As you may have learned in my previous post, two weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch the panel Picturing Greatness: Picture Books that Stand Out in a Crowd with Morgan Marie McMillian, Dan Yaccarino, Chris Barton, Eric Rohmann and Kevin O’Malley at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. This panel was the highlight of my day at the TLA because it was reassuring to me that all is right in the picture book world and because these guys are really funny. It’s no wonder they are so popular with children.

Traditional versus technology is the topic of debate at most, if not all, book conferences these days. And this panel was no exception. They passionately discussed the future of traditional books in this futuristic world of ebooks, apps, and time travel. Oops. Not time travel. Obviously, at that point we can stop speculating on the future of books and just see for ourselves.

The standard argument of picture book traditionalists, that children will miss the feeling of the weight of a book in their hands, was thrown out the window by the futuristic Dan Yaccarino, who cleverly quipped “at one point in time there was someone who missed the weight of a scroll in his hands…And someday someone will miss the dong of their computer starting up.” Which kind of sent me into my own internal panic…computers don’t dong in the future? Dan Yaccarino, do you have a time machine you’re not telling us about???

So are picture books dead, as the New York Times tried to tell us a few scary months back? According to the panel, and I tend to agree with them, ebooks are just another vehicle for storytelling. Picture books will change, as they always have, and the market for them will change, but the two media offer children something unique from one another. Can we breathe a collective sigh of relief and agree that these will be two different yet equally viable markets for storytelling and picture making?

This reminds me of the discussion in my History of Printmaking class in college, when the professor told us about the public reaction to the widespread use of intaglio printing. Critics cried, “Painting is dead!” I was surprised by this because, let’s face it, these are two totally different media. How could one possibly replace the other? Well, the argument was that printmaking could deliver a faster, less expensive product to the masses, and many painters abandoned their brushes to work in this exciting new technology that could make them a quicker buck. Sound familiar? But in the end, they are both beautiful crafts that endure today. It’s not a perfect analogy, I know, but I take comfort in it.

As far as traditional illustration versus digital illustration, a similar consensus was reached. Though some panelists prefer the tactile sensations of brush to paper and others the unlimited options of stylus to tablet, most agreed that as long as the art tells the story in the best way possible, who cares how it was created? I think the medium of snot on crackers was mentioned, but as I am new to blogging, my reporting skills are still rudimentary. I promise to focus more on this type of important details in the future.

In the discussion of style, a couple of excellent points were made. We hear so much in the illustration field about style and I was glad to hear some top illustrators say this: go ahead and play, grow, experiment. Kevin O’Malley says that he changes his style to match each book. He feels his job as an illustrator is to marry the pictures with the text. Since every story is unique, why wouldn’t your art for that story be unique, too?

Dan Yaccarino made a distinction between style and technique that is spot on: the way you draw figures, animals, etc. and the way that you design a page is what defines your style. Think of it as a “drawing style.” Your style is unique to you and no matter what technique, or medium, you use it will show through. I think that’s a nice clarification. Often we get those two confused.

So go ahead and mix it up, people! Don’t sacrifice your artistic growth and a book’s uniqueness for consistency of style. Of course, if you don’t have any books under your belt, you do need to still focus on making sure that your drawing style shows through in your portfolio.

Other noteworthy comments from the panel include Eric Rohmann stating that a picture book is a collaboration with the reader. Most of us have in mind the collaboration that goes on between author, illustrator, editor, art director, marketing, and the list goes on, and we know (or hope) that someone out there is reading our books in the end…but do we spend enough time thinking about including the reader in our process? This was a nice reminder to keep the audience in mind and engage them in your books.

I will end with my favorite piece of anecdotal advice of the day, which came from Kevin O’Malley on the subject of critique groups. Rather than sitting around with a group of boring old adult authors or illustrators, drinking coffee and sharing feedback, Kevin likes to spend his time at the playground chasing after four-year-olds, yelling, “Read this!”

Should I try it?