I’m just back from a weekend away at Holland House in the heart of Worcestershire – I was with 29 other picture book writers and illustrators on the now annual SCBWI Picture Book retreat, impeccably organised by Anne-Marie Perks and Bridget Strevens.
It was an amazing weekend in an idyllic setting – lovely gardens down to the river, sunny hidden corners to work in, fresh meals with veg from the garden and tea break cake still warm from the oven. But best of all was the people – so many new friends I can’t wait to see again, very inspiring and great fun to be with.
We were very lucky to have two very talented author illustrators leading the activities: Helen Stephens and Alexis Deacon. Helen gave a fascinating talk about how she works, showing sketchbooks, dummies and original artwork. She spoke about where she gets inspiration and we heard the story about the real-life Fleabag who prompted the book – the day Helen drew him at Battersea Dogs’ Home he was adopted to be a stunt dog! I’m definitely going to adopt some of her methods – such as drawing at a light box standing up to keep the line loose, and taking a limited number of coloured pencils out sketching to keep the palette simple.
Alexis set some really clever creative exercises designed to get us fine-tuning our observational skills to forensic levels of detail – great fun and a useful technique for the future. One of the exercises involved watching and sketching living things for an hour – I could only find invertebrates, but the exercise was so absorbing I could have gone on all day – especially when a shiny turquoise damselfly settled down on my toe.
Everyone on the weekend had the opportunity for a one-to-one crit session with a mentor – Sarah Malley from Egmont and Maria Tunney from Walker were both there giving advice on Saturday (as well as a very entertaining and useful talk). I had my crit with Helen Stephens, and she was very helpful and pointed out some ways of resolving problems in two dummies I’m working on at the moment. The atmosphere was so inspiring I almost completed a brand new picture book dummy – and it was terrific to be able to get immediate feedback from so many interesting and imaginative people.
I’m looking forward to next year already – and next time I will definitely join in the midnight croquet game – this year I got too absorbed in an informal crit group. Highly recommended – book early! Many thanks to everyone involved.