Character, character, character…

I attended a wonderful daylong workshop at Tabor Space here in SE Portland with my picture book crit group (Abbey Marble and Kate Berube) last weekend. It was presented by our Oregon SCBWI chapter (thank you!) and featured Simon & Schuster Associate Art Director, Lauren Rille.

The workshop was focused on children’s book authors/illustrators and Lauren was wonderfully generous with very honest, yet kind, feedback. Sweet with a tangy top note! I won’t say she swears like a sailor, but she was loads of fun and had us laughing like crazy.

My takeaway was that in order to connect with readers we must create characters that tell their story through physical gesture and emotional integrity.

I am always leery of workshops that require participants to draw on command. Ugh. It elicits my performance anxiety and has never been an enjoyable experience. But Lauren loosened us up with her initial intro and focus on examples of illustrators who have mastered their character-driven craft. She gave us a few lightening round illustration assignments with prompts drawn from hats passed among us.

One assignment was to create a character exhibiting an emotion we pulled from a hat and the twist was that we couldn’t show the face of the character. I drew “anxious” from the hat:

I think I harkened back to the nightmare of my skinny legs and the tragic underwear of my youth.

Another challenge was to draw prompts from three hats. The first gave us a physical feature we had to include in the character:

The second piece of this challenge was to create three thumbnails that featured our newly created character and would tell a little story driven by the other two prompts we drew from two hats:

Given that we had a very limited time frame (15 minutes?) to create the character and then the little storyline, I was happy with the result. Plus there wasn’t enough time to get too precious or worry about being nervous with the result.

The very valuable piece of advice I gleaned from Lauren’s workshop was the importance of creating characters that we, as illustrators, and our readers can inhabit emotionally. Whether through body language or facial expression (expressed as simply as eyebrow cant) we can imbue our characters with specific and relatable identities.

I have taken Lauren’s advice to heart and have created a character not unlike my “top hat” boy who is now living a life on paper in my studio and from there, who knows??

Cheers to Lauren Rille!