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by Lisa Saint


For over twenty years I have been a fine art painter, card designer, and have taught book making classes for children. But my deepest desire has been to write and illustrate children’s books. I’ve attended SCBWI conferences, workshops, and retreats – and created some nice, even well-received work. But that’s where it all stops. Jobs, family, friends, and numerous commitments continually take up my time and attention. Year after year. The sad revelation is that this pattern could go on forever.

When the most recent Illustrators Day was announced, I made a pledge to commit to my dream. I registered for the one-day conference. Gathering my 10 strongest illustrations for a mail-in portfolio review, I sent them off to be critiqued by an industry professional.


I arrived at the Skirball Cultural Center and dropped off my portfolio, then headed to find a seat in the main hall.

After a warm welcome by Illustrator Coordinator Lisze Bechtold, the first of two keynote speakers took the stage. Christy Tugeau Ewers, Agent at The CAT Agency spoke about The Art of Spontaneity: Carrying the Life of the Sketch into the Final Illustration. Christy emphasized keeping drawings loose and lucid, reminding us to draw from life daily and keep inspired.

20191102_094400.jpgBy midmorning we were participating in workshops with Joe Cepeda or Marla Frazee. Anyone who has had the good fortune to hear Marla speak, knows this prolific, Caldecott Honor recipient to be a warm, positive, extremely knowledgeable, and incredibly gifted teacher. SCBWI member Pauline Tso shared a few thoughts after attending Marla’s session: “Marla said that she often lays out a story by creating a set of thumbnail sketches which are largely abstract compositions in black and white. Her goal is to emphasize the importance of the emotion of each spread. Emotion is the most important aspect of each illustration to resolve first.” The session concluded with each attendee being asked to draw as though they were children again.

I attended Joe Cepeda’s workshop. This award-winning illustrator of more than thirty books shared his personal journey and his generous message of story over extravagance. Light-hearted but with deep conviction, he urged us to “throw out your ego and allow your story to speak … Find your place in your story and then collaborate, surrendering at all times to your story,” Joe emphasized.

Original paintings from many of his books were on hand and Joe gave us firsthand knowledge as to how he achieved various images. I was blown away.


After lunch, Lauren Rille, Art Director, Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane, McElderry & Atheneum), was our second keynote speaker. She shed light on her topic of Getting technical about emotion; what goes into creating compelling, enduring and memorable characters. “You should be constantly checking back with your roughs. Are you maintaining your original expressions, mood, and feelings.” This is essential to sequenced visual storytelling.

20191102_151553Lastly, we were treated with a combined panel discussion and Q&A made up of our four distinguished guests.

The day ended with the portfolio showcase winners being announced, written portfolio reviews returned, and book signings by Marla and Joe.

Was it worth it for me to attend Illustrators Day?

I received encouraging comments to push forward with my art. Did I wow anyone with my knockout illustrations? Don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.

I was wowed by all that I learned.

I gained a clearer vision as to how to make my work transition from nice art to more compelling and engaging children’s book illustration.

And isn’t that the dream?

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Lisa is a writer, artist, educator, and advocate for the arts. Over the last 19 years, she has worked in oil, acrylic, watercolor, and mixed media.  Lisa teaches book-making and graphic novel classes for the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF). She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as well as The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles (SILA). 

Headshot provided by author. Photos of event provided by Nutschell Windsor, SCBWI Regional Advisor.