SCBWI + The IPOC Women's Scholarship

This week we talk to illustrator Natelle Quek, winner of SCBWI's IPOC Women's Scholarship.

The second in this series on SCBWI awards, grants and other benefits focuses on the IPOC Women’s Scholarship. The successful applicant(s) is awarded an all-expense paid trip to the Winter or Summer Conference in the US, and it is open to all indigenous and people of colour who identify as women. After the conference, winners also receive two follow-up mentorship conversations with an industry professional. This scholarship is for both illustrators and writers.

One of this year’s recipients was SCBWI-BI illustrator, Natelle Quek, and she shares some of her insights and experiences with us here.

How did you hear about the opportunity?

I found out about the scholarship from someone who shared it on the SCBWI Illustrating Facebook group, which was seriously amazing because I got to attend the New York City conference and show my work in the portfolio showcase, as well as attend some really great workshops. I would not have been able to attend any SCBWI conference otherwise, including the UK one.

Can you tell us a little bit about the whole experience?

If you’re anything like me, large crowds intimidate you. As a newbie to a SCBWI conference, it certainly was an assault on the senses, but eventually you get into the swing of things. Everyone was smiling, chatting, and laughing, and there was no shortage of honest, inspiring and tear-jerking acceptance speeches at the Gala Kite Awards. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anyone there; by the end of the conference, I had made several new friends, and even got to shake hands with SCBWI co-founders Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser.

 The Golden Kite Gala at the conference
The Golden Kite Gala at the conference

How was the Portfolio Showcase?
The Portfolio Showcase followed the awards (eek!); it was an hour of intense folio-flipping, card-grabbing, and me constantly muttering “excuse me”, and “sorry!” as I squeezed my way through the room to marvel at the jaw-dropping talent. I think I must have left with about 40-something different cards of illustrators that I planned to follow on Instagram as soon as I got back to my hotel room! 

Portfolio Showcase at the New York City SCWBI Conference 2020
Portfolio Showcase at the New York City SCBWI Conference

And how about the rest of the weekend?

On the Saturday morning there was a small gathering for scholarship winners before registration began. We all introduced ourselves, some of us swapped cards, but mostly we drank coffee and had a great time getting to know each other.

There were MANY amazing workshops scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday; however, as they ran simultaneously, attendees had to choose just three to attend for the entire weekend (I had such a hard time choosing which workshops I wanted to sit in on!!)

In the end, I attended these three:

1) Picture Books: From Rough Drafts to Submission Ready - hosted by award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome, author and literary agent of Upstart Crow Alexandra Penfold, and executive editor for Macmillan’s Children Publishing group, Connie Hsu.

When it comes to what makes a successful picture book, Alexandra Penfold and Connie Hsu offered these little nuggets of wisdom: 

A great picture book has an element of shareability, it resonates with the reader, and is identifiable on a personal level.

2) Drawing Race Authentically - hosted by author illustrator Vashti Harrison, illustrator Rafael López, and illustrator and fine art painter William Low, moderated by author-illustrator and SCBWI board member Pat Cummings.

Vashti Harrison gives an illustration workshop at the NYC SCBWI conference 2020
Vashti Harrison in the "Drawing Race Authentically" intensive workshop, giving insights into how she tackled honest representation of African-American hair in Hair Love, written by Matthew A. Cherry

I was most excited about this workshop, and it did not disappoint. In addition to valuable drawing tips from all three speakers, some takeaway notes that I will surely pin on to the walls of my office are:

1) Be responsible, honest, and true to the character that you create.

2) LOOK at people. Draw REAL people. Make friends with people outside your culture and let them inspire your characters.

3) See what people from other cultures see. Collect traditional folk art and study it. Educate yourself and understand what elements are important for each particular culture.

This workshop helped me look at my own illustrations and identify my own stereotypes and biases. Every one of us has inherent biases, and it’s one step forward to realise that we HAVE these biases, and that we have the ability to challenge them and ourselves to do better. 

3) Not Just A Pretty Picture: Incorporating Narrative Elements In Your Illustration - hosted by author-illustrators Brett Helquist and Judy Schachner, moderated by executive art director and VP of Penguin Random House, Cecilia Yung.

This hands-on workshop definitely helped challenge my creativity and the way I approach illustrating spreads. The speakers encouraged us to draw the same scene several times to find the most exciting and interesting composition. And most importantly, don’t get too precious! Sketching is just as important as final edits; getting too committed to rendering right off the bat can hinder your process of nailing down emotions, expressions, and composition. 

