SCBWI-BI CONFERENCE 2017 Illustrators' feedback

This year's SCBWI Conference in Winchester was a another great success, and particularly valuable for illustrators. Illustration Features Editor John Shelley asked artists attending for their thoughts and feedback.

The Winchester Conference is a highlight of the SCBWI Calendar, and our 2017 event was especially strong for illustrators, both Saturday keynote presenters Alex T Smith and Liz Pichon have a background in graphics, and there were some really great break-out sessions for anyone involved in visual art. The portfolio one-to-ones were oversubscribed and extremely popular, we also had a strong response to the Beginning-Middle-End Competition, and a record number of portfolios on display.

Congratulations to the winners -  Giuliana Gregori won the Beginning-Middle-End competition, and one of our former Featured Illustrators Sharon Davey received the distinction of 'Best Portfolio' for the second time! Well done both!

Giulianna Gregori's winning entry for the Beginning-Middle-End competition

But what stood out particularly for you? Here are some reflections from illustrator attendees.

Patrick Miller

I came away from conference feeling that two things really stood out. Alex T. Smith was wonderful. Funny, generous in sharing his time and experience, and I couldn't believe how cool it was to see the original drawings he brought along to his breakout session. My other highlight was just how much SCBWI illustrators' work I saw. So many portfolios and entries to the competition. It was a great weekend for that - I met a lot of other illustrators. Really enjoyed it.

Alex T. Smith sharing artwork in his break-out session (photo: Paul Morton)

Another shot of Alex (photo: John Shelley)

Paul Morton

As an illustrator attending conference it’s great to have some new picture book work to display or better still a brand new book out to coincide with Mass Book Launch. I had neither this year so wasn’t sure how I’d feel being a part of the throng. I needn’t have worried, as soon as I saw all the friendly eager (and nervous) faces early on the Friday afternoon for Sketch Crawl I knew it was going to be another weekend whirlwind of wonderfulness. 15 people turned up for the Sketch Crawl and produced some remarkable sketchbook work. It’s always gratifying to see brand new faces as well as the slightly wide-eyed conference first timers. How brilliant that they braved meeting up ahead of the main events and hopefully it worked wonders in introducing them to what a sociable knowledgeable bunch we all are.

The portfolio reviews were again oversubscribed this year. It’s one of the most popular opportunities for illustrators to meet the industry professionals and get invaluable advice. Feedback from the reviewers over the weekend was really good and positive and hopefully most of the 22 illustrators will have plenty to think about in the next few weeks as they take it all on board.

Alex T. Smith’s breakout, which for me was the best bit of the conference. I appreciated his generosity with time to answer questions and giving information.

Sketchcrawlers at the Buttercross on Friday afternoon (photo: Paul Morton)

Rachel Tilda Wolf

It was brilliant, loved connecting with other writers and  illustrators and seeing the variety of work we are all doing. Listening to Alex T Smith about his working process and seeing his work was a highlight. Doing The Hook was both terrifying and a brilliant experience, as there was so much support and feedback. My 1:1 was very helpful, basically I've come back fired up and with a very exciting to do list I can't wait to start.

Imogen Foxell

The most important thing I learnt from the conference:
It's OK not to be able to draw elbows (Alex T. Smith) or horses (Tom McLaughlin) - this is excellent news for me, as I struggle with both these things.

Some things I'm going to try:
  • Making my own typeface (Ness Wood)
  • More vignettes (group critique session)
  • Drawing in pencil (Alex T. Smith)
  • Putting more of my personal obsessions into my pictures (Alex T. Smith)
  • Using different sizes of nib to create more focus in my pictures (Portfolio review)
  • Only drawing sundials from now on for the rest of my life (Portfolio review)

Presenters at the Conference, from Imogen Foxell's sketchbook

One-to-One portfolio reviews - Imogen gets some solid advice from Art Director Ness Wood

Christof Simons

(Christof travelled over from Belgium to join us in Winchester.)

As a complete newcomer and foreigner, the past weekend was a blast. Not knowing anyone on Friday, the cameraderie and friendliness of all attendants just made sure I left on Sunday having made many new friends. In a sense, the best comparence I can make is a bit like the movie “the blob”, but then in the best sense possible sense, with the good atmosphere and friendship being the blob, that would allowed me to immerse myself however far I wanted into it. It felt like homecoming.
Even though I loved all speakers and workshops, the pinnacle of the weekend for me was when some of the more experienced volunteers went out of their way to offer me the most excellent guidance to help me move forward. In all, that and the acceptance of everyone into their midst made this a weekend to be treasured. I'll sure be attending some of the future events again.

Hannah Malkin

This conference was the first time I had taken an illustration portfolio to show to anyone. It was rather daunting to lay it on the tables with the many other wonderful portfolios on display, but well worth it. I learnt a huge amount from looking at the work others shared, and from the specific and encouraging feedback people kindly took the time to give me. What a great opportunity!


Catriona Tippin

The Illustrating Comics with Comedy session with Patrice Aggs was fascinating for a look at successful comic strip laughs (establishing shot/gag set up/pause/gag punchline) and for her analysis of panel shape and the passage of time. It was interesting to see examples from a century ago (‘Little Nemo’) with sophisticated simultaneous action compositions. Comics have an illustrious past. And remember, comic book/graphic novel artists - plot your surprise for "the next page".

The Introduction to Comic Books Friday Fringe Session was fun to co-host with Nick Cross. We finished with a Comic Jam with hilarious results. We provided each person with a sheet of A1 paper, divided into six panels, plus marker pens and a random single sentence prompt. We each completed a panel and then moved each comic on to the next person. The results ranged from surreal... to extremely surreal. Try a Comic Jam at your next Network meeting!

Illustrating Comics with Comedy worksheets (photo: Anne-Marie Perks)

Michele Wilson

(Michele also enjoyed Young Fiction: Illustrating Comics with Comedy with Patrice Aggs):

What a great workshop delivered by Patrice Aggs. With clear explanations of the visual methods used in comics for sequential storytelling, many examples wordless; she showed us the variations of panels and how they work to lead the reader through the story. It was fascinating to be shown how the panel could be changed to create tension, movement, drama or emotion. Placement of speech too is significant in ensuring the sophisticated reader does not get confused or lose the path of storytelling. Patrice expressed, ‘those that find it easy to compartmentalise things would be at an advantage in this field as you find yourself squashing things into smaller spaces than you imagine!’ Then it was our turn! With a beginning and end panel we had to devise our own short comedy using a series of panels, which we shared at the end. The knowledge from this workshop could easily be applied to storyboarding a picture book giving more thought to scene setting through a series of actions to the all-important pause before the punch line. ‘Comedy is all about timing’.

Michele's sketches in Patrice's workshop

Many thanks to all the illustrators who sent in their thoughts, it was a richly inspiring weekend, and a lot of fun. Here's looking forward to the next one in 2018!


John Shelley is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. He's illustrated over 50 books for children, many published in Japan where he lived for many years, and the USA. His latest picture book is Magic for Sale, with words by Carrie Clickard (Holiday House, USA). Find him on social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) @StudioNIB  Official Website: 

1 comment:

  1. Great feedback - thanks for collating it John! It was my first conference for 3 years and a very visually stimulating one. Huge thanks to Patrick Miller for his work as Illustrator Liaison. One thing I learnt from Alex T Smith and from a great chat with Ness Wood was how invaluable the book designer can be for an illustrator. In my previous books I've rarely had the chance to collaborate with a designer - but look forward to doing so in the future.


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