What a weekend! This is the first moment I've had to properly collect a few of my thoughts about the NESCBWI conference held this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Springfield, MA. It was a great experience, filled with kind people, informative workshops, and new friends. Thanks go out to NESCBWI for putting it all together!
Here are my personal take-aways:
1. I know more than I think I know.
Generally, during and after each workshop, I found myself thinking...gee...I already know most of what was said. That doesn't mean the workshops and information weren't valuable---it just serves as a reminder that over the past seven years, I've done a lot of researching and gained a lot of experience on my own that I've either been using or have filed away for future use. Bottom line: I'm not a newb. That much is clear.
2. I still need to work on self-confidence issues.
While I do take pride and feel good about my overall craft and presentation, when it comes to the content of the work itself I'm always pretty self-conscious. I do work hard and try hard to make smart decisions, but I still feel like I'm pretending to be an illustrator. I doubt my own drawing/painting abilities, I doubt my compositions, I doubt my own imagination/creativity (or lack thereof). I compare myself too much to those I admire. If this weekend has shown me anything, it's that I should believe in myself a little more. My work is polished. My portfolio varied. Throughout this weekend I felt a lot of support and encouragement from strangers who offer a more objective view of my work. It left me feeling like I will get to where I want to go if I just stick with it. I'm already headed in the right direction and I have experience to back me up. I have the tools I need, I just have to figure out what I want to do with them.
3. I depend on external validation more than I'd like to.
That doesn't mean that I only want compliments--in fact the opposite is true. I sincerely appreciate constructive feedback that guides me to ways to keep improving. Throughout the weekend I had generous, positive interactions with fellow illustrators about my work. Yet that positive reinforcement did very little to elevate my self-worth. Instead, I allowed the disappointingly dispassionate two minute critique from the small panel of industry reps to make me feel rather lousy about my work. It left me second guessing deliberate decisions and confused about how to fix what they didn't like. But I'm smarter than that--I should be able to take it by now! I ought be able to swallow criticism and not get overly dejected that easily. Not everybody has to completely embrace my work. I can't please everyone. I can only take all the feedback in and trust myself to know what I want to do with it moving forward.
4. KidLit can be a very friendly industry.
I met a lot of very kind, very awesome, very talented people this weekend. It was wonderful to make new connections with strangers who share a common love and respect for children's literature. It really is all about networking and establishing a supportive community. We're all in this together, pulling for each of us to succeed, or at the very least, to keep pursuing our passion. Whether it's connecting with those just beginning their journeys, sharing common experiences with a fellow published illustrator, or getting the chance to meet the author of the book I illustrated, everyone was so darn nice and generous with their time. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
5. I want to succeed in this industry.
I want to illustrate. I want to write. I want to make books that express who I am and how I see the world. And I want to be able to share these books with the children for whom they are intended. Sharon Creech and Grace Lin's uplifting key notes in particular reminded me of that. Life and art are intermingling at all times, and it's up to us to open our hearts and minds and allow those moments to flow into our creativity. It's not about making pretty pictures or telling pretty stories. It's about capturing an idea and contributing a very human part of ourselves.
Sometimes when I'm in the trenches pulling my hair out over an educational project I don't want to be doing, I question whether I want to be doing this at all. But so many times this weekend my heart panged with overwhelming hope, skipped with a jolt of inspiration, and beat with a constant sense of purpose that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the place I want to be.
So I'm going to keep at it, and start listening to what's on the inside, waiting for its chance to come out.
So---did you attend the conference, too? What were your take-aways?
Here are the only two shots I snapped this whole weekend. I guess I was too busy making friends to spend time behind the camera!
My entry for the poster contest for Jane Yolen's poem Infirm Pachyderm.