Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Robin Rosenthal

Robin Rosenthal was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2014 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Robin to the blog, and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

The mentors confirmed I was headed in the right direction and that was great to hear. Before the conference I had pulled out five older gouache pieces that I no longer felt strongly about and added three new pieces. (And after Steven Malk’s Saturday morning talk about building the perfect portfolio I rearranged the order of my book right before I handed it in for the showcase.)

Across the board, the mentors noted that I needed more pieces that felt like they were part of a story and that emotionally connected with the reader. To paraphrase one mentor, a great children’s book illustration has “three elements: emotion, narrative, and anticipation.”

One of my favorite pieces of advice came from two different mentors, said in slightly different ways. Each suggested that I start with illustrating episodes or scenes as opposed to trying to create a whole story, and to not worry about the words yet. This was a breakthrough thought for me and took a lot of pressure off.

In general the mentors loved my color marker pieces, like the rooster, but were more divided on my block prints. Some felt that they belonged in the fine art world and some saw them working in children’s books. I am going to be exploring that technique more over the next few months and see how it plays out.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

Right now I am focusing on incorporating the feedback I’ve received from the mentors. I walked out of the critiques with a concrete list of next steps that I am very excited about. There are a few pieces in my portfolio that I want to develop further and some new pieces I want to create. I also have an idea for a children’s book I’d like to write and illustrate but I want to shore up my portfolio, technique, and visual storytelling skills first.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I would love to illustrate a picture book and continue to do editorial pieces. I’ve also been really into wordless comics lately, especially those in the Nobrow series, so I may try creating some of those in the near future. I love incorporating typography in my work and would like to do more of that as well.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? Any one piece of bad advice?
I was very moved by Kate Messner’s keynote speech at the 2014 NY Winter SCBWI conference. She talked about learning to be okay with failure. She noted that athletes and engineers expect to experience a lot of failure before they get it right. Another quote from that same speech that I love: “You learn to make your work by making your work.” 

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

I loved Meg Rosoff’s keynote and her breakout session on the power of the unconscious mind. In her keynote she said, “Don’t be afraid to engage in the difficult parts of yourself,” and that stuck with me (as a person who has some difficult parts of herself.)

I also found Steven Malk’s talk, Building the Perfect Portfolio, immensely helpful. He began with emphasizing the importance of the portfolio. “These pieces can change your life. An art director or agent can look at [your portfolio] and decide they want to work with you…. Commit to slowing down…. Your portfolio deserves your complete undivided attention.”

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

These were the books that I went back to again and again as a child:
The Seamstress of Salzburg by Anita Lobel. (I wrote about it here: )
The Giant Jam Sandwich illustrations and story by John Vernon, verses Janet Lord Burroway
The Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.
Nobody is Perfick by Bernard Waber
Sometimes I’m Afraid by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Hilde Hoffman
The Big Tidy Up by Norah Smaridge, illustrated Les Gray
The Practical Princess and other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams, illustrated by Rick Schreiter
Barbapapa’s Ark by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor
One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Draw Me a Triangle and Draw Me a Circle by Robyn Supraner, illustrations by Evelyn Kelbish

Where can we find you online?

You can see my work at and follow me on twitter: @robinarosenthal. I am also one of the bloggers at, a blog about children’s book illustration (@penandoink).

 Thanks, Robin!

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