SCBWI Canada East Blog

October 12, 2017
Inktober Round-Up


Marla Lesage

I've been spending anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the day. On the weekend I inked at the rink while my son had hockey practice. I've been focusing on smaller works like this one. I've also done two 8" X 10" themed pages made up of small illustrations spread out over several days.


Alice Carter

Most of my pieces are somewhere around 8 x 10 inches.  I am spending
anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour minutes on them.

Alice's art for the prompt: crooked.

Peggy Collins

 I limit my time to 10 minutes max. use all inky media and size varies with whatever media I'm using. (See more of Peggy's inktober work: @peggysillustration on Insta and @peggysbooks on Twitter.)


Lauren Soloy

 My pieces are quite small, as they are all done in my sketchbook. I try to keep it around 15-20 minutes for the most part, to keep it fun and loose. I’ve picked out a couple of days to make bigger pieces, and am working away on those when I get the chance.


Louise Catherine Bergeron

How big are my sketches?
My little kraft paper sketchbook is 10 x 7 inches. Otherwise, I use a large sketchbook, 11 x 14 inches (white paper) and my drawings might fill that page.
How much time do I spend on my illustrations?
Anywhere from half an hour to a couple of hours. Whatever time I have available.


June Steube

(via Twitter) Measures 7" x 4".  Took me about 1 hour


Julie Prescesky

Right now I am working out sketches for a picture book concept about a honeybee that insists that she does not fly. I'm using a standard 8.5x11 sketchbook.
I spend anywhere from half an hour to two hours on a sketch, if we are also including conceptualization time.

Aino Anto 

This was done with crow quill and brush using Private Reserve Sepia. 8 X 20' took about 30 minutes to draw, a good 24 hours and more for the idea to fully emerge.  On crappy bond paper. 

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October 4, 2017
InkTober Begins!

It's Inktober time again & I'll be posting weekly so you can see what participating SCBWI Canada East's illustrators are up to. The Inktober challenge is to sketch/draw in ink every day in October with the goal of improving your skills. It's a great challenge and I suggest you consider participating - better late than never! Make the challenge work for you and your goals. Here's why Lauren Soloy, Louise Bergeron, & I are participating.

Marla Lesage

I'm doing InkTober because I can't resist a good challenge and I want to get more comfortable with my brush pens and Copics. InkTober is a great excuse to get my Butt-In-Chair and work outside of my comfort zone. My plan was to do a tiny bit at a time so that I have a full illustration by the end of the week but I got a little carried on Day 1 & I finished the illustration in 2 days! You can follow my progress on Twitter at @marlalesage. 

Lauren Soloy

I'd been on the fence about participating this year - as it seems I always am - but what inspired me to take the plunge was a list of witchy prompts posted by @julianna_swaney on instagram.  It looked so fun, I couldn't resist.  I decided to keep them loose and small, and just have fun with it, and I have been having a blast so far! All pieces are made with my dip pen and nib, black waterproof ink, and watercolours. You can see them all on instagram at @laurensoloy or twitter at @lauren_soloy, and my portfolio is at:

 I do Inktober because I love the challenge and it lets me explore something else.
I would like to see if I can use their theme and explore ideas with my new upcoming books that I will have to illustrate soon.
I use Micron pens in different sizes and also Faber-Castell Brush pen. Some of them are quite old but I still use them to obtain very neat effects.

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September 27, 2017
August 7, 2017
Why You Should be Making Comics

Looking to push your storytelling skills, practice composition, &/or improve the movement & variety in your illustrations?

Make comics!

I was working through John Hendrix’s Drawing is Magic when I fell in love with what I like to call “quickie comics.” The exercise was to create a 6 panel comic with a beginning, middle, and end featuring two characters in conflict. (I highly recommend this book by the way!)

This is now an exercise that I do on a semi-regular basis. Most of my quickie comics focus on little moments of tension with my children. It’s a fun way to document those little moments in life. But it would also be a great way to explore story ideas & characters.

I’m enjoying myself so much that I’ve taken the plunge & started my first graphic novel.

