After many weeks of working around the clock trying to get things “just right” it was finally time for the spring conference in Springfield. I happily placed my portfolio in the Portfolio Showcase for the first time and set up my Illustration Challenge piece. I felt good about putting my work out for others to see and was happy just to show a cohesive portfolio of what my work looks like. My day was brightened even more when the lovely Pam Vaughan ran up, gave me a hug and told me that she loved my work. I couldn’t have been happier.
I enjoyed Friday’s workshops and looked forward to many more. The “meet n’ greet” was fun (and much easier to navigate since they moved the bars outside the Mahogany room). I was stunned by the amazing work on view. I particularly loved the portfolios by Dani Jones, Jennifer Morris, Kevin Barry, Marcela Staudenmaier, Brianne Hills as well as many others. ( I think I scared Dani when I accosted her and told her how much I love her work. I’ve been following her online for years).
Saturday morning I dashed downstairs and placed my Illustration Challenge piece along with all the goodies I’d had made on the table in front of the Ballroom. I enjoyed sitting in the ballroom alone for a while drawing and drinking coffee before everyone came down for breakfast. How could I have imagined that everything would be different just a few moments later?
The next thing I knew they were announcing the winners of the Ann Barrow award, the Richard Michelson award (Marcela Staudenmaier) and finally the Portfolio Showcase Awards.
I sat there wondering which one of my favorites would win. Ruth announced the runners up, first Kevin Barry and then Ruth announced Dani Jones but put up a slide with my name on it and my people’s choice poster contest image from the 2007 conference. She quickly switched it to Dani’s but I gasped. Ruth said, “Oh I gave it away”. I absolutely, positively could not believe that she followed that with announcing me as the winner.
I’m still in disbelief. So many people came up and complimented me on my work and congratulated me on the award…everyone was so incredibly lovely. I just couldn’t believe it was real. I have been told for so long that my work was really good but while I thought it was pretty good, that was about it. I felt very good about the work I showed in the portfolio but didn’t feel that I was even in contention for a runner-up prize.
As I was floating along on my collection of comfy cumulonimbus clouds, I went to be a workshop handler for the “First Look” challenge. I met the delightful Laurent Linn and we headed off with the stack of books for door prizes. Jim Hoover came in next and the room quickly filled up. They started introducing themselves and Martha Rago arrived just in time. I took care of the door prize entries and sat by the door to do whatever it is a handler needs to do. Ruth began the slide show and the Art Directors started critiquing the pieces. After a few went by, my piece came up on the screen. There were quite a few Ah ha! sounds and lovely laughs and then Laurent Linn said, “Well of course we now know that this comes from the Portfolio Showcase winner”. They all began saying ridiculously wonderful things about the piece. I think it was Jim Hoover who said he loved the staircase? They said it was “a really strong piece”. Martha Rago pointed out that the whole thing could have been said with just the right panel. With each compliment I floated higher and higher off of my chair. It’s still unreal. I will never, ever forget how delightful that moment was.
After I stopped popping in and out of reality, I tried to figure out how I could had been chosen. It’s been a long road and there are so many people who helped me to get here.
I got serious about trying to have a career in Children’s Illustration when Wayne Geehan and Toby Williams invited me to join them to the Greater Boston Illustrator’s Group in 2007. I had created some successful pieces after college and brought them to Trisha Hanlon at Little Brown when it was still a lovely little office on Joy Street in Boston. She had praised the work and given me guidance as to what to do next. I did some more pieces but then had to get a full time job. Before too long I had completed an M.F.A. in Illustration (ABD) at Syracuse University and shortly thereafter was married and a parent. My focus became my family but I continued to make art of all different sorts in my spare time.
I had decided to leave my part-time day job at the beginning of 2014 and work like crazy to try to get a portfolio ready for the 2014 conference. At exactly the same moment I received an email from Melissa Kim of Islandport Press asking if I would like to illustrate a picture book for them. I eagerly said yes! After that I dealt with a frozen shoulder for six months and wasn’t sure I’d be ready in time so I didn’t sign up for the Showcase last year. 2014 ended up being a very difficult year which ended with the loss of my mother. I worked off and on all year long on the “Hold this!” book for Islandport Press.
I completed the final art shortly after my mother passed and it was a wonderful thing to pour all my energy into. My family put up with a virtually invisible mother as I worked all week long for months to finish “Hold This!” and then start our new co-operative gallery downtown (ArtSpace Downtown-whose members have been gracious, supportive and understanding as I became entirely consumed with getting ready for the Spring Conference). Thank you ASD!! My family, David, Tim and Addie have been my constant cheerleaders, I can’t begin to thank them enough. I have to mention Dilly, my corgi, who is the real star of the boat scenes and was the one thing that made those particular images so successful. Thanks Dilly!
I had worked very hard to put together what I’d been told that Art Directors want to see. Ruth Sanderson had held a Portfolio Workshop and explained in detail what we needed to do. I apparently had paid close attention. Thanks Ruth! I learned an incredible amount over the course of making my new picture book for Islandport Press. Islandport found me because Melissa Kim had kept a card I’d sent her in 2008! Thanks Melissa!
I had created dozens and dozens of illustrations for Diane Root and her Solomon Sire Adventure series over the period of three years. I owe Diane a great deal for believing in me when I wasn’t quite ready to. Thanks Diane!
As far as getting ready for the Conference goes, it was a lengthy, enjoyable process. I knew I’d go into the conference as a published illustrator and that felt good. I got the okay to use some of the illustrations from the yet-to-be-released book in my portfolio and set to choosing images. Last year I had purchased a lovely new portfolio and had designed the layouts for each page. I started working on the Illustrator Challenge in late January or early February. The overall design came quickly and I wanted to play with it so much I started making full size paintings even though I knew there would be many more versions. I’ve learned that my best work seems to show up when I think of it as a practice piece. It’s kind of terrifying to think that one is doing a “final” piece of art. I had done three or four versions when I took the work to our Greater Boston Illustrator’s Group. They were very positive about the work and Laura Close (www.lauraferraroclose.com) and Sarah Brannen (sarahbrannen.yellapalooza.com) made some excellent suggestions for how to improve the piece. I took their ideas home and painted new versions. Thank you Laura and Sarah and the rest of the GBIG critique group! The fifth version I tried on a different paper which had a vellum surface. It came out well and I was really happy with it. This was early March. The following day I decided that the line quality wasn’t exactly right so I switched back to the cold press paper I’d used on the first several versions. I painted all day and at the end compared it to the fifth version. It looked exactly the same as the last one! In the end I used the vellum surface version and it scanned really well. I assembled the pieces in Photoshop and added text and edges and sent it off for printing.
So, in the end, my successful portfolio and Illustration Challenge piece were created by lots of hard work, help from a great group of people and a series of fortunate events.
Thank you NESCBWI !