Wednesday, June 8, 2016

NJSCBWI - by Mike Ciccotello

Photo by Tara Lazar
WOWZERS! I just got back from the 2016 NJSCBWI conference. 

The best time for me to review how I prepare and promote my work is right after a major event. The ideas are fresh in my mind and I can find ways to improve my workflow. Maybe this will help a new illustrator that wants to tackle a conference. Maybe it will show a seasoned conference attendee a different view. 

Social Media/Website/Promotional Materials
        Five weeks prior to the conference I updated all of my social media. I created a new profile picture and matched it across all of my social media. I decided to go with Business Cards & Postcards from The quality is fantastic. I designed and ordered my cards about a month prior to the conference. I wound up going with Five different pieces of art for the back, and coordinated those pieces on both business and postcards, as well as my website. The side that had my contact information coordinated with my social media and website.

Postcards Printed at

        I saved all of my workshop documents, SCBWI scheduling information, and digital version of my portfolio as pdfs and put them on my iPad. This worked really well. I was able to have all of my documentation in one spot. If the opportunity presented itself to show my portfolio, and it did, I had it on me at all times.

My iPad with all of my SCBWI documents, portfolio, and sketches for the conference

Print Portfolio
        I went with a 14”x11” screw post portfolio. I originally had 18 illustrations, but cut it down to 14 illustrations, plus a beginning and end page that has my contact information. The images broke down to: 3 pen and ink, 1 black & white value, 10 full color. There was a blend of diverse children and animals, interior and exterior, character designs, and a couple sequential images. To see the post about my portfolio transition from last year, click here.

My Pina Zangaro Screw Post Portfolio

        At the time of registration, I didn't have a manuscript, so I decided to only purchase a portfolio review. I sat with an associate art director from Viking, Nancy Brennan. She had some great suggestions for my portfolio. I learned that having facing images that feel similar is great, but if the character expressions are the same, you aren’t showing emotional range. I will be creating a few new images and moving a couple illustrations around.

        I made sure to keep refreshing my postcards with my portfolio and with my juried art show piece. I also kept a small stack with me in case I needed to give one out. I was able to meet a whole bunch of new people in the children’s literature community. I even met a few editors, and agents. I’m looking forward to submitting my work soon.

The Saturday Night NJSCBWI Faculty Social

Illustrator’s Intensive
        I attended Nancy Brennan’s illustrator’s intensive. We had a special guest, David Wiesner. I asked everyone about the lighting and perspective. The major points that we discussed were the lighting and contrast. Everyone thought I could go a little darker. Mr. Wiesner pointed out some lighting considerations. I will be adjusting the lighting to improve the focus of the characters and the overall look of the room.
My original illustration from Nancy Brennan's Illustrator's Intensive workshop

Juried Art Show
        The theme was the first 6 words of W.B. Yeats’ poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, “I will arise and go now.” I took the theme quite literally and illustrated the whole poem. Where I believe that wound up limiting the amount of people that understood what I was illustrating, I learned so much about myself. I really enjoyed researching and world building. I enjoyed hiding clues that could make the viewer appreciate the piece at another level. That will be invaluable as my storytelling and illustration begin to intertwine.

My entry for the Juried Art Show, "I will Arise and Go Now"
For me, the NJSCBWI 2016 conference was all about improving my craft, putting my best foot forward to launch a long career in children's literature, and spending time with friends in the kidlit community. Thank you NJSCBWI, for organizing a spectacular event. I can't wait until next year. 

Twitter: @ciccotello
Instagram: @ciccotello


  1. Mike, I LOVED this post!!! I'm going to share it with the members of my critique groups. GREAT tips! You seem like a very organized, professional artist. I really admire that. Best of luck submitting. I hope your new contacts lead to new opportunities!

  2. Virginia, thank you so much! Please let me know if they find anything useful. Have a great day!

  3. It was great meeting you. Love your work. Nice post.

    1. Great meeting you too, Darshana! Thank you. :)

  4. So much fun meeting you and seeing your beautiful work. Love the pdfs on the ipad idea - smart, smart, smart!

    1. Thank you, Lauri. It was fun meeting you too. I had such a great time. I'm happy you liked the pdf idea. I used this template, from Donna Marie @WriterSideUp, to condense my schedule -