

It’s especially nice since I was sometimes told (alternatively and by different people) that my work is either too “American” or too “European.”

At least now I can answer with some authority: “it’s both!”

My personal “Hall of fame” – the illustrators I look up to as my inspiration – live in all corners of the world.

I believe there is a common core in narrative illustration that transcends all cultural borders – storytelling is universal.

I’m drawn to The Pirates of Oz, please share more about this alternate version of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900).

The illustration was done for an art challenge to design an alternate Wizard of Oz world. I came up with Dorothy as a pirate captain whose ship crash-lands in Oz during a storm. She hears about the fabulous treasure of the Wizard and sets out to loot it, collecting a motley crew of characters along the way – each declaring a pirate-y interest in gold, but in reality pursuing a private wish.

I never wrote the story but there is a couple of unfinished illustrations strewn around this idea. It has found a temporary home in “The Bin” – the notebook in which I confine all half-baked ideas.

Your short-story graphic novel, Inkling, is posted on your blog and you describe the project in terms of an exercise in form – inking, panels and storyboarding. 


I’m very drawn to the story itself, a fascinating look at an artist literally creating his own reality with his art. What inspired this character and his experiences?

That is a truly personal story – it has many meanings for me. Narrative artists create a world with art – even if only for the space of a film, a book, a graphic novel or even a single vignette illustration.

It is a magic and mystical act, one that should be met with wonder and humility and a bit of fear – both as a viewer and as a creator. And which artist has not fallen in love with one of his characters at some point?

Also, more pragmatically, I love graphic novels and I want to create some for children. “Inkling” was much needed hands-on training, after many online courses and books. Maybe it will take more experiments before I tackle bigger projects in this space, but it certainly is a lot of fun!

You made a dramatic career change – from research scientist to illustrator. How do you reconcile these two wildly different careers and what influence does one have on the other?

I definitely do not regret having gone into science first – it’s been a blast, and I would not be who I am without that section of my life. I have been through frazzled times, where I was leading two disconnected lives (for years I was working in a research lab during the day and struggling on my art school assignments at night).

Needless to say, many people (including me) have been puzzled by the decision to quit science for illustration and the impostor syndrome has been savagely rampant at times.

Now I sit on a boxful of ideas on how to combine science and storytelling and narrative illustration in new ways, and I am sure the two careers will end up joining forces and producing some interesting offspring.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I am afraid my habits are extremely unhealthy. I am addicted to books, audiobooks and animation films (at least I got clean of internet wormholes and managed to stay clean so far).

When I work, I live out of coffee and butter-spaghetti. I sleep too little and sit too much. I never learned to ski, skate or play team sports (I should get a token for every time I heard: “What? You live in Switzerland and cannot ski?”)

I’d rather stay indoors if the temperature is above 30 or below 10 Celsius (that’s 86 and 50 Fahrenheit) and my idea of fun is spending an afternoon sketching at a museum. Luckily, I am surrounded by wonderful people who take me as I am and yet coax me out of my comfort zone, so that I can get inspiration and stay healthy.

Simona at her analog workstation

My family is the center of my life. So much so, that my studio is actually a family room – the potential distraction is a fair price for the energy and inspiration I get from being around my husband and children. My kids feed me countless ideas and make it worthwhile to go biking, hiking and horse-riding (and cook dinners.…occasionally).

I have friends who don’t think it boring to talk about books for half the night and have the privilege to work part-time in a creative team with great colleagues and designers, whom I constantly learn from. And of course there are all the magnificent people I have met on the web – a particular shoutout to the fellow author-illustrators I met virtually on the SVS forum and on social media.

I collect quotes from all sources and shamelessly sprinkle them in every conversation. So I cannot let this interview be finished without including one! This is by film director Werner Herzog:

“Ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge.”

Creativity for me has very much to do with getting to know the loud intruders in front of coffee and spaghetti and turn them into friends. It takes a lot of time and energy but it’s totally worth the effort.

Cynsational Notes

Cynsations reporter Angela Cerrito is a writer, pediatric physical therapist and SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor.

Her recent novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian, a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People by the Children’s Book Council and the National Council for Social Studies, and was awarded SCBWI’s Crystal Kite.

Her plays have been produced in the EU and USA. When she’s not working or writing, you may find her hanging out with her family, trying new (vegan) recipes, or volunteering at the community theatre.

2017 Europolitan Con: Art Director Laurent Linn of Simon & Schuster

By Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez


Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, creating characters for various productions, including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films. With Henson for over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award.

Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, collaborating with illustrators and authors such as Tomie dePaola, Patricia Polacco, Bryan Collier, E. B. Lewis, Raúl Colón, Debbie Ohi, and Taeeun Yoo.

Laurent is on the Board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is Artistic Advisor for the annual Original Art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

He is also an author: his debut illustrated teen novel is Draw the Line (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016). 



