This week, Anita Loughrey interviews illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson, who joined SCBWI in 1994.

In 1994, I had just finished a BFA in design and decided I wanted to be an illustrator. I went to a book signing of author/illustrator Jan Brett — I was in awe of her work. When it was my turn to get a book signed, I told her I wanted to do what she did. She advised me to join SCBWI, so I mailed my application and soon after went to my first conference.

I took a brief hiatus while in grad school for illustration. I needed the time to really focus on craft. As soon as I finished my MFA, I immediately re-joined. All in all, I’ve been a member about twenty-two years.

My favourite thing about SCBWI when I first joined was the realisation that there were so many others pursuing the same dream. And with the collective knowledge and support system of SCBWI, it actually felt less like a dream and more like an achievable goal. Plus, at my first conference, I won a stack of books—what more could you want?

I have volunteered for SCBWI in many capacities, depending on the amount of time I’ve had available. I’ve been a conference volunteer, illustration advisory board member, assistant regional advisor and regional advisor, doing jobs anywhere from picking speakers up at the airport to organising the illustration portfolio display. All of the jobs have been fun, community-building activities that I was happy to be a part of. Serving as a volunteer also had the unforeseen benefit of providing me with experiences that helped prepare me for my current role as course leader of the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University.

SCBWI has helped me in my illustration and writing career in so many ways, inspiring me, educating me about both craft and business, and exposing my work to industry professionals. My husband, Jeff Crosby, and I often work collaboratively. We received a SCBWI non-fiction research grant for our first picture book together, which helped us to keep the faith while we were searching for a home for it. Through SCBWI we also met the agent who eventually sold the book. I’ve met wonderful critique partners at conferences. Because I’ve lived in so many cities over the last 20 years, having the international SCBWI connection has helped me to get plugged in at each new location. All of my conference experiences helped prepare me to become a conference speaker, myself, when I reached the right point in my career.
Shelley’s first book, published 2008 by Tundra Books, which received an SCBWI non-fiction research grant

The best thing about my time as a member of SCBWI is definitely the community. The friendship and support that I’ve received, and the contacts I’ve made along the way, has shaped me as an artist and a person. It was the hand up that I needed, not just when I was first starting out, but time and time again over the years. And it’s inspired me to devote my time to giving others that hand up. I’m very grateful to Jan Brett for recommending SCBWI to me back in ’94, and I regularly pass on the same advice to other aspiring authors and illustrators, including my students who are now participating and winning awards at SCBWI themselves!
The Girllustrators, a critique group Shelley formed through connections made at the 2011 Austin SCBWI conference. Pictured L to R: Patrice Barton, Lalena Fisher, Marsha Riti, Shelley Ann Jackson, and Amy Farrier.
Girllustrators Marsha Riti, Shelley, and Lalena Fisher leading an SCBWI technology workshop 2012
Shelley, as Austin’s regional advisor, reconnecting with her first critique partner, author Tim McCanna at the LA SCBWI conference in 2013. Shelley and Tim first met at the Denver SCBWI conference in 2009.

Header image shows Shelly in 1994 selling posters of her first commissioned illustration - a Mercedes Gullwing in front of the new Denver airport - at a classic car show in Colorado.
All images credited to Shelley Ann Jackson.

Anita Loughrey is SCBWI's Membership Coordinator. Anita writes fiction for all ages, graphic novels, audio books, teacher resources, educational fiction, non-fiction and creative non-fiction on a wide variety of subjects for a wide range of publishers. She has over 85 books published in the UK and many more worldwide. She also writes two regular double-page spreads for the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum and teaches creative writing.

You can find out more about Anita Loughrey on her website and on her blog. Or follow her on Twitter @amloughrey and Instagram @anitaloughrey

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