My first SCBWI conference experience.

  • SVS OG

    Hey everyone, I thought I'd do a quick debrief of my first experience at an SCBWI conference. I'm sure many of you, like myself a week ago, are unsure what to expect from attending one of these, and would like to know what it's like and if it's worth the time and money.

    Jump In
    When I was deciding whether or not to go to the spring conference (Oregon and Western Washington), a lot of it came down to not knowing what to expect and trying to get my head around the posted schedule and kind of confusing website. I didn't know what 'illustrator homework' or 'round tables' or 'paid for portfolio reviews' were, and most of them were full anyway since the conference was only 2 weeks away. But, I decided if I was going to do this I was going all in. I bought membership, registered for the conference and entered the juried art contest.

    To prepare for the conference I read a lot of articles on the subject and had a few things I needed to get in order. First and foremost, I've never printed a portfolio before! Working digitally, even when I've done books, I never have to print anything. After trying to decide whether or not to spend $15 per print at some fancy art shop, I opted to go to Kinkos and see how things turned out.

    PRINTING TIP! If you go the Kinkos route, don't use the self service machines. They aren't as good as what's behind the counter (even though I was initially told they were) and don't have the options. My first attempts at these machines were fuzzy and low quality. After asking at the counter, they said that converting my files from JPGs to PDFs would up the resolution (which they then did for me), and their big printer was better, AND we put it on 30lb laser paper. The results were waaay better, and good enough for me to just use these. They were like $1.20 for an 11"x17" full color page, so not too shabby.

    Also, I bought a standard 14"x11" portfolio, nothing fancy, but it was a ring binder type (the small ones) with plastic sleeves. This made it super easy to arrange and rearrange (and rearrange x10) my work.

    I used to order business cards. Moo allows you to to design as many card backs as you want for no additional cost, so I ended up putting most of my portfolio pieces on the backs of the cards. This turned out great because people that liked certain pieces could take a card with that same artwork on it and remember both me and what they liked.

    Lastly, I read and researched the faculty to know who was who, though they did all introduce themselves.

    The Conference
    I was really excited and nervous on the first day of the conference. But despite all of the classes and options I had not opted into, it was awesome! Besides the personal one and one critiques, any of the classes requiring homework or dummy reviews could be attended as an observer. Like watching the 3rd Thursday critiques, this was one of my favorite things because I always learn so much.

    It was so great at meal times, before (come early to mingle) and after the conference to get to know some other writers and illustrators. Everyone was so nice and eager to learn and connect with others. We heard published authors and illustrators speak, agents, and for me one of the highlights of the event was having the Creative Director for all of Random House children's books Martha Rago, there. Wow! What an amazing person to have attend! I also really connected with one of the local author/illustrator speakers, and we are going to stay in touch and get coffee soon.

    I also have to mention that I go to meet @bharris and @Katrina-Fowler in person! We hung out, and it was so cool to have SVS people to sit with. We even did some evangelizing for the forums and SVS Learn!

    The Juried Art Show
    This was probably what I was most nervous about. I've never entered an art show/competition, ever. But after doing so, I would highly recommend it! Even if you don't win, it is a point of reference to let everyone there connect with your work. The agents, editors and creative directors there all looked through (some judged) the art show, and if they liked your work, they told you and/or took a card.

    As it turned out, I won 2nd place! This will put me on my SCBWI region's webpage for a year with a little bio, and I got $30 to Blicks Art Supply 🙂 First place won an unsolicited submission directly to Martha Rago, so I was bummed I didn't have that opportunity, BUT...

    BUT at the end of the conference as everyone was leaving I decided I needed to talk to Martha and at least say thank you for coming all the way from NYC to share. I approached her and much to my surprise she said "Oh, I was going to email you. I saw one of your pieces in the art show and I think you may be a good fit for a book we need an illustrator for." I was really caught off guard and so jazzed that I now have the opportunity to submit work to Random House directly. Now the pressure's on 🙂

    There's certainly no guarantee that I'll get work from the conference, and I did not go in with that expectation so if it doesn't happen, that's ok. I did go in with the expectation that I would learn a lot, make good connections and meet amazing people. I was not disappointed! I would highly recommend attending a conference in your area. My wife and I actually just realized we will be in LA for the conference this summer coincidentally, so we may attend that one too!

