Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Illustrator Day: How I Learned the Trade

by Rebecca Jordan-Glum


It’s registration time for the SCBWI Winter Conference, which will surely be as wonderful as every conference SCBWI has ever held, including the most recent all-virtual summer one that I found especially inspiring. And SURE, the conference speakers will make us want to laugh and cry as they share hard truths and poignant insights.

You will also, no doubt, laugh out loud and perhaps even find yourself dabbing an actual literal tear from your eye when you recognize yourself in the stories of struggle and inspiration, like when Justin Chanda tells you with all certainty that “Your talent is nothing short of alchemic and mystical!” or Susan Rich conspiratorially shares about reading art notes from illustrators —“I can read smudge marks on a dinner napkin.” Or when Melissa Manlove emphatically states “The lightening bolt hits the person who’s been crankin’ the generator.” And especially when Judy Blume gently reminds you that “When you write for kids, you have to be on their side, no matter what story you’re telling.” If you’ve ever been to an SCBWI conference, you know exactly what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, I’m sure your twitter feed was overflowing with gushy posts during conference time every year. You know how amazing it all is.

What you may not know is that after the conference ends, there’s A BONUS DAY. That’s right— a special all-day mini conference just for illustrators (including pre-published illustrators, of course) and here’s the big secret: ILLUSTRATOR DAY IS THE BEST DAY OF THE CONFERENCE. Yes, that’s right, the best day— which is really saying something. Illustrator day is an all-day extravaganza of drawing sessions, pep talks, and in-depth tutorials for illustrators, led by the superstars of children’s literature— and it’s absolutely essential if you’re trying to learn the trade. I know because that’s how I learned the trade. And, like the entire conference, it’s immensely enjoyable. You’ll consider composition and emotion, learn basics about book dummies and character development (where you may hear Dan Santat bellowing things such as “Dial it back with the facial expressions, people!”) They’ll surprise you with unexpected drawing exercises and activities that will push your kidlit illustrator abilities to new levels. There may even be puppets. Yes, puppets. (I can’t tell you what hilarious thing illustrator, editor, and master puppet designer Laurent Linn said puppets do when the cameras go off, but suffice to say that we all got a good laugh.)

What I can tell you is this: You’ll be inspired. You’ll be informed. You’ll find yourself, for one rare and wondrous day, in fellowship with a gazillion other illustrators. And who knows? Maybe, you’ll be so inspired by it all that you’ll scrawl out a rough dummy that will some day turn into your debut picture book, like I did. 

Rebecca Jordan-Glum is a Los Angeles based author-illustrator, artist, and designer. Her debut picture book, The Trouble with Penguins, is a hard-fought dream many years in the making and just one of many completely unrealistic goals she is working towards. Twitter & Instagram @RJordanGlum