November 21, 2013

Why haven't you been to the Mazza Museum(or their Weekend Conference)?

Every fall the Mazza Museum has a weekend conference where they invite some of the top children's literature illustrators and authors to speak about their work. This year was the first year I attended since recently hearing about Mazza. I want to share with you my experience from a couple weeks ago.

While there weren't many illustrators at the conference, I was only one of two working professionals not there to speak or there in any official capacity. I did however get to meet a number of Librarians, Teachers and one Indie Bookshop owner and other advocates of children's literature. Everyone there shared a bond of love for children's literature.  It wasn't the networking type of conference like SCBWI's conferences, but I did not go away empty handed, and considering the relative low cost of attending compared to attending a SCBWI conference it was a decent ROI.



Lucky for me,  the Keynote Speaker for this conference was also a personal inspiration to me, Robin Preiss Glasser, illustrator of Fancy Nancy. Robin proved to be very funny and personable as she talked about her career as an illustrator. She also shared a bit about the process she uses to create her books. If you can believe it, she uses a photocopier in place of photoshop.

Other artists that were invited to speak included John Rocco, author/illustrator of the Caldecott honor book "Blackout",  Author/Illustrator Will Hillenbrand, Grandson of the creator of and current author/illustrator of the Madeline series John Bemelmans Marciano, Russian born illustrator/author Eugene Yelchin, and author/illustrator Patricia Polacco.

Each and every one of the author/illustrator's that were invited to speak were fabulous story tellers.

John Rocco shared the story of the group of children he hung out with as a kid that inspired his book,"Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom"

Will Hillenbrand talked about how his son waking him inspired his book, "Spring Is Here", a story about a mole (Will's son) who tries to wake a bear (Will) in time for spring.

John Bemelmans Marciano shared finding the work of his grandfather at his mother's house and the need he had to share it with the world which turned into a revival of the Madeline series.

Heartbreaking yet inspiring was Eugene Yelchin's story about growing up as  a jew in Communist Russia, escaping to America  and how that influences not only his picture book career but also his fine art career.

Probably the most compelling story telling was Patricia Polacco's story of how as a child and young teen she struggled with reading, was basically illiterate. She talked about a teacher who recognized what was going on with her, and saved her life by getting help for her learning disability.

Each and every one of of the speakers shared many stories about how they came to love literature, to create children's literature,  and how their life and experiences had came to influence their work. Hearing others speak their passions on a topic you're equally passionate about is probably the most inspiring thing you can do.

And Just like Robin Preiss Glasser, many of the artists shared insight into the process they use creating picture books. John Rocco shared a technique he borrowed from his experience as a concept artist for film called color mapping. He color mapped his books adding another element to tell the story through color to tell the story. He also shared how steals techniques from old masters like painting from dark to light like Rembrandt.

Will  Hillenbrand showed how his ideas come from thumbnails (little sketches), to bigger sketches and then to dummies (the book in sketch form). Will had an interesting thought about dummies. He called them promises you take and present to a publisher.  As an artists, he said it's our duty to fulfill that promise.

Eugene Yelchin talked about how flemish painters influence his work, while Patricia Polacco showed how she weaves personal and family history into her stories. I managed to learn something about the craft of not only illustration but of story telling from each presenter.

Here are truths I heard over and over from all the presenters that  I'll share:
  • First, and probably the biggest was one I already personally know; draw, draw and draw again and again. There is no getting around it, if you make children's books for a living you're going to be drawing and redrawing the same characters over and over again. It's part of the job.
  • The goal shouldn't be to make pretty pictures, the goal is to make better books.
  • Draw from your childhood, and from the children around you
  • It's a job, treat it like one
  • A picturebook is like a stage, and the story is a play. 
The Mazza Museum is certainly place I plan on returning to. The library of children's books are listed by illustrator not author, and their collection of art from picture books is impressive. This should be a priority to visit if you have children or have an interest in children's literature and are in the Northwest Ohio area. The fact I have a large number of family living in the Northwest Ohio area assures I will be visiting the Mazza Museum as often as possible in the many years to come. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll be lucky enough for them to invite me to speak.

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