Note: SCBWI Belgium Illustrator Coordinator Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez interviewed Laurent Linn. This is the fifth in a series of six articles about the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan Conference.


Laurent, can you share some of the many types of partnerships you’ve developed throughout your career?

Every aspect of what I’ve been involved in throughout my career has required partnering with others. I love creating characters and worlds, and in the ways I’ve done that (theater, TV, films, books, conferences) it’s always a collaboration, which makes it a richer experience.

With books, of course, the partnership I have with illustrators is essential and we’re able to bring our
individual expertise together for the best art for each particular book. I also work closely with editors, copyeditors, production people, and others at my publishing house to bring our books to life.

Laurent with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

And within the design group I work with, by sharing the projects we each design, we learn from each other and bounce off ideas – it’s essential to have a peer group to learn with (and have fun with!)

What is the importance of working together in the publishing journey for you?

We are creating stories and illustrated worlds that are bound in books and need to get out in the world and into readers’ hands. If we didn’t all work together, and respect the expertise and experience we each bring to the process, then we wouldn’t have any books at all. The very nature of making literature is a collaborative process, and it’s essential for us all to grow creatively and to make the best books possible.

I’m an author and illustrator myself, and without my writing group, agent, editor, designer, etc., my novel Draw The Line would never have seen the light of day (and wouldn’t be nearly as good.)

And, as an art director, working with illustrators is my joy, and helping solve artistic problems, encourage artists to grow, and directing the art to be the best it can be are the greatest things about collaboration.

I think many are curious to know how authors and illustrators work together and if there are any common challenges. Could you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes?

Actually, authors and illustrators don’t work together.

There are a few rare instances where they do, of course, but the vast majority of picture books are created without the author and illustrator ever meeting, which is a good thing. Here’s why: a picture book is a shared vision, and we want to be sure that both the writer and illustrator each have the freedom to bring their own vision to the book.

After we acquire a manuscript, I usually give it to the illustrator hired for that book without any art notes at all (unless the book is nonfiction, in which case art notes can be very important.) We hire an illustrator for their unique talents and the way they would interpret the story on their own.

Understandably, an author feels ownership of the story, but an illustrator must also feel ownership and not be hindered in any way from bringing their magic to the book. I have heard countless authors’ reactions after seeing the illustrations for their books, and they are always amazed at how the illustrator brought a vision and ideas to the book that the author could never have dreamed.

What comes first, the words or pictures?

If the writer is one person in the illustrator another person, then the words come first. The manuscript of a picture book comes to our publishing house first either from the writer or their agent.

After an editor acquires a manuscript, it is brought to the art department where I will look for an illustrator for that particular book. However, if the author and illustrator are the same person, there is no rule. Some creators sketch the concepts first and others write them first. Everyone is unique!

Laurent with Tomie dePaola

What advice can you give to authors and illustrators trying to make it into the market? Are there any common mistakes people make?

Certainly, there is no resource better then SCBWI! The organization is not only fantastic for the connections and vast information, but also for being a part of our community and allowing us to learn from each other. Everyone is at a different point in their careers and there is much to learn from what others have experienced.

Along those lines, peer groups can be fantastic. Whether a writing group or an illustration group, working out your craft with others who are doing the same thing can really help us grow.

As for common mistakes, I would say that educating yourself about how both the business and creative sides work before submitting art samples or manuscripts can make all the difference. Not only will you be submitting your art or stories in the correct ways, but it will save you much time and energy as well.


How can authors and illustrators learn from one another?

This may seem obvious, but the absolute best way without a doubt is to read and look at books! 


I’ve learned more from other authors and illustrators myself by reading their books and pouring over their illustrations than any other way. Of course, conferences are also fantastic because you get to hear about different experiences and personal journeys.

Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Brussels, Belgium. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the the Maryland Institute College of Art in Illustration and is currently pursuing a second degree in Advertising and Digital Design.

She writes and illustrates for children and serves as the illustrator coordinator for SCBWI Belgium.

When she’s not working her interests include traveling, learning languages and collecting illustrated chickens. Inspired by new faces and new places, she loves creating and ultimately living a life full of curiosity.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Art Director-Author Interview: Laurent Linn

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laurent Linn, art director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, creating characters for various productions, including the “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island” films. 

With Henson for over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the creative director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. 

Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, working with illustrators and authors such as Tomie dePaola, Patricia Polacco, Bryan Collier, E. B. Lewis, Raúl Colón, Debbie Ohi, and Taeeun Yoo

Laurent is on the board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is the artistic advisor for the annual original art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York. 
 
He is also an author: His debut illustrated teen novel, Draw the Line (Simon & Schuster), comes out in May. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and facebook.

Laurent, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about the world of illustration in children’s publishing, and about the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG). 