How I make my quickie comics:
  1. Brainstorm a beginning, middle, & end.
  2. Brainstorm approx 6 different images
  3. Break my page into thirds & divvy up into panels.
  4. Rough in my illustrations with pencil
  5. Apply ink
  6. Add captions/dialogue if necessary
  7. Wish I’d remembered to leave room for captions/dialogue.
  8. Add some colour with whatever I have handy.
  9. Admire my handiwork.
  10. Share with family/friends/social media.
  11. Admire my handiwork some more.

My rules for my Quickie comics:
  • There has to be emotion
  • There has to be variety
  • There has to be movement
  • There has to be conflict
  • It has to be quick ( ~ 1 hour, occasionally 2 hours max.)
  • It has to be finished but does not need to be perfect

If you’re keen to explore comics/graphic novels as more than just a quick exercise, here are a few great resources to explore:

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

SVSLearn.com has two great courses:
  • Drawing Comics (Jake Parker) 
  • Making Graphic Novels (Nathan Hale)

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April 24, 2017
April 3, 2017
Picture Book Length and Layout


I've been working on a couple of picture book dummies but I can never remember how many spreads I can have! I usually use Debbie Ohi's templates. Although lately I've been marking down tiny boxes in my sketchbook that are literally thumbnail sized to help me explore pacing and page turns as I work through revisions. As illustrators we do have a number of options for using those pages.

Most of the hardcover books in my own collection are 40 page self-ended. I asked around various kidlit groups and have been reassured that the vast majority of picture books are 32 pages. A browse through one of my local libraries revealed very few 32 page self-ended books but many 32 page separate-ended books but 40 page picture books were definitely not a rarity. If you're not sure what I mean by self-ended, separated-ended, or endpapers there are links at the bottom of Debbie's post that explain. I also found this endpaper Q&A with Cecelia Yung by Robin Rosenthal over at PenandOink very helpful. 

My conclusion: when writing, write with 32 pages in mind. When illustrating, focus on variety, pacing, and strong page turns. 

I thought I'd share what I've dubbed my Picture Book Layout Cheat Sheet - a handy little reminder of the possible options with examples that I can refer back to. If you've found other unique or interesting layouts I'd love to hear about them.

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March 23, 2017
no image

Nowadays there are so many distractions that can tear us away from what we want and need to do on a daily basis, especially for those who work at home.

I’ve found social media to be a key diversion and it goes hand in hand with procrastination, which strives to be my best friend along with its buddies, resistance and avoidance.

One of the things that keeps me focused and helps me manage my time is the ‘WHY’ behind what I do. Even when I prioritize my activities for the day, this question is never far away from my thoughts.

As a writer and translator, my two main priorities -- apart from my family -- are meeting my translation and writing deadlines as well as my self-imposed writing targets. External deadlines are easier to meet so the real challenge for me is to stick to the hours I allocate toward completing my works in progress. 

It’s inevitable to run into obstacles, and I don’t just mean situations or stuff that crop up. That’s life! The way I respond is what determines how well I’ll manage my time. If I get stressed and overwhelmed very little gets done no matter how well I have scheduled my day. And it’s at times like these when I will most tend to seek distractions like social media to get me out of my funk.

Sometimes, taking a time out can save me hours of worrying. A ten-minute walk or even a good workout at the gym can do wonders, particularly when stress is wreaking havoc. It’s amazing what the mind can come up with when away from your desk or computer. Pen and paper are two of my very best friends at these times. Ideas as well as solutions to challenges flow like water when my mind is relaxed and in the moment. Mindfulness: this is a huge concept these days.   

There’s a word that comes in quite handy at times. That word is ‘No’, specifically when I need to stick to a schedule.  It’s tricky to say ‘No’ with love and firmness, especially to family, friend and even my clients. And this is when my ‘Why’ becomes important. Should I accept a translation job or work toward completing the draft of my WIP by DATE? Should I revise the draft today, as planned, or go shopping with my daughter? 

This might sound like oversimplification but managing my time properly also boils down to self-awareness. Knowing what I need to accomplish in order to have peace of mind so I can focus on what’s important is as crucial as knowing what distracts me, what triggers me and what I need to do to stay centered and productive.

