SCBWI Canada East Blog

April 28, 2015
Tips for a successful critique


As the illustrators attending the upcoming Canada East conference work their preliminary sketches for the conference assignment, Peggy Collins posted some helpful tips for giving a good critique. I'm publishing them here because there's some really good advice:
1. Take your time and really look through all work submitted by illustrator. Sometimes it helps to look, then walk away and come back to it to give a good critique.

2. Be familiar with the text that goes with the illustration. This seems obvious, but sometimes the illustrator has a picked up on something teensy in the text that you may not have noticed. Being familiar with the text makes it easier to give an effective critique.

3. Avoid telling the illustrator what you would have done. This is their work, be mindful of that. In a critique we should be careful not to influence an idea, rather the focus should be on make sure the communication is clear.

4. We've all heard of the hamburger (or veggie burger method)... Well, that's because it works. You should always focus on what is working and why before exploring what might not be as effective. Follow that up with something else that is getting some positive attention.

5. If you are unclear about the intent of the illustration, asking for clarification in a respectful manner is ok. We are all working towards the same goal... Making our work the best it can be.

6. Keep it simple, kind and respectful.  Avoid too much feedback - keep it concise.

7. Read your critique to yourself, as if you were receiving it. If you would find it helpful then it is probably a good critique. If not, think about what might help you!

8. Critique is a give and take. If you submit work you must give thoughtful critiques to the other artists. Some people are really EXCELLENT at giving feedback, for some, it's a struggle. We are all in this together, and it's really helpful to hear everyone's feedback (because usually SOMETHING applies to us as well).

Questions to ask yourself about the work:

Do I understand what is happening in the illustration? What could be done to help clarify this if not?

Is there a clear direction in the piece? What do I see first, second... Third? Does this complement the text and add a deeper layer to the story while keeping the integrity of the text intact?

Are the characters consistent? Is there enough difference between the characters?

What is the strongest element of this piece?

What is it about the character that appeals to you? Can you define why?
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April 27, 2015
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On Thursday, April 23 2015, the inaugural SCBWI Toronto Get Together was held at the Duke Pub at Somerset. There was a great turn out of about 20 members including illustrators and writers at various points in their careers. Everyone brought a plethora of questions and in response an abundance of answers. 
Annette and Anne Marie did a great job of organizing. We were all given the chance to introduce ourselves and give out business cards and post cards as a sample of our work. (Note to self:  Bring more business cards). 
As we ate, there was informal chatting coming from all around our tables.  It was a chance to catch up with friends met at conferences and to meet and encourage those new to the adventure that is writing and illustrating. 
Towards the end of the evening, we gathered to listen to each other share about realistic goal setting and adapting our writing/illustrating schedules to the rest of our life schedules. Some may be able to put in a 5 hour session of work. Others may have to break it up because of "day jobs", children or other commitments. Whenever and however one works is less important than the quality of the work and the satisfaction of chasing ones dream. 
Annette and Anne Marie canvassed the group for preferences of topics, meeting places, and times for our next meeting. It was an opportunity to have a say and benefit the most members for the next one.
A special thanks to the ladies for arranging all the logistics and accommodating a bunch of crazy artists. I can't wait until the next one. 
Check out the SCBWI Canada East website for the date, time and location. 
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April 13, 2015
Should Writers become Illustrators


I am first and foremost a writer. I have never studied any kind of visual arts, except for a Ladies' Painting Night which includes more discussions about OUTLANDER than anything else. I have heard of writers becoming successful illustrators.  I don't think I am one of these, but one never knows what the future may hold. 
However, I have realized that sketching faces that, to me, represent the characters of my work in progress, help me picture them in their world.  
It helps me get to know them.  I can imagine what his/her facial expressions would be when s/he is angry, sad or happy.  I can draw, if you can call it that, their frustration with their situation; their determination to solve their problem; and their joy or disappointment with the outcome of their efforts.  
I can start with stick figures or smilie faces, maybe even an emoji or two. I then add a hair style and what the character would wear.  I can create a backstory by thinking about when s/he got his/her skin tone, or hair colour.  How tall is s/he? Are they athletic or a couch potato?  All of this can be discovered by "doodling."
Again, I highly doubt my illustrations will make it to the public, but they have become an important part of my writing process. Try it and who knows, you may find a new talent..

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March 16, 2015
Rough Monday

Here's my latest sketch-in-progress. I'm getting ready for the Art of Story Conference in May and hoping to round out my portfolio.

