Tuesday, June 19, 2018

SCBWI Summer Conference: Portfolio Advice, Tips For Newbies and Second-Timers, and a CHALLENGE for the Many-Timers - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Just a month and a half until the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles! Who else is going? And isn't the header art wonderful? It was created by our own Robin Rosenthal (Mentee Class of 2014).

I'll be on faculty for the first time: I'm giving a Social Media Master Class for authors and illustrators, a Photoshop session with advice I wish I knew when I first got started in digital art, and am also a Mentor in the just-launched SCBWI Social Media Mentorship For Illustrators award. Deadline for the latter is July 1st; see details here.

To those attending the conference for the first time: I'M EXCITED FOR YOU! As some of you already know, my career got jumpstarted at an SCBWI conference. I started the blog you're reading now because the 2010 winners of the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Award got along so well, and we wanted to keep in touch (this blog is not officially associated with the SCBWI). I'm grateful for Jen Betton, Meridth McKean Gimbel, Ana Aranda, Susie Ghahremani and others who manage the blog and Kidlitartists social media now, as well as those Mentees (past and present) who contribute.

Speaking of Jen Betton, who manages the posting schedule for the KidLitArtists blog: Jen was another person whose career got jumpstarted at an SCBWI Conference! Congrats to Jen, whose debut solo picture book, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, launches TODAY from Putnam/Penguin!


Everyone who contributes to this blog was chosen for the SCBWI Illustrator Mentorship program, and they were chosen based on their portfolios -- so I encourage you to read over posts in our blog for advice and inspiration, especially posts tagged with portfolio-advice. Some of the posts you should check out:

Mentee Portfolio vs Grand Prize Winner Portfolio - by Juana Martinez Neal (2012 Portfolio Showcase winner)

A Few Thoughts On Editing Your Portfolio - by Andrea Offermann (2013 Portfolio Showcase winner)

Portfolio Comparison: What Made An SCBWI Winner - by Eliza Wheeler (2011 Portfolio Showcase winner) -- Eliza is one of the keynote speakers at this year's Summer Conference!

Portfolio Tips From SCBWI Mentorship Winners - Tips from Brooke Boynton Hughes, Jen Betton, Maple Lam, K-Fai Steele, Meridth Gimbel and me.

Even if you don't win an award at the Showcase, be assured that industry people have been looking at your work. One reason I strongly advice bringing postcards is because agents, editors and art directors DO pick up postcards. Even if they may not be able to take you as a client or hire you for a book project right then, your work intrigues them and they may end up contacting you weeks or months later (THIS HAS HAPPENED). Others in the industry will also see your work and may end up recommending you to their agent, editor or art director. I also know at least one art director who does keep track of illustrators whose work intrigues him (but isn't quite ready), to see how portfolio work progresses and evolves.

And most of all, remember that just ENTERING the portfolio showcase is an accomplishment. You're putting yourself out there, and that takes courage.


I've posted advice in my Inkygirl blog in the past, but wanted to post an updated version here.

Be brave and make the first move. You'd be surprised at how many other attendees feel exactly the same way as you do. Introduce yourself to people you sit beside, stand in line with, notice standing alone.

TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Yes, even if you aren't published yet. We're all going to meet a lot of people over the weekend, and taking away a business card from an encounter or introduction will help the people you meet remember you. If you're an illustrator, take postcards or make sure a sample of illustration style is on your business card.

Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be "discovered" at the conference.

But most of all: TRY TO HAVE FUN.

Also see my Tips For Introverted Children's Book Illustrators attending the SCBWI Summer Conference For The First Time and Jen Betton's SCBWI Conference Tips.


Don't get offended or disheartened if people you've met before don't remember you. This is something I've learned from both sides. As a 2nd- and 3rd-timer (and so on), I've sometimes gone up to a person or group I've met and had my confidence deflated when it becomes clear they don't remember me at ALL from the previous year. My inner reactions ranged from embarrassment, humiliation, irritation, frustration and even brief anger ("I guess I'm just NOT IMPORTANT enough for xxx to remember!! Hmph.").

Having attended many times now, I've learned the following:

- I'm terrible at remembering people unless I've had multiple conversations or interactions with the same person.

- Even then, especially if I'm tired or am in a noisy crowd (remember what I said earlier about being an introvert?) or have met many new people in a row just before, I may still forget having met someone before.

I still accidentally re-introduce myself to people whom I've met before, sometimes whom I've met EARLIER IN THE CONVENTION. I'm always horribly embarrassed when this happens.

Make sure your name badge is easily visible.

Also, when I approach someone whom I've met before but with whom I don't have constant contact, I usually try saying something that will help remind them of our mutual context, or remind them of having met at xxx. Until I'm sure they actually do remember me, I try very hard NOT to put them on the spot (e.g. I don't say, "So, what did you think of my most recent post?" etc.).

When someone does this to me (subtly or unsubtly :-) setting the context and helping me remember), I immediately feel more at ease with them and am more likely to want to chat with them in the future.

Another tip: if someone DOES remember you, never assume that they're up-to-date on all your exciting news. I've had the occasional person react badly when they realize I'm not aware of their new book ("?? But I posted it all over Facebook!") I never assume anyone reads all my posts or keeps up with all my news. People have busy lives and different priorities.

Something else I've learned: even so-called Big Name authors and illustrators can be insecure. I am faaaar from being a Big Name, but having had a bit more experience at conference-going now, I also realize how some of the Big Name types who seemed standoffish to me actually weren't.

Be gracious, be forgiving and try very hard to assume the best about a person rather than the worst.

And I apologize ahead of time if I don't remember your name or re-introduce myself. :-\


Try to remember what it was like when you attended your very first event, or how insecure you felt in the beginning. Then make it a personal challenge to find at least one lost-looking or nervous conference newbie who is sitting or standing alone. Introduce yourself, chat with them, find out what they're working on, perhaps (if appropriate) offer some advice.

Give good karma and it WILL come back to you.

And if you see me at the SCBWI Summer Conference this year, please do say hi!


Debbie Ridpath Ohi wrote and illustrated WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? and SAM & EVA. Her illustrations have appeared in children's books by Judy Blume, Michael Ian Black, Rob Sanders, Aaron Reynolds and Lauren McLaughlin, among others. Most recent: I'M SAD written by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster). Current projects: Illustrations for I'M WORRIED (part of the I'M...book series) and a broken crayon picture book with Linda Sue Park. More about Debbie at her website, blog about writing & illustrating children's books, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. Debbie, this will be my first LA conference! I'm so excited. Thanks for all your tips. I'm sure they will make the experience even better.


  2. Great article, Thanks for the tips.

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