You can find more about Ann Marie Meyers on her website -
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March 12, 2017
Time Management

I have posted here many times about my lack of self discipline. Although I am by no means perfect, I have made progress and I hope to make much more. 
I realize that I am most productive when I am not at home. There are just too many distractions, even in what is supposed to be my office. I could be watching M*A*S*H *;  washing dishes; knitting another scarf; and the ever important, playing match 3 on my iPhone. 
I guess I could say I'm like my dog when he sees a squirrel. Well now that I know. And knowledge is power. 
So, I make arrangements to write with a friend. This is something new and I need to make it a habit. But it has  made me more productive and that it the goal. 
I also have a critique partner. She is amazing and patient. I am working through my first round of edits and she has been great at be gentle with her suggestions. And even better, she is open to me leaving things as is, if Iwant. We met at a SCBWI function and I feel blessed to have her in my corner. 
Finally, there is something more intangible that helps me. After a day of writing or even a half hour, I get some warm fuzzy feelings. It's another step closer to my dream. I feel more confident and feel less like a poser and more like a writer. 

No, I am not spending 6 hours a day writing. I do not have a published book. (For Now). I do not have a publisher or an agent. But I am a writer because I write. 

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February 25, 2017
Choosing the Picture Book to Query

Choosing the Picture Book to Query 
By Beth Elliott

                  It pains me how much I agonise over what picture book manuscript to query an agent or editor with. I would like to call it strategizing, but I end up agonizing sufficiently that it really does describe my process best. Here’s how things typically unfold.
Step 1. Read everything I can about agent or editor that I am planning to submit to, who is often someone from a conference or course.
Step 2. Agonise about if we would be a good fit. Agent X really thrashed one of my pieces during the first pages reading at last year’s SCBWI conference, maybe they won’t like this manuscript, too? Publishing house Y doesn’t seem to publish books like mine, or maybe they would if the right manuscript presented itself?
Step 3. Read over my submission-ready manuscripts with the agents or editor’s likes/dislikes and ‘what they’re looking for right now’ in mind.
Step 4: Agonise some more about what may appeal to the agent or editor. They like anything that makes them laugh, so Broccoli Dude should be what I query with. BUT, they have a new baby girl so Your Dance may resonate with them, and I think it’s my most compelling story.
Step 5: Read over my submission-ready manuscripts again.
Step 6: Agonise some more. Suzy from critique group #1 keeps telling me how she cannot get the main character from Broccoli Dude out of her head. But Collette loves The Dance. To really complicate things, Myrna in critique group #2 thinks my in-progress, The Cover-Up, is my best work yet. But the submission deadline is in two weeks and it won’t be ready by then!
Step 7: Sleep on it.
Step 8: Have a glass of wine and re-read all of my best manuscripts again.
Step 9: Just make a decision already and hit send. Finally, now the agonizing can stop! Or can it?
Step 10: Agonise about why the submission process is always so agonizing. I suppose it is because I care. And I should care. But as Elizabeth Gilbert shares in Big Magic–lighten up! I take my writing seriously. It’s really important. But it’s not. The world will keep turning and my life will march on even if I, despite my best efforts, make the wrong choices about what story to query with. Gilbert’s words help remind me to travel through my really important writing journey with a lighter stride.
                  Something shared by an author (I cannot remember who) during a writing podcast that I listened to a few years ago also stuck with me: write stuff, then share it. Get it out there. No one will read it and certainly no one will buy it if it sits on my computer. Even though I may not send just the right manuscript to just the right agent or editor, at least it’s ‘out there’. And who knows, maybe one of these times just the right manuscript will get into just the right hands, and all that agonizing will have been worth it.
Beth Elliott writes, blogs and agonises about picture books from her home in Ottawa (

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February 21, 2017
Getting the Most Out of a Conference


Reworked illustration based on feedback received during the 2016 conference.

The May SCBWI Canada East conference is still 3 months away but I’m already making preparations. Are you attending? Undecided? Either way, ask yourself this question: What do you want to get out of a conference?