My current portfolio is over at

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March 10, 2015
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Hey SCBWIers and Guests

I had the pleasure this weekend of participating in the Spring Break into Science Book Party hosted by LE Carmichael, Ishta Mercurio, Joan Marie Galat and Helaine Becker.  It was fun and informative.  

After a quick visit to the virtual bar and coffee shop (some of us were driving home), the lively discussion started quickly.   The ladies were both informative and entertaining.  

LE Carmichael started the festivities with a CSI experience.  Her books Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting gets Wild, and Forensic Science: In the Pursuit of Justice were featured.  We also had the opportunity to share our own favourite crime fighters, including Sherlock, Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds, and the dynamic on the series Elementary.   Great job cluing us in Lindsey. 

Helaine Becker electrified us with the wonder of the fusion between animals and robots in her book Zoobots.  We had examples of various animal machine hybrids including a bar tending teddy bear.  That was my favourite.  The discussion helped me dispel that cyborg fear learned from too many sci-fi movies.  Thank you the data Helaine. 

Ishta Mercurio brought us to the creepy world of haemovores in her new book with Kari-Lynn Winters: Bite into Bloodsuckers.  Things got a little gruesome but to my knowledge no one lost their lunch.  We poked at the risks of the West Nile virus from mosquitoes.  We were reminded of the beneficial use of maggots and leeches in medicine as stimulators of  blood flow and removers of dead tissue.  Way to exsanguinate the info Ishta.

Not to leave out the trees, Joan Marie Galat taught us about our woody friends in her book: Branching Out: How Trees are a Part of Our Lives. Trees have tall tales to tell and they have been keeping us alive, helping us communicate and making the world a beautiful place.  What a historical landmark they are.  Thanks for the growth Joan.

The next time an event comes around I really think you should join in or host one yourself.  It is not only an opportunity to learn about the books on the market, but also meet and greet more authors that are walking the same road you are.  It is a source of information and inspiration.

I had a great time and highly recommend participation and hosting as a means of marketing your new publications.  

Please check out the link below for all the discussion and links to the website of the hosting authors.
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March 9, 2015
Rough Monday - Two Bears

Two Bears, copyright Adrian Croft,

Oooh, daylight savings time lump. A 'rough' Monday indeed! :)

I enjoyed your Rough Monday posts, Chris, well done. I was actually thinking of working on my Gentle Gorilla PB dummy (still in progress), but will probably go to bed early instead. But here is a rough from the story, for my contribution. A big bear holding a teddy bear's hand, in the starry night sky. It all makes sense in the story (well, it kind of does). :)

Happy Monday!

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Rough Monday!

It's Monday! And in the spirit of starting back with our Rough Monday posts I've included a few random rough sketches.

If you have a rough sketch of your own you'd like to share, please leave a comment and link to your image as well. Happy sketching!

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March 3, 2015
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Hey fellow Creative Junkies. 

I am in the midst of editing a first chapter book. The first read never seems to be as good as when I wrote it. 

I have to admit that in the old days (a year or two ago), I would send my first draft to a critique group and be overwhelmed by all the suggestions and changes that had to made. It was discouraging and I would think that I was a horrible writer and living a pipe dream. 

Eventually, I realized that my writing was not the problem. It was a disdain of editing. I don't know an author who enjoys the process but it is a necessary part of creating a readable story. 

Many times I have found that I forget that the reader does not know the background that is my head. They need to know it to understand the story. This must be added in a way that shows not tells. 

Also when in the first draft, I forget the dialogue of children sounds must different than the dialogue of adults. If It is my goal to engage a young reader, I must make it young one friendly. 

Also a pretty basic part of editing is to make sure I have spelled everything correctly; that my sentences make sense; and that my verb tense is consistent. When I am writing a first draft, it is the equivalent of verbal diarrhea. And no one likes diarrhea. I find reading allowed helps me hear and better assess the voice of the story. 

To save yourself from being discouraged and the frustration of your critique group, take the time and take your time and edit your draft. 

This is just a few things I have learned about editing from fellow SCBWIers. 

I invited comments that work for you. 
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February 28, 2015
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Mark your calendars! We are excited to announce the first Toronto Get
Together (formerly known as "Schmooze") on the evening of Thursday, April
23rd from 6:30 pm-9:00 p.m. The event will be held in downtown Toronto at
a restaurant which will be determined once we know how many people to
accommodate. Of course, there is no cost to attend the event but each
attendee will be responsible for their own meal/beverages. Further details
of the event, including the exact location, will be provided closer to the

This will be a great opportunity to connect with other writers and
illustrators in the GTA and to discuss the business in general.

