I mean… WOW.
What a whirlwind of a weekend at The NESCBWI Conference: Celebrating Milestones. This was my second visit to the NESCBWI Regional Conference and I have to say it was the most fun, the most informative, most everything SCBWI Conference I've ever been to - and I've been to some great ones. It really does make me feel like New England is my home and I belong there… I've just gotta move back some day because these are my people. (they like me, they really, really, like me!)
Not only was it just an awesome conference experience: the gathering of like-minds, meeting awesome people, meeting several twitter friends in person, learning-learning-learning, absorbing, retaining (hopefully)… but I also earned myself some recognition! In the past, I've always been one of the many attendees, a face in the crowd - a face on an extra-tall frame, yes (I usually have a good view of all the other faces)… but for the most part, anonymous. And for the most part, I like it that way. It was a challenge making myself speak-up and meet strangers. But this year…
I knew a few people going in - People I met last year, people I met via email volunteering to help out with the conference promo art and registration banners (my name was on EVERY FOLDER label at the conference, how cool is that?!), I knew several twitter people that I had met previously, or I just knew would be there so I could look out for them… and I made myself do NEW WORK before I got there - especially my submission for the Poster Showcase Competition.
I've done these competitions before: Everyone comes in with big hopes and dreams (which is great, it's inspiration)… but (speaking for myself, of course) very often, I go in unsure of myself. I forget that there's limited room (submissions), limited time (for viewing/judging), and overall it's all hugely subjective - it has to be. I've often been completely deflated when my art didn't win or wasn't recognized. I've ended up walking away from conferences feeling hugely inspired, by also incredibly down on myself and my art. I was constantly setting myself up for this massive let down - I was taking it personally. The simple fact is, everyone can't "win".
And then I won. I got not one, but two awards. I received 2nd place in the unpublished category from the conference judges, and the HUGE honor of 1st place People's Choice - meaning everyone from the conference that looked at all the poster art submissions and cast a vote for their favorite. I mean, WOW. I could not believe it! I still don't think it's sunk in.
But really, overall… my conference experience was not much different than it's been in the past in the best possible ways: still great people, still awesome presenters & faculty, still making new contacts, still learning… always learning/absorbing. I think the reason I had such a great and what I consider, successful conference is not because I won some awards, but I felt more confident in myself and my work going in. I worked hard (even if it was last minute) and I truly liked what I'd accomplished (which doesn't happen every time - come on we all know every piece we work on isn't always our best) I wasn't afraid to speak to people (I couldn't hide from them really, I had what felt like minor celebrity - so many people stopped me to congratulate me and tell me they'd voted for me - I still don't have words!). I can't quite describe it, but I just felt like I belonged… and I'd actually done quite a lot to get to that point: being on twitter and cultivating relationships there, volunteering, joining a crit group of AMAZING illustrator peers (all of whom at any given time I consider better, more experienced, more confident, or more successful than myself (it's great to have your mentors all around you, calling you a peer. What a major confidence boost, right?).
It wasn't any one thing, but it all made a difference, and I can still feel it all changing me and how I look at things. And I'm still reminding myself that the 1st place winner in Unpublished also, won 3rd in People's Choice, and ALSO won the "Best in Show" award from R. Michelson Galleries, as well as a spot in their upcoming illustration show - Jeanette Bradley was a TRIPLE winner with her beautiful cover submission! ;) Congrats Jeanette, and all the other winners and participants as well! A bunch of brave souls that put themselves OUT THERE!