1. From the incomparable Mem Fox, who I creepily wish was my best friend: Listen to the cadence of music and the rhythm of poetry until it becomes ingrained in your mind. Good children's book text will lull like a poem, even when the action is dynamic, so be sure to read your text aloud.
Mem, you have a voice that could tuck people into bed. You remind me of Bing Crosby, whose comforting voice is what I imagine hot buttered rum to taste like, even though I've never tried it.
P.S. I heard Mem speak at Book Expo in 2014 and she was just as delightful then. Her agent and author panel was also very useful in discussing how a picture book should work. She spoke at length about writing from the emotional heart of your experiences, something that Jane O'Connor seconded in her speech.
P.S. If I had known he was making a face, I totally would have matched that. Believe it.
P.S. Adam, I met you before at Books of Wonder when you and Neil Gaiman were signing for the original Chu's Day. You were awesome and gave me free portfolio advice. That's cool. I think I need to put that out into the universe to add to your general coolness.
4. Varian Johnson. My favorite advice of his was one that my hard working nature, fueled by my half German heritage, really believes in: We all deserve to be part of the conversation but only if we are willing to put in the hard work. Don't rely on the muse: get to work every day, no excuses.
For those of you who haven't read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, I recommend it. He talks about the excuses artists and writers make to stop doing the creative work--and more importantly, the trudge work--necessary to get projects completed.
5. Molly Idle: Her talk focused on the concept of play. She saw the muse as a gift that we must accept, and that creative play breeds ideas. I know this to be true; creativity is a muscle. The more often I flex it, the more ideas I have. If I am idle (no pun intended), my creativity goes to sleep.
P.S. Molly, apparently I am your döppelganger. Several people congratulated me on your speech, and I was happy to take the praise for you. But I'm glad we got the chance to meet so that I could pass those good wishes along and prove that I am your double. But I'm growing my hair out, so it won't last for long. :(
6. Jon Cepeda: He touched upon an illustrator's constant companion: fear. Leave it aside, he said, and if it comes calling, pretend it doesn't exist.
7. Shannon Hale: One of the talks that made me laugh the most (but not the only one that made me tear up), Shannon demolished the idea of writing what we know. Write what we love, she said. Dan Yaccarino had a sort of counterpart to this: write from the deepest part of yourself. Even still, that doesn't have to be what we know best. Her appeal to include boys and girls in recommendations for traditionally gendered books was eye-opening.
8. Kwame Alexander (this year's Newbery Medalist): Kwame picked up on Varian's idea of work. His stories of grit in times of frustration made me want to buckle down even harder. Thanks for showing us that we are not alone in the struggle to make it in this creative world.
P.S. Kwame, I sat next to you and talked to you about bacon. I did not know it was you. I talked with the Newbery medalist about bacon. Hmmm. What does that say about me? But given the chance, I suppose I'd talk to you about bacon again.
9. The Illustrator's Intensive was useful all the way through. Helpful advice from John Rocco: consider carefully the color keys to the picture book. It can be used for mood as well as to show how character's relate to each other. Also, remember to let your pictures breathe. It's not necessary to draw everything in one picture. Focus instead on how to best tell the story.
John, I have met you twice before, and each time you gave me bits of advice. It was really fun to listen to your whole talk, and it was really enlightening. Plus, you seem like you are fun to hang out with. Behold the badassery:
11. The Homework Panel: While definitely the most uncomfortable, this was very useful. I hoped they would not pick my work to critique, but they did. I'll admit, I cringed when it came up on screen. But in hindsight, the advice was solid. Don't color by object, but by scene and readability. Remember value as a tool---blur your eyes to make sure each part of the drawing is visible. The assignment was a before and after: I chose black and white translated to color. The top two were the images I submitted. The bottom includes some value changes in Hans' clothing and his bagpipes, and in the leaves.
13. Last but not least, the food in LA was yummy. NYC, you need to step up your taco game. Sushi bigger than your hand? Sodas that taste like Superbowl Sunday? Candy corn taffy? And the Salvadorean pupusas? Oh yeah.