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Paris Conference From Idea To Book

Recently I was in Paris to run a workshop at the SCBWI France Conference and attend the Salon du Livre Jeunesse (Children’s Book Fair) in Montreuil.

It was actually touch and go whether I’d get there at all, as services on both sides of the English Channel were crippled by severe winter weather. My Eurostar train was cancelled, passengers for all journeys were left in a first-come-first served queue that stretched almost outside St.Pancras Station. After a two hour wait I was finally able to get on a later train that crawled across country, only for it to break down at Calais. I eventually reached Paris five hours later than scheduled after midnight, fortunately with a place to rest (thank you Erzsi!).

After these trials the SCBWI Conference From Idea To Book was a tonic. Held at Parson’s Paris School of Design, it had a notable leaning towards illustrators. I opened the proceedings by giving one of two evening talks (the other was led by presentation expert Sandra Carey). The theme was portfolios, and was gratifyingly well attended despite the cold weather, everyone was very responsive.

The following day was the main quantum of the conference and hinged around two publishing professionals flown in specially from New York for the event. Patrick Collins (Creative Director) and Noa Wheeler (Editor), both from Henry Holt Publishers. Other presenters were UK-based agent Stephanie Thwaites, and my dear friends agent Erzsi Deak and author-illustrator Doug Cushman.

The two Holt presenters first gave an overview of the stages in the production of picture books from first sketches to finished product, using books illustrated by Doug Cushman, Steve Jenkins, J Rutland, Gennardy Spirin and Ed Young as examples. It was fascinating to compare the different processes of the artists and production issues they presented to the editors. From completely re-formatting one book to incorporate text (Spirin’s Life in the Boreal Forest) to reworking colour (Rutland’s Alligator Wedding), the evolution of the final product was explained in compelling detail. Doug joined in to talk about his latest title with Holt, Halloween Good Night, a book I helped with in a truly miniscule way, and was honoured to be included in the dedication.

L to R: Doug Cushman, Patrick Collins, Noa Wheeler, Stephanie Thwaites and Erzsi Deak

A panel discussion on the collaborative process finished the morning.

In the afternoon Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown Literary Agency gave a comprehensive talk on the market, with particular emphasis on the development of digital media, e-books and Apps. I seem to be of the minority of illustrators who’ve so far resisted the temptations of the iphone and ipad so some of this went above my head, but bafflement aside Stephanie’s talk was a thought-provoking call-to-arms into catching up with digital media… or risk getting left behind. At least I know what Christmas present I want this year!

Patrick Collins critiquing submission by Constance Von Kitzing

Afterwards I looked in on Patrick’s workshop Sketches to Final Art. Prior to the Conference attendees had been asked to choose one of four very different picture book stories and illustrate a spread. Sketches had been submitted to Patrick for comment some time before the conference, then final art was critiqued on the day. Each submission was given the same detailed and thorough feedback from Patrick, it was an excellent project which I may approach art directors in the UK to try.

The final event was First Look, where four of the guest speakers gave immediate and penetrating feedback to sets of 3 illustrations or text excerpts submitted anonymously by attendees. This had first been tried with great success at Bologna just with illustrations, it was interesting to see how story excerpts were incorporated into the framework and the reactions of the panel to the broad range of work.

The one-day-plus-evening Conference was packed from start to finish and was an energising experience for staff, speakers and attendees alike. My deepest thanks to Conference Organiser Dana Carey, SCBWI France Regional Advisor Tioka Tokedira, and International Illustrator Coordinator Bridget Strevens-Marzo.

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