Illustrator Intensive at the Highlights


Last week I attended the Illustrator Intensive workshop at the Highlights Foundation in the Poconos. And, yes, it was as good as it sounds! No, actually it was even better. I was very lucky to spend four days among amazing picture book makers enjoying forest walks, making friends and getting out of the creative comfort zone by experimenting with graphite powder, spray paint and scalpel.

The retreat itself is a very beautiful, peaceful place where you can always find a nook to reflect on your creative struggles or find inspiration to sketch and just be you. They even have a cabin with art supplies! And lots of rocking chairs.

Another thing is delicious food. All the meals are cooked by the chef from locally sourced seasonal ingredients, mostly veggies, fruits and greens that I normally cook at home, but no two dishes were alike and everything  tasted so very very GOOD. I would just come back to enjoy Amanda's cooking! Although I went to the retreat to learn more about illustration, I also learned how to cut veggies the right way, so that they are more flavorful. Yum!

The workshop began on Friday with a talk by author-illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton, followed by an ink demo by this year Caldecott medal winner Matthew Cordell on  Saturday morning, a graphite powder demo by author-illustrator Mike Curato on Sunday morning, a papercutting illustration demo by illustrator Merrill Rainey on Sunday afternoon and concluded on Monday morning with doodling exercises with Elizabeth Rose Stanton. We also had a portfolio showcase and two one-one-one sessions - one with a mentor (yes, you get a mentor!) and another one with an editor and a creative director - where everyone was able to discuss projects they were working on at the moment and ask any questions about their work.

I brought in a picture book dummy of a new story I was wrestling with. As I retold the story to my mentor, Elizabeth Rose Stanton (how lucky am I?!), it dawned on me what my story was actually all about. I then had time to revise some of it and start a fresh storyboard.

During my one-on-one with industry professionals I showed my portfolio and asked  what was the one thing that was missing from it that they would like me to add or work on,  and I got a really good, in-depth feedback about my weaker and stronger sides.

It was  a lot of information (and inspiration) to take in during my short stay there! It's good we had an opportunity to unwind in the evening by just doodling in small groups, chatting and getting to know each other. The faculty joined us during meals and shared their personal stories and experiences of working on their amazing books.

The thing I liked most about the Illustrator Intensive is that it was really small (about 25 people). The programming was intense, hands-on and interesting, but very well-paced and included informal activities (such as a picturesque hike to an old graveyard at 6:30 AM!). The faculty was very approachable and had time to answer any questions in detail. I'd love to go back one day!

I'm very grateful to the amazing and welcoming staff of the Highlights Foundation retreat for making my stay there so wonderful and comfortable (Shout out to Alison, Lindsay and Jo - I can't even imagine how much effort you put into organizing it and making it run so smooth!). I would also like to thank the faculty for answering all of our endless questions with much patience and grace and sharing their process of creating their characters and stories (sometimes into wee hours of the night)!