As art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, what is the importance of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to you and other publishing professionals?

The Bologna Fair has so much to offer everyone, and for a publisher like us, it serves more than one role. It’s a fantastic event to see what books are being published in other countries that we may want to acquire rights for to publish here in the U.S.

Also, we share certain books that we are publishing in the hopes international publishers will want to acquire, too.

In addition, we’re always on the look-out to discover illustrators from other countries that we’re not yet aware of — there is so much talent on display there!

What makes an Illustration Gallery such as the BIG at the SCBWI booth in Bologna interesting to publishing professionals?

In the U.S. and around the world, children’s book publishers know that SCBWI members are serious about their careers. So it’s understood that the illustrators on display at the SCBWI booth are both knowledgeable and professional — something very important to us when we consider hiring an illustrator who is new to us.

When an art director or publisher views an illustration showcase such SCBWI’s BIG, is s/he looking primarily for illustrators for picture books, or are they also scouting talent for other illustration opportunities within the industry?

Speaking for myself, I always consider the strengths of each illustrator individually based on their work. For example, when I see someone whose strength is art that would be best suited for picture books, I may potentially keep them in mind for a future picture book. The same would be true of someone whose style is best for middle grade, etc.

Of course, many illustrators have different styles, which may be right for all types and genres of books, and I’d think about that as well.

Overall, I imagine that each art director and editor look for what he or she is publishing. Having said this, I do think the majority of art directors and editors at Bologna are looking at picture book illustration.

What makes an illustration stand out to you when you are serving as a judge for a showcase like BIG?

A few factors. Talent and skill as an artist is extremely important, of course. But I’m also looking for strong visual storytelling — children’s book illustration is all about a narrative. If a piece is more of a portrait or composed scene lacking story, that doesn’t show how an illustrator could visualize a key moment of a narrative.

Also, I’m always looking to see if an illustration has an emotional connection — readers need to be emotionally invested in a book’s characters.



I think many illustrators, when thinking of a career in children’s publishing, think primarily of illustrating picture books. Yet there seem to be more and more illustrated middle grade series, graphic novels are very popular, and your own illustrated young adult novel, Draw the Line, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2016. Do you see a trend in the industry towards more illustration in books for older readers?

It’s such an exciting time for illustration in children’s literature! Picture books are being published with art using all kinds of media and in varied styles. More and more middle grade uses interior black-and-white illustrations within the pages, for all ages from young to pre-teen. And more and more art is even being used YA (young adult) fiction.

As you mention, my own debut YA novel, Draw the Line, has illustrations — 90 pages of art, in fact! It’s not a graphic novel at all, but is a traditional text novel that also has illustrations in it.

In my book’s case, the art is “drawn by” the main character, Adrian, but is of course really drawn by me. It’s a way to tell the story on a visual level to enhance the storytelling in the text. My YA is unusual in the amount of art in it, but we’re seeing more boundaries being broken down.

We have talented authorillustrators like Brian Selznick to thank in many ways. His illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) really broke ground.

And then, of course, there are true graphic novels for all ages. A graphic novel differs from an illustrated YA or middle grade in that the format is like a comic book: The entire story is told through art panels with speech balloons and narrative text boxes.

However, now we’re seeing hybrid books that are mixing up all preconceptions, so who knows what comes next?

I love the idea of the illustrations in Draw the Line being “drawn by” the character! I look forward to seeing it when it releases. How important do you think it is for an illustrator to be an author as well? 

Every creative person is unique — many illustrators have no interest in writing or are not good writers, and many are extremely talented writers with a passion for it.

If you look at the most successful top illustrators in children’s literature, you’ll find those that also write their books as well as those who only illustrate books written by others.

For me and my colleagues, whether an artist is also a writer or not has no bearing on if we will work with them or not.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful as an illustrator in the children’s publishing industry?

Certainly those creative elements I mention above: alent, a unique style and vision, good visual storytelling skills, and ability to bring an emotional connection to the art. But you must also be professional — children’s literature is a collaborative process.

In addition to being realistic and professional about deadlines, you have to keep in mind that art direction and editing are not personal judgments, but useful and necessary ways of communication.

Everyone in the process has her or his expertise, and we all want your book to be the best book possible. It’s a balance of creating a work of art yet being sure it sells and gets into the hands of readers who want and need it.

Another part of being a professional is making connections, getting your work out into the world to be seen, and being engaged in the children’s book world. For example, showing your art in the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery!

Is there something that you think every illustrator should know, that I haven’t asked?

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to lose sight of: always be yourself! Don’t imitate others or create art that you may think art directors “want to see.” There certainly are artistic rules to follow, but within those parameters, find your own vision and dazzle us with it. Yes, use influences and inspirations in your work, but only as tools to enhance your singular style and vision.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.