Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why Picture Books Writers Should go to Illustrator Workshops

Why Picture Book Writers Should go to Illustrator Workshops 

Springmingle is almost sold out this year, only one spot left, but we want picture book writers to know all about the opportunity they still have to attend Illustrators Day on March 10 at the Decatur Library.

You may ask, "Why would a picture book writer want to go to an illustrators' workshop?"

I'll start with personal experience.  When I registered for my first SCBWI conference in New York all of the writers' intensives were full, but I was studying the way text and image work together in picture books at Hollins University (for my Masters in Children's literature), and decided to see if Lin Oliver would let a non-illustrator attend the illustrators' intensive. She approved and it was one of the best decisions I have made in my writing life. You can read about illustrations creating tension on a page, and I was certainly doing a lot of that at Hollins, but when it is explored in an illustration workshop the term gains a deeper meaning.

It is also hard to comprehend the full nature of the collaboration between the writer and the illustrator. Picture book writers know they need to think visually when they write, but often this comes out as detailed verbal descriptions instead of active texts that offer visual possibilities for the illustrator.
In a blog about creating SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE with Jon Klassen, Mac Barnett says,
"I feel like a big part of my job in writing a picture book manuscript is to create opportunities for the illustrations to do the storytelling. And really the picture book writing is the art of finishing an unfinished thing. So there were crucial things to the book that I had no idea how [Jon was] going to solve: What were the spectacular things Sam and Dave were going to miss? How would falling from the bottom of the earth work visually? And how would [Jon] indicate that they’d landed somewhere else?" (emphasis added)
The art of leaving things "unfinished" for an illustrator to flesh out is often contrary to our writer's instinct to describe everything in detail for the editor and illustrator so they will see how we envision the story unfolding. Understanding what it means to leave space for the illustrator to contribute to the story is essential to writing great text.

Similarly, as writers we know to include pauses and "cliff hangers" in text that signal a good place for a page turn, but maybe we are not thinking how that will work in the illustrations. Seeing and hearing how editors and art directors structure the text and illustration together helps us understand how we can improve what we submit, make it more acquirable, and be better partners in the collaborative process. 

So if you didn't register in time to attend Springmingle'17, consider coming for Illustrator Day. You'll learn a lot and we'll get to see you at the reception on Friday night! And as an added bonus, there are still a few slots available for consultations with an agent!

Claudia Pearson
Regional Advisor

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