This past weekend, SCBWI Carolinas celebrated their 20th annual conference in Charlotte, NC. I love returning to the well. Inspiring keynotes and energizing breakouts filled our time for three whole days! Illustrators arrived early on Friday for an intensive session with the charming illustrator Priscilla Burris. We were given an assignment ahead of time which was:

  1. Characters Page:  Create and develop two characters.  Name them.
  2. Main Image: Create and Color Finish an image involving both characters, interacting. (Either one page or 2-pg spread)
  3. Before Image: Create and Sketch an image that shows what happened before the Main Image part of the story.
  4. After Image: Create and Sketch an image that shows what happens after the Main Image part of the story.

Daunting to say the least. No restrictions, not even dimensions. Wide open. I have to admit, when I received this challenge, I was rather disappointed, and frankly had a bad attitude. I wanted something to work with. Please oh please don’t leave me alone in the dark recesses of my shallow creativity to make something completely original! I felt like I was suddenly being asked to write, and I wanted to illustrate! Sadly, I realized that I’ve been relying on someone else’s work to propel me into my work. How was I going to start with a completely blank canvas?

The answer was in creating boundaries. I’ve heard it said that if children are playing in a large field with no fence, they will gather together in a tight radius near the middle and not venture out very far from each other, playing within a very limited space. If, however they are provided a fenced in perimeter, they will utilize all the space for play. I read that Dr. Seuss had only a 225 word list with which to work from in writing Cat in the Hat. Boundaries propel us into creative thinking by forcing us to solve problems. Last year at the convention, writer John Bemis left us with a most inspiring keynote that provided some tools to work with when we are faced with creative blocks. We were all asked to write 20 words, then step back and look at them. What did they say? Where was the common thread? Is there any imagery that comes to mind? Next he shared with us a game that included asking a question, then find a picture (from a magazine or a book). The last step is to connect your question with the image you found. How does the image you found answer your question?

So I decided to play this type of game with my lucid characters I had floating around in my head. I knew I wanted a doll and an owl, but that was where my big idea ended. So I played what I call the “Blind Dictionary” game. This is where you close your eyes and open the dictionary and point. My goal was to find 10 nouns and 10 verbs. Of course I came upon some adjectives and adverbs, but I moved on and didn’t use those. Here were the 10 nouns: (doll and owl I already had), harlequin, thread, hame, factory, kimono, shilling, wheelie, lichen. The 10 verbs were: conspire, spy, twitch, liberate, lick, burn, blow, scoop, retain.Well, I guess that turned out to be only 9, but what resulted was this lush visual material I had now to work with!

So without further ado, meet Commelina:

and her various transformations:

and the clockwork owl, Li:

The illustrated plot sequence:

In the end, I realized I may have some stories to tell after all. If the material is not provided for me, there is material out there if I cut and paste it together and make boundaries. Thank you, Priscilla Burris, and once again, thank you SCBWI!


Today's illustrator promo: Rebecca Evans


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