Last week has been a very busy one in terms of illustrating, promoting my work and last but not least family-wise and so this blog post took a while. However, I am always very glad when my life as an illustrator gets busy.
There were times in the beginning of this career when I KEPT busy but I felt like I was fooling myself thinking I am or could be a professional illustrator because there were just no jobs, no interest and no validation. My impatient and unkind inner voice told myself I should be making bigger steps in much shorter time and "get somewhere".
Throughout this time exactly I was always and still am so grateful for my husband's support who continuously reminded me that "the trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit". I sure hope that the quality of my work has improved over the years.
Also, just recently in one of the kidlit groups I have joined we spoke about this "rollercoaster ride" of creating and hoping to be able to make a profession, not just a hobby out of this - it requires a certain way of re-thinking to stay happy and sane. After all, what does "getting somewhere" actually mean? Is your work only to be called validated if a big publisher sends you the long awaited email with a nice contract? Or if you could sell your artwork for a fair price on a recurring basis on one of the online platforms? I had to remind myself that there is another reason (or rather a combination of reasons) why I set out to fulfil this dream of being a children's book illustrator and that these reason already have become a reality. For example, I always wanted a job that enables me to work from home and be there for my children when they get home from school. I always wanted a job that lets me "approach the world" in my own pace and rhythm, meaning if I feel like walking my dog in the middle of the day to soak up some sunshine and find inspiration in the colours of my neighbourhood I can do so. I can work in the middle of the night without having to worry that the next day I might be a frazzled mess that cannot concentrate 'in public'. This job also brought back teaching to me but in a way that I feel happy and content about.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, now there are times when I get so busy with 'proper' work that I have to prioritise and I simply love that. It IS 'going somewhere' but I am very sure there will be times again when it gets quieter and I will have to remind me of the above. Or get reminded by someone. Which brings me to the topic I originally wanted to talk about today - the kidlit community and conferences.
As I told you earlier I attended my first CYA conference in 2015 because I wanted to understand where my work was at at this stage and I wanted to meet the people I used to mingle with online and possibly increase my network. I was especially keen to meet 'professionals' - people who had worked in this industry for years and who knew what it was all about, people I could learn from. In short, I was after a reality check for my work and that is why I not only just attended the conference but also took part in the Illustration Competition and booked in for a portfolio appraisal with Maryann Ballantyne of Black Dog Books. No problem.
If I look at this memory from a distance I can only explain it with the massive passion I have for my work and children's literature in general because, quite frankly, nowadays I don't know where I took this kind of courage from. Big crowds of English speaking professionals actually scare me to death, I don't feel very comfortable going to places where I hardly know anyone and I especially feel insecure when I only recently 'made myself' an illustrator, don't have any arts degrees to show and still claim to be one of 'them'. That's at least how I felt back then. I think it was yet again one of these occasions where I had to decide if I would stand up for my 'strange friend with wonky teeth and big glasses' (see "Fuenf") or just look away, do nothing, in embarrassment.
To make it easier for me I luckily received notification that I had placed in the Illustration Competition weeks prior to CYA so I felt a bit better to actually go. It was still not easy for me and I think I was shaking like a leaf when I finally went. But let me just say for anyone who should read this and feel as insecure about her work or her 'standing' in this industry as me back then: GO TO CONFERENCES!!
The organisers of these events and the people attending are usually the most amazing, supportive and easy going people you can imagine and the only scary thing you have to overcome is your own critical, insecure voice. When you go to conferences things become real - people you only met once or twice before or only online become real, maybe even friends. In my experience I've made the most amazing friends who support me in my work and generally in my journey and I will never forget how much it meant to me when my name was called out to receive the second place in the CYA competiton and members of WRITELINKS cheered me on. I suddenly felt that I am part of this, too.
Also your work becomes real - it gets out there and looked at, appreciated, tested and critiqued. I know this might be the scariest bit of all for some but is the only way to get better. When I booked in for my portfolio appraisal with Maryann Ballantyne I pretty much based my decision on meeting just her on the look of the cover of the "Dragonkeeper" series by Carole Wilkinson. I liked the colours, I liked the style and someone who publishes things like that might potentially like my work, too. That's it. That's my simple and maybe even naive first time approach to meeting editors and I skipped into the room, portfolio under my arm, just like my fox logo - completely oblivious of the fact that most people put a whole lot of research, hope and work into such events. Over the course of the years and the experience gained, this approach has changed a little bit, of course, but I still try to keep my 'innocent' mind set alive - I try to focus on the fact that it is am immense privilege to talk to an editor and maybe even be able to learn some wisdom from them...you just need to figure out what questions to ask and there is a whole treasure chest open for you. I have also learned to appreciate such interviews as very effective promotion of my work and that is why I am usually trying to see different editors every time I go and why I reserve a certain budget for it throughout the year.
Needless to say that Maryann Ballantyne did NOT fall off her chair in admiration when she looked through my very young portfolio but she was lovely, supportive and helpful notwithstanding. I left the room buzzing with ideas and that probably would not have happened in exactly the same form and intensity if I had stayed at home.
In a nutshell, to me conferences are a bit like let's say three or four months of working at home alone on coffee (extra strong coffee) - just in one day you can potentially increase your network and learn new things at an extreme rate BECAUSE you know you have to make it count as it is only an annual event and you invested some money in it. I am looking forward to meeting you at one of these kidlit conferences one day...hopefully skipping with your portfolio under your arm. CYA there! :)