Last year, along with writing and illustrating my first picture book, I added schedule quarterly professional development days to my list of intentions.
As a self employed graphic designer, my days often get filled with client projects, so it felt important to make more of an effort to plan events to help renew my creativity and passion for design. Learning new things and being around other creative people is fun for me. It helps to stay inspired and will balance out the days of working alone in my home office.
I’m going to preface this post by saying it’s long. Sorry! I usually don’t have this much to say but there is a reason this is all on my mind, which you’ll see if you read all the way to the end 😉
2023 Professional Development Days
Let’s go forward by first looking back.
This one doesn’t really count because it was a vacation with my husband but I’m adding it to the list because I brought my ink and watercolour plein air kit, to work on my travel sketch book. Sketching on the beach, and in the jungle is a fantastic way to spend a day … even if it means you end up dropping your paint brush in the sand after a particularly strong margarita!
Fun fact: we stayed in an open air villa in the jungle, that was still close enough to the ocean to see the humpback whales breaching! It’s also the resort where the reality show Bachelor in Paradise is filmed.
2 Day Beginner Watercolour – Wintry Wonderland
In February I attended a watercolour workshop at a local art studio. I wasn’t happy with my painting at the end but I did meet a wonderful bunch of women and always learn some new things at every workshop I participate in.
Ink & Watercolour Journal Workshop
This was a fun one! The workshop was in a small town called St. George, Ontario which is about a two-hour drive from where I live. I decided to make a weekend of it and booked an Airbnb at an alpaca farm! My husband was supposed to go with me but ended up getting promoted to the Acting District Chief position at Toronto Fire sooner than we anticipated, so he had to work but managed to join Bella and I there between shifts on Saturday. The video below was taken just after Bella and I arrived, and she met her first alpaca!
Collingwood Art & Yoga Retreat
In June, I went to the Retreat House B&B in Collingwood for an incredible weekend filled with art, laughter, amazing food, yoga and new friends! My accommodations were in the cozy little red bunkie, which was the perfect place to recharge between activities. The entire weekend was heaven.
Bala Plein Air Group
In the summer, I discovered a group of artists who meet up once a week from August until October to paint together, at different locations near Bala, Muskoka. Some weeks include demonstrations from different types of artists, so it’s a great way to learn new techniques and visit locations I would have otherwise overlooked.
The second meetup I went to was at Huckleberry Rock in Milford Bay. We were advised to pack light since the hike to the lookout point is approx 2.5km and involves a moderate climb – however, we were surprised by some local firefighters waiting in their Side-by-Side ATVs to take our gear up for us! We were also joined by guest artist Margaret Ferraro, who has led tours in Algoma retracing the footsteps of the Group of Seven.
Fall Watercolour Workshop
On the first day of fall, I attended another watercolour workshop, hosted by a local artist I admire at a cool old barn in a little town called Waverley. It ended up being the perfect fall day, in the most scenic location with another wonderful group of women. I love the space and host so much, I brought my mom back for a wreath making workshop at Christmas time.
Plans for 2024
It’s funny… last year it was easy to fill my calendar with exciting workshops and events but I haven’t been able to find many new ones yet this year. I know, it is only February, but, still.
Maybe the universe is telling me to do something different this year.
Maybe it’s time to do something bigger.
Have you heard of Milkwood Farm? It’s a creative retreat for the children’s picture book community.
Nestled in a valley in the West Catskills of New York State, Milkwood Farm sits on 20+ acres of wildflower meadows and hardwood forest, with mossy stone walls and a meandering stream.
Built in the 1850s and run as a working dairy farm until 2006, Milkwood is now a creative retreat for the children’s book community—artists and writers, librarians and educators, editors, art directors, agents, and booksellers—to come together to write and draw, to think and walk, to talk and eat and drink.
It sounds perfect, right?
The two-story library has a growing collection of 5000+ picture books, and comfortable chairs in which to read them, as well as tables for studying, drawing, and writing.https://www.milkwoodfarm.org
Milkwood is run by Sophie Blackall, an author and illustrator, and Ed Schmidt, a playwright, and is named after Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas. The crazy thing is that I first heard of Sophie Blackall during a road trip to Winnipeg with my husband and Bella last summer.
My husband, Rob was playing hockey in the World Police & Fire Games in Winnipeg, so he asked me go with him and make it into a road trip.
I’ll try to make a long story short: when I started researching interesting places to stop, I came across Winnie the Pooh Park in White River (The real Winnie The Pooh was adopted by a man in White River from a trapper and then eventually given up to the zoo in London, England).
I was excited to visit that park and disappointed in the lack of books about the real story. Luckily, once we got to Winnipeg we visited another statue and learned a little more about the story. Then, best of all, I went to a local bookstore and found Finding Winnie: The True Story of the Wold’s Most Famous Bear!
The book is incredible. The writing, the illustrations, all of it!
Written by Canadian author Lindsay Mattick, the non-fiction book is framed as a story she is telling to her son. Her great-grandfather, Harry Colebourn bought the bear on his way to fight in World War I, later donating him to a zoo where it became the inspiration for the character of Winnie-the-Pooh. It was exactly what I was looking for.
Flash forward, and here we are. It’s February 9, 2024 and I received an email from Milkwood this morning, saying that registration for 2024’s workshops is now open!
There’s a workshop in June that is open to published and unpublished writers of picture books, called “Mastering the Mechanics of Picture Books: The inner workings of a great picture book text.” by Annie Barrows and Susan Rich.
The catch is that there are only ten spaces available. So, we have to register and hope to be chosen in a letter in order to attend.
I registered right away and now I wait to see if I got in. I really want to go. I know that I would learn a lot and feel like it would be such a full circle moment!
Picture Book Update
The online picture book course I’ve been taking with The Good Ship Illustration is done now, so this week I reached out to an editor I’ve worked with in the past. I sent my dummy book to her, and received some great feedback.
According to everything I’ve read or watched in videos with picture book editors and agents, it’s not a good idea to try to finish your book on your own. They want to be pitched an idea, see the thumbnails and review a couple samples of final artwork to know what style you have in mind, but they also want space to collaborate and help make the book better—which I understand. I’m happy to collaborate and welcome feedback but I did want to improve the manuscript and dummy a little more before I start reaching out to potential agents and publishers so I did make some tweaks this week, based on Liz’s suggestions.
I’ve started making a list of contacts, looking for someone who is not only a good fit but is also accepting submissions. It’s no easy task but I’m up to the challenge.
A few more days, one last review and then I will take the plunge.
Wish me luck! I hear that this is a long process, so in the mean time I’ll continue to work on my manual illustration skills in between graphic design projects and will start outlining my next book. I have so many ideas but I think I know which one to focus on next… stay tuned!