The hill country bloomed with more than wildflowers the weekend of September 14-16, 2018. Inspiration was in the air at Austin SCBWI’s first Picture Book Retreat for Authors & Illustrators.
Chronicle Books editor Ariel Richardson and Red Fox Literary co-founder and agent Abigail Samoun joined the 27 writers and illustrators. Both faculty members were generous, exceedingly gracious and provided industry insight into the craft of picture books. Each gave a limited number of face-to-face critiques with attendees who signed up ahead of time and sent in their manuscripts and dummy books.
Their workshops were dense with information. Ariel presented the whole range of early reader children’s books—from picture books, to board books, to novelty books. She then had the attendees break out scissors and paper, instructing each to create their own novelty book. The room was quiet as the tables of creators bent over their work. Those brave enough shared their creations.
Abi’s presentation was a rich overview of the industry. She talked about craft, how to become a better writer and illustrator. She walked us through paginating a book. She showed how to build the foundations of a writing career, giving us stacks of resources. She even walked us through filling out a tip sheet—a form used by publishers and agents that describe our book; helping us understand how professionals think about and market a book.
Roundtables—group critique sessions—held throughout the retreat followed two formats. Abi and Ariel each led small roundtables with the attendees. Then the writers and illustrators gathered for open roundtables, which provided further discussion and insight. Presenting a book to different groups was an eye-opener as each group saw common threads and also gave different feedback.
The days were filled with the hum of work. Illustrators gathered around tables, paints and pencils in hand—revising illustrations, creating news ones. Writers huddled in corners or on park benches hammering away on their laptops—tweaking manuscripts, crafting new words and ideas.
Abi and Ariel’s feedback and insight rang in our ears. Their expert direction and input guided us as we furthered our picture book concepts. Story, text, and illustrations came together in new and refined ways.
The Saturday night open reading gave authors the opportunity to read their books to the group as a whole. The authors’ personalities and passion were on display as each read her work. From silly, to sincere and beautiful, to humorously historical, each story showed just how different the picture book format can be.
In the evenings attendees gathered to talk through the day and socialize. Board games covered some tables. In another corner there were casual chats about what we’d learned. Some discussions were lively and laughter filled. In the dining room illustrators continued to paint and draw. One attendee even brought Vegemite, the Australian snack, which she shared.
Cardinals flitted from tree to tree, chirping as they went. Crows cawed. Hummingbirds zoomed in and out of the brightly colored native plants. Deer wandered through the thickly wooded property, greeting early morning risers. It is hard to imagine a better place to create or hone a picture book. Surrounded by not only the inspiration of nature, but the insight and guidance of the faculty, and the support and camaraderie of the other attendees—it was indeed a remarkable and productive weekend.