Please R.S.V.P. by April 20 by either going to or you can scroll down to the
calendar at the bottom of our home page (,
click on April 23, and follow the prompts. We look forward to seeing you

Annette Gaffney & Ann Marie Meyers

.Yahoo! Groups
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SCBWI The Art of The Story.


A major announcement 

Registration is now open for the SCBWI Canada East Spring Conference.

It is now featuring an Advanced/Master Novel Track. 

As a result we are giving early registration to members only. 

Early Registration: Feb 27 to Mar 13. 
Open Registration:  Mar 14. 

The Art of the Story: May 29-31, in Montreal, Quebec Canada.

Get full details at 

I have gained so much information and wisdom at conferences. I have met new friends that only support me in my dream of becoming a published author. 

I encourage every one to attend. I felt a little out of place my first few conferences; like a poser. But I learned that even the most successful authors started with a story and the first word. 
Don't give up 5 minutes before your dream comes true. 
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January 26, 2015
Interview with Illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo


I am excited to feature an interview with talented 3D illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo. Suzanne creates her dimensional illustrations using plasticine and sometimes polymer clay and mixed media.  Her debut picture book Skink on the Brink, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, written by Lisa Dalrymple, recently won the 2014 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Canada and was shortlisted for the 2014 Rainforest of Reading Award.

I asked Suzanne some questions about her illustration process, and on her experiences as an illustrator:

1. Have you always wanted to be an illustrator? And how did you enter the children’s book world?

I have always loved art and I was always busy drawing, sculpting, or painting when I was a child. I also loved science, and so I had a tough decision to make when it was time to choose a career path and university. I eventually decided to pursue science and received my H.B.Sc in Life Science from Queen’s University. I worked as a Medical Research Technician in a Cellular Signalling Research Lab in Toronto for a number of years before I had my children. I left my job in science after the birth of my first son, to raise my young family. During this time I reacquainted myself with the fantastic world of picture books, reading with my children and I realized how much I missed doing my art. Over the years as my children grew, I carved out little pockets of time during naptime or late at night to start working on my art style, study the children’s book industry, attended PYI CANSCAIP and joined SCBWI and after a few years of hard work I had enough pieces to put together into a portfolio. I made postcards and bookmarks out of Moo mini-cards, and sent them out to about 100 publishing houses in Canada, USA and the United Kingdom. I was thrilled when, just a few months later, I received a call from Christie Harkin, who was the Children’s Publisher at Fitzhenry & Whiteside at the time. She just happened to have a bookmark collection so not only did she like my postcard she also enjoyed the little take-away bookmarks I had included in my mailers. She asked me to create sample art for one of their Tell-Me-More storybook picture book manuscripts. I was over-the-moon excited and well, pretty much terrified, since this was big-my very first children’s book project. I was offered the contract to illustrate Skink on the Brink, written by Lisa Dalrymple.

2. Can you describe your studio set up and tell us about some of the tools that you use to create your work

My studio is just off the kitchen, as it used to be our formal dining room. It has a great big window, and is centrally located so I can pop in and out when my kids are home from school to look over homework or dinner preparations. I have a great little wire hanging system that I installed above my worktop. I like to look at my sketches all together to check pacing etc. so I end up taping them up all over my wall, and hanging them from this wire system. It’s also useful to hang my many reference photos during a project. (see worktop-sketches on wall image) I also use a variety of tools that help me create the various textures in my medium of choice-plasticine. But my favorite tools happen to be the simplest- my wood clay shaper tool, an old toothbrush, and large safety pin.

3. Do you always work in your studio or do you have other places where you create?

I do all of my plasticine artwork in my studio, but if I am sketching or writing I often work at the kitchen table or even at the cottage during our summer holiday.

4. Do you have favorite music to listen to when you work?

I find I need music when I am creating, so I often listen to the radio, or my ipod. Right now I particularly love Maroon 5.

5. When working on an illustration, what aspect do you find the most challenging? And which part of the process do you enjoy the most?

When working on an illustration, the aspect I find the most challenging (but also the most rewarding) is translating my tight pencil sketch into the final plasticine art. Sometimes ideas which I thought would work perfectly don’t end up working out the way I had planned, or an unforeseen issue arises that calls for changes. But I do also enjoy this challenge, and I find that the intuitive nature of my process sometimes brings about an unexpected yet exciting outcome- a happy mistake. I enjoy each stage of the process but I find the very beginning of a project, where I dive into reference material research and begin thumbnails sketches, to be extremely invigorating and fun. Being from a science background, I love the research component of any project. I find I also need time to just “think” about the project.  It’s this “thinking time” where I immerse myself, pouring over the manuscript and reference materials and just let my mind drift from idea to idea. I carry a notepad everywhere so if an idea hits, I can jot it down.

