Have you ever wondered how to break the ice and get more audience participation at your illustrator event? Rita Lazaro, an artist and SCBWI member based in Bath, has some great ideas to get things started!

Creative people need groups too!
The Problem

I have been a member of SCBWI for over a year now and I can’t deny the benefits coming from belonging to this incredibly creative community. I have learned so much over the past year. I have written several texts, and the pleasure of discussing them with my fellow authors in online and real-life critique groups has been invaluable.

However, I noticed that a similar peer support is lacking for illustrator folk. In my day job, I’m an artist, so I am illustrating these stories myself, but I could use a fresh pair of eyes to tell it to me straight—same as with my writing.

Sometimes illustrators can feel shy
Illustrators Are Different

Maybe it’s harder to critique illustrations online; and in real life, illustrators, like any artists, are sometimes reclusive. Most SCBWI events focus on writing. Even if the illustrators make it to a social meeting, they often struggle in the company of wordsmiths—I do, for sure. That might leave illustrators feeling left out, even in an organisation as lovely and friendly as SCBWI.

The go-to solution for illustrator events seems to be the Sketch Crawl. Sketch Crawls are great for when you try to teach students about perspective, proportions, working quickly while jotting down details. But beyond that, drawing from life is not what illustrators really do. Most illustrators draw from imagination, where the rules of perspective or realism are at best optional.


In my previous life as a youth worker in non-formal education, my favourite activities were the ice-breakers and energisers. These are games that encourage participants to get to know each other and facilitate learning and participation. I modified some of those games in order to enhance illustrator events, although a lot of them can be used by non-drawing people too.

I hope you give them a try and let me know how they work for you and your group.

Games and Ice-Breakers
Results of name tag game

  • The name tag

You might know most people coming to your event from Facebook, but I always struggle to match names with faces. So let's draw name tags for everyone.

What you need:

- Thick paper, A5 size
- Pencils, crayons, pens
- Imagination

Give each participant a piece of paper. Fold it in two. Ask everyone to draw an animal that starts with the same letter as their name. After few minutes of drawing, ask everyone to introduce themselves by showing their picture and finding a commonality with their animal— for example, “I’m Rita, I drew a racoon. I chose a racoon because it’s a night-time creature just like me.” Or “I’m Chloe the Cat. I love cats and this is the only animal I could draw.”

It doesn’t have to be animals. It could be the object that best describes you, a fairy-tale character, a type of dinosaur…as long as it starts with the same letter as your name. For groups where most people don’t draw, you can use dominant characteristics, for example, Restless Rita or Gorgeous Graham. Refer to people with their new nicknames for the rest of the day.

What has annoyed, excited, or surprised you lately?
  • Pet peeve
This game has to be done in advance of the illustrators’ meeting. Ask everyone to bring a drawing that is a representation of what has annoyed, excited, saddened or surprised them lately. Tell them not to sign the pictures, but put them face-down on the table when they arrive at the meeting. Shuffle all the papers and invite everybody to pick one, but not their own. Ask everybody to describe the illustration and guess what it represents, and to whom it belongs. Ask the artist to come forward and confirm or elaborate on his work.

This is a great way to get to know your colleagues and their style, and have a bit of a laugh.

SCBWI illustrator fun

  • Book consequences

What you need:

- Each participant needs a notepad, the kind where you can flick pages
- Drawing tools
You are going to draw a story. On the top of each page, write down the vital ingredients of any story: protagonist, setting, inciting incident, problem, resolution. But there can be any number of “story ingredients” you can use, depending on the number of participants, like antagonist, sidekick, magic, superpower etc.

Every participant starts by drawing their protagonist (e.g. Red Riding Hood). When the set time is up, everybody turns a page of their notepad and passes it to the left. The next person mustn’t see what the previous person has drawn. Now everybody draws a setting for a story: for example outer space. Then they turn the page and pass it on again, till all the “story ingredients” are exhausted. Then you flick to the beginning of the notepads and see what stories everyone has accidentally come up with.

It will be very silly, but it might spark someone's imagination for a story or character.

Next week: Part II!


Rita Lazaro is a visual artist based in Bath. However, she has been admiring illustrators for a while and even curated an illustration exhibition as part of the Fringe Arts Bath festival. After a year as a member of SCBWI, she might soon be ready to bring her own picture books to the world, but for now, she is busy bringing illustrators and picture-book enthusiasts together as a Network Organiser for SCBWI South West.
You can see Rita's work here.
Twitter: @RitaLazaroArt

Picture credits: Illustrator Games, Rita Lazaro.
Ducklings: AnemoneProjectors on Flickr
Single duckling: Max Pixel
Pied Piper: Kate Greenaway (1846–1901) on Wikimedia Commons
Name tag game: Rita Lazaro
Pet peeve: Rita Lazaro
Photo of Rita: provided by author

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