  • SVS OG

    Thanks for this I was wondering what to expect from one of these. And congrats on the great opportunity that is amazing.

  • SVS OG

    @natiwata That is so great Nat! Congratulations! - this is great illustration of the fact that if you put yourself out there and follow your path, things will happen - so cool! Thank you for sharing.

  • Wow @natiwata! What a great experience, thank you so much for sharing.

    I was just visiting the SVS forums today to look for your post about Giuseppe Castellano's portfolio review, so I could say how cool it was to spot your work on the "Illustrator's Showcase" of his site, and here you are with even more awesome news! Your work is great, not surprised you're getting such a great reaction 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing such an in-depth review of your conference experience, I've wondered if it was worth heading to one. I find the SCBWI website confusing and have always felt overwhelmed and as though I'm not ready for a conference. Your review might be the kick I need to go to our British one in November!

    Congratulations on the art show, and the Random House reaction too!

  • Thank you for sharing this!!! I really wish I can attend one someday (hopefully soon!) This will definitely help preparing!

  • SVS OG

    Wow! That's really great! Sounds like you were well received too. Thanks so much for sharing. I haven't been to any yet and also don't have a portfolio and knowing that I could go to kinkos and get 11X17 posters for 1.27 🙂 Great tips and info and I think it's great that you were able to go! I haven't jumped in yet. I could go to the one in LA but haven't taken the leap.

  • SVS OG

    Thanks so much for sharing what you learnt from your experience at SCBWI! So pleased that it went well for you, it sounds like a fantastic experience and congratulations both on the 2nd place, and having your art received so well by Random House.

    Also fantastic that you got to meet fellow SVSers 🙂 Like @Nanette it all makes me think perhaps I should go to the UK conference in November..

  • so cool. you are my hero!!

  • Pro SVS OG

    Super cool posts, and congratulations on a very successful conference experience! I will look into the UK ones (no conference coming to my region) - after your report it may be well worth the traveling...

  • great feedback and congratulations! 🙂
    may we see which piece you entered the competition with?

  • @audrey-dowling said in My first SCBWI conference experience.:

    may we see which piece you entered the competition with?

    ditto the request!

  • SVS OG

    @mattramsey It was based on the portfolio as a whole. Most of the images I printed are in my website here:

    I did not include the ones from the truck book, as thoughs aren't really great examples of my natural style.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @natiwata I have just decided to attend the SCBWI NY conference in February. I am meeting with the local Illustrators coordinator of SCBWI in Switzerland later in August, to explore the possibility of going together (the Swiss chapter is not that big!). If I understand correctly, if you want to bring in your portfolio, it should be physically printed, is that right? Any tips on how to make it the best possible shot? What size/format is best suited? Thank you for pointers - I have never done a physical portfolio!

  • SVS OG

    @smceccarelli I totally understand, this SCBWI was my first time printing a physical portfolio too and I totally stressed out about It!

    It depends on what you want to do with your portfolio. I believe any of the art shows require it be printed out, but for just showing around it's up to you. For portfolio reviews some people do bring iPads, but there is something nice about printing your stuff out since ultimately your selling your art to a print based industry.

    As for size and format, first thing to decide is if you want to go landscape or portrait. It's best to not have to turn a big portfolio around constantly. I chose to format everything in Photoshop on a 11"x14" black background template and then print it all out so I didn't have to do any physical cut and pasting/mounting.


    Though I wasn't able to do it because of signing up at the last minute, I think it would be very valuable to participate in some of the workshops if you can. There are dummy and portfolio critique sessions and several sessions that require 'homework.' Mingle, talk to people. At our conference they set signs on some of the tables for 'Newbies' but I avoided sitting there because I wanted to sit with a mix of experienced and new illustrators.

    Hope some of this helps!

  • SVS OG

    @natiwata I read the Giuseppe Castellano article - really great! Thanks for posting it!

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