6. You are represented by Transatlantic Agency – How did this come about?  How has it helped your career as an illustrator?

Yes, I was represented by Patricia Ocampo, at TLA. Patricia left agenting to pursue an editorial position at Annick Press and recently Simon and Schuster Canada, so I am currently unagented. Even though we only had the pleasure of working together for a short time, I found her editorial feedback on my WIP manuscripts to be very constructive and helpful. I have lots of great stuff to work up, thanks to the productive and lively coffee date/brainstorming sessions we enjoyed.

7. Whose work do you admire? Who or what inspires you from outside your own medium of work?

From a very young age I’ve been a huge fan of Robert Bateman. His attention to detail and talent for photo-realism is phenomenal. I actually wrote a speech about him in grade school. Interestingly, I am also drawn to colourful, impressionism like the works of Monet, and Renoir. My list of “art crush”/ favorite illustrators is forever growing. So off the top of my head…Beatrix Potter, Shaun Tan, Steve Jenkins, Julie Morstad, Erin Stead, Barbara Reid, Cybele Young, Elly MacKay, Melissa Sweet, and Eugenie and Kim Fernandes, to name a few. I am especially inspired by other dimensional artists, and  I love observing their unique artistic process whether they create in linoblock, cut paper, collage, assemblage, or painting, it’s all fascinating.

8. What advice would you give an aspiring illustrator? -In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?

I still feel too new to the field to be able to offer any sage words of advice. But, I can’t express how important it is to join CANSCAIP and SCBWI immediately, even if you are just thinking about going into a career in illustration. Go to their meeting, and conferences, network with others in the profession. I have found illustrators to be such a welcoming and supportive bunch, so don’t be shy (yes, most of us are very shy and introverted) and ask lots of questions.I also suggest joining a critique group. Not only can you learn a lot from the valuable feedback you will receive in a critique but you can also learn and fine-tune your own analytical skills through your critiques and self-evaluating your own work.

9. Is there anything you are working on now that you can tell us about?

I recently just finished up the final artwork for my second picture book, with Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Gerbil, Uncurled, written by Alison Hughes. It is due out this Spring. I am currently working on a few of my own manuscripts which I hope to have polished and ready to submit to publishers with accompanying sample art very soon. And… also a few things in the works that I am not at liberty to speak of yet…shhhh.

10. Where would you like your work to lead you? Have you any aspirations or plans for the future?

I’d love to write and illustrate my own picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. There are new mediums I’d also like to incorporate into my artwork. I feel like this is a huge time of personal growth for my art and my writing, and I am super excited to see where it takes me.

Thank you Suzanne for taking the time for this interview!
For more of Suzanne's work, please visit:
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January 15, 2015
Progress not Perfection.


Hello Fellow SCBWIers,
I am sure many of us, in this New Year, have set new writing/illustrating goals or resolved to work more diligently on previous set goals. I am one of them. That being said, we all know that sometimes life can get in the way of our ability to maintain our schedule. 
I have finally finished the first draft of my chapter book, but a nasty cold has put editing on hold. Many people may say  a cold is only a cop out. And for them it may be. But I know myself well enough to know that no quality work can be accomplished while I am hacking up a lung, wiping my nose and sneezing. And I think knowing oneself is very important when setting your work schedule. 
I have met people in this group who can work from dawn until midnight. I have a great deal of respect for those people. But their life circumstances are not my life circumstances. We all have to look at are situation and be realistic about what we can do. If you are only able to write/illustrate 2 hours a week that is fine. But make sure you are commited and diligent during those two hours.  
Whatever schedule you set for your self it must be assessed with vigorous honesty. I lack self discipline. This is not a flaw condusive to writing or illustrating. Many times I have had to ask myself "Am I avoiding editing because it sucks?"  Many times the answer is yes but it is less than it used to be. 
It is important for me not to compare my inside to someone else's outsides. My writing path to success is not their path to success, it is MY PATH. I received much support and encouragement through SCBWI. I thank you all. But I have doubts, just like we all do. I have been in one/one critiques and have asked straight out "Do I suck??"  As of now no one has said yes and so I continue to plug away. And I think I have improved. But to maintain my confidence and improve my work, and work ethic I remember to seek Progress not Perfection. 

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