  • For my first conference I wanted to enjoy the experience, learn as much as I could, and get a feel for how my art would be received.
  • Last year my goal was to get as much feedback as possible on my illustration and writing as well as to learn what needs improvement in my art.
  • My goals for the conference in May? Practice my networking skills, receive further feedback, reconnect, share, & give back

Knowing what you want to get out of a conference will help you decide when choosing between conferences or between streams/workshops when registering. As a writer/illustrator I often struggle choosing between the author sessions or illustrator workshops. Wouldn’t it be great to be in two places at once?

To ensure you achieve your goals I recommend turning them into specific & SMART goals. Yes, I actually sit down & write it out!

Here’s mine from last year:
    • Gain as much feedback as possible by:
      • entering a portfolio with PB Dummy,
      • purchasing portfolio review & ask about areas for improvement
      • Purchasing a manuscript review using a different manuscript,
      • entering first pages session using a third manuscript
    • Reconnect & Make new connections by:
      • taking & sharing sketchnotes (this is a great conversation starter!)
      • participate in sketchcrawl

I got a lot out of the conference last year but I think I would have gotten even more from it had I taken the time to repeat this exercise for my portfolio review. With only 15 minutes, coming prepared with questions would have been helpful for myself and the art director.

The same illustration in my 2016 portfolio with it's ho hum background. 

There are things you can start doing now to reach your conference goals. Especially for illustrators!

What can you do now?
    • Start preparing manuscripts, portfolios, & dummies (if you don’t regularly update your portfolio, now is the time to review - cut your weakest pieces, make note of what you want to add to your portfolio - this might mean revising an older piece, adding in new works already completed, or planning new works that might be good portfolio pieces)
    • Networking - calculate when you’ll need to order business cards/postcards
    • Anticipate time needed to complete pre-conference assignments for illustration workshop! Starting your other conference preparations now will give you more time once the assignment is sent out.
    • Make note of the deadlines!
    • Have a look at other resources available on conference preparation (google 'conference preparation SCBWI).

Please comment with any other tips or advice!

My redesigned business card.

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February 12, 2017
What is Querying


What it’s not:
You can find terrific advice on the internet with plenty of Dos and Don’ts and a plethora of advice on the mechanics of a good query letter.
See here:
also here for agents to query:

The mindset you need for the long game.

Learn. Learn. Learn. Find out everything you can from industry professionals about the format of a good query letter. queryshark
Research. Research. Research. Check out sites like agentquery and/or Publishers Weekly to gain a sense of who might like the kind of work you produce.
Write that query.
“Be brief.” Alethea Kontis
“Be upbeat.”
Be professional.
Find some distance from your work. The emotions and investment required to write well mean that we grow attached to our creations. Find a way to put some space in between your manuscript and your ego. Let is cool. Then take on a clerical persona when submitting. Wear a different hat if you must! "Put your heart in the writing but put your head in the selling."  Helene Boudreau.

Send your manuscript out. I know . . . it’s tempting to hide your masterpiece so that it never runs the risk of rejection. That’s the safe option, and you can take it. But, as author Sidney Salter said to me once, “Then nothing happens.”
I once read a many-times-submitted manuscript in a critique circle and mentioned that I was tempted to tuck it in a desk drawer. Lucky for me, my writing friend Michelle Jodoin said, “The only thing you should do with that manuscript is tuck it in an envelope and put a stamp on it.” I did, and it found a home.

Lean on friends. Anytime we hope, we are vulnerable. And I’m going to assume that you are hoping an editor or agent will fall in love with your writing. Nobody says it’s easy to wait and bite your knuckles while you bide your time, wondering if your labor of love will be embraced. Draw support from others who know exactly what nervousness you are suffering. This advice goes for both the waiting period and the
Remember the long game.
Persistence is the key to a robust, long-lived career. Jane Yolen, prolific writer and encourager extraordinaire, often posts on Facebook when she receives rejections. How heartening! Even Jane receives rejections. “Not the right editor,” says Jane, and she moves on.
Nikki Grimes, who just won the  Award for her body of work, posted on Facebook that she is glad she didn’t let all those rejection letters stop her.
Don’t take rejection personally. Don’t make a “no” answer the definitive judgment on your ability as a write. Jane Yolen.

Don’t stop.
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