Some of my sketches from the workshop "Not Just A Pretty Picture"
Some of my sketches from the workshop "Not Just A Pretty Picture"

Other Awesome Conference Stuff: Evening Socials

I was pleasantly surprised to see the list of socials available to conference attendees, ranging from Peer Critiques to Illustrators socials to Inclusion and Equity socials, LGBTQ and Allies socials, and even GenNext socials (it really was one of those times when I wished I could be in two places at once!). A fun fact that was revealed to us in the Illustrators social; attendees who signed up to the conference as illustrators got a little ‘eye’ logo included in their name tag! 

My name tag with the little ‘eye’ logo
My name tag with the little ‘eye’ logo

Did you gain any takeaway points from the keynote speaker(s)? 

We were treated to three guest speakers during the conference weekend: Kate Messner, Jerry Pinkney, and Derrick Barnes. They were effortless in wit, and unabashedly raw with important topics of our time.

Kate Messner touched on women’s rights, the #metoo movement and the courage to speak up,  and gave honest accounts of the drive behind one of her newest middle-grade titles, Chirp. She also got the crowd to reflect on how curiosity and empathy go hand-in-hand, and the importance of our work as writers and illustrators to stay curious.

Kate Messner’s slide ‘License To Chase Curiosity’ 
Jerry Pinkney, having illustrated over 100 titles, treated the crowd to giant slides of a selection of his works. To me, they had an ethereal quality that pulled the viewer in, time after time, something that I hope to achieve in my own work one day. Jerry spoke about how a personal connection means everything for him when it comes to being true to the characters he illustrates. 

Derrick Barnes was the closing keynote for the conference. As February was Black History Month, Derrick started his speech by giving away copies of his titles to those in the crowd who could answer his questions about African-American heroes in children’s books. Derrick shared with us his struggles, legacy, and dedication; in 2011-2014, he produced up to 30 manuscripts that no publisher wanted to pick up. Finally, in 2018, a publisher offered to purchase Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut, which subsequently garnered multiple accolades, including a personal one coined by his own son: “the BLACKEST book ever” —which Derrick proudly used as the opening title to his speech!

And finally (although I think we can probably guess the answer to this), would you recommend that others apply in the future?

Yes, I definitely recommend BAME women apply, and I have forwarded the scholarship page to my friends as well, and encouraged them to apply. This is an opportunity I never thought I’d come across in my lifetime and I’d like to give my incredible heartfelt gratitude to SCBWI for taking a chance on me. I left the conference with a head full of invaluable information, an itch to keep creating and a drive to stay curious.

(More in-depth posts about the conference can be found here.)

Thanks Natelle, this sounds amazing, and congratulations once again.

To find out how to apply for the IPOC Women’s Scholarship this year, please see below. 

What has SCBWI done for you? If you’ve received any benefits from SCBWI that you’d like to share with Words & Pictures’ readers, please get in touch at 


Natelle is an illustrator living and working in London. She currently focuses on children’s illustration, with a particular interest in picture books and illustrated non-fiction. Her work reflects ever-evolving influences from popular culture and heritage, through to the natural world. She loves to explore themes of environmental conservation, cultural diversity, and the commingling of real life with fantastical adventures. Creating surface patterns is her other passion, and she enjoys immersing herself in traditional folk art and natural-history paintings for inspiration. When not illustrating, Natelle spends her time discovering museums and nature trails with her husband, expanding her house-plant collection (you can never have too many plants!), and cuddling her senior rescue cat and dog. For more of Natelle's work please visit:

Instagram: @natelledrawsstuff
Twitter: @natellequek
For enquiries related to children’s picture books, fiction, non-fiction, and YA, please get in touch with Natelle’s agent Alice Williams at 

Elizabeth Frattaroli lives by the sea in Scotland with her husband, young twins, and a cat shadow called Willow. Her current YA work in progress, The Eyelash Dandelion, won the 2019 T. C. Farries prize, and she has written a number of picture books, one of which was shortlisted in the Greenhouse Funny Prize Award. She has also been known to write poems and short stories, some of which have been published.

Her recently completed YA novel,16 Again, a modern-day Sleeping Beauty story with a Faustian twist, was longlisted in both the 2018 Bath Children’s Novel Award and the 2019 Mslexia Children’s Novel award.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @ELIZFRAT

Elizabeth's website:

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