The 2018 SCBWI Utah Southern Idaho Illustrator’s Conference


Manelle Oliphant 











It was a great conference this year. The portfolio display was amazing with many examples of great art. We said good bye to Sherry Meidell as the area illustrator coordinator and said hello to Manelle Oliphant.


Sherry Meidell and John Elgren of the Sons Of the Utah Pioneers

Sherry Meidell painted and presented a watercolor for the Sons of the Utah Pioneers. They have been very geneous with their building and accommodating our conference.


Richard Erickson

Richard Ericksen the art director from Deseret Book talked about getting the book brief and then picking the designer and the illustrator. He has to think about budget and time frame. Is the tone of the art consistent with the text? The cover illustration is needed as soon as possible for publicity purposes. One thing for illustrators to consider is the trust the publisher has put in you to meet deadlines and to do the project right.


Brandon Dorman

The great illustrator Brandon Dorman talked about each illustrator having their own unique journey. He also talked about the importance of meeting deadlines. If we work hard, we can help our stars align. He also talked about walking through all doors that open to you.


Brandon Dorman

We had two break out sessions this year. Manelle Oliphant and Shawna Tenney were the presenters. Manelle talked about the importance of branding and gave us many things to think about. She had a lot of questions for us to ask ourselves about what brand we want to put out there and who we are talking to.


Manelle Oliphant

Shawna talked about how to put together a great book dummy. The illustrators that attended her presentation appreciated the insights she presented.


Shawna Tenney

The first look was a great chance to hear the presenters critique the participant’s illustrations. We got the opportunity to look at the art and see and hear what others might think about the illustrations. There is always a lot to be learned from the comments that are made.


First Look

There is also a lot of conversation and networking that takes place in the illustrator to illustrator break out session. It gives the illustrators the chance to ask questions of their peers and hear what others are doing.
Then to wind up we had the panel discussion which is always informative. We could ask questions to the presenters and get some last minute comments from them on subjects that interested the illustrators. It was another great conference.


Travis Rawlings and Annie Bailey


Manelle Oliphant and Jennifer Eichelberger


The audience and portfolio display


Margaret Weber, Brandon Dorman and Richard Ericksen


Margaret Weber, Brandon Dorman and Richard Erickson




Shawna Tenney and her Amazing Illustrations


Shawna JC Tenney, Illustrator and Author

Shawna is a great illustrator and the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast.

I was able to ask her some questions about illustrating and her creative process. Enjoy.

1. Could you tell me what was the first spark of idea you got for “Brunhilda’s Backward Day”?

I got the idea from a childhood game I used to play with my best friend Lara. The game was called “The Opposite Witches.” We pretended to be witches that did everything backwards. We flew our brooms backwards, our spells always went backwards, and we even tried to speak backwards. It was so funny to us that we mostly ended up laughing the whole time.

2. And how did it change as you started to work on it?

When I first wrote the story, it was about a couple of kids who went to a witch’s house and what happened to them when the witch’s spells went backwards. But the story just wasn’t working, so I decided to make the story about the witch and what happened to her when her spells went backwards. After that, the story began to work.

Brunhilda’s Backward Day by Shawna Tenney

The cover of Shawna’s Book.

3. Did the illustrations come easy for the book?

No, it really took a lot of effort and deliberation. I started with a lot of planning- planning character design and environment design. Then I did lots of thumbnailing- working and reworking- until the book started to flow. Then I had to work and rework many of the sketches. I was very deliberate and careful about the colors I used. Finishing all the illustrations was a learning process. But I’m really glad I took the time to make an effort to make the best quality artwork that I could.


4. Did you have any setbacks in creating the book and what did you do to overcome the problem?

I can’t think of any specific huge set backs that happened during the creation of this book, but I had many story and design problems I had to work through. I revised my story many times with the help of other writers. I showed my sketches and color studies to my illustrator friends, and they helped me solve the visual problems I was dealing with. Critique groups and trusted art friends are so important to have if you’re going to work in this industry.

Storyboard for Shawna Tenneys’s Brunhilda Book

Part of the story board.


5. What has been one of the most useful bits of information you have received at the illustration conference?

There have been so many good and inspiring things I have learned through each speaker we have had at the conference. It is hard to choose just one thing. But I really enjoyed hearing from Giuseppe Castellano, Art Director at Penguin Random House. He was very personable and I enjoyed talking with him. I really liked what he had to say in his presentation. Here are a few gold nuggets of information I got from his talk:

He talked about the 3 keys to being an affective artist: Personality, Prowess, and Presentation.

He also talked about marketing your artwork. When you are marketing your artwork on your website, what matters most is your art- not your web address, font, sketches, logo, background etc.

We also heard first hand about how he finds artist for his projects. He doesn’t find artists through artist reps anymore. But he usually finds work through postcards, emails, social media and friend referrals.

Illustration by Shawna Tenney

Illustration by Shawna Tenney


6. Has the portfolio display been helpful for you as far as getting an illustration job?

Yes! Local art directors come to visit the portfolio display every year.

Last year a designer for the Friend Magazine, came to look at the portfolio display. We talked briefly after he looked at my portfolio. A week later, I received an email asking if I was available to create a cover for The Friend Magazine. Yes, of course!


7. Why would you recommend the conference to other illustrators?

It’s a wonderful place to mingle with other illustrators, network with industry professionals, get your work in front of art directors, and learn a ton about working in the children’s book industry. Plus it’s the only opportunity like this locally for illustrators, and at a great price!


8. Do you have any ideas on how an illustrator should prepare for the conference?

Prepare your portfolio with your best work for the portfolio display. Have some art friends give you feedback on what if your best work, and listen to what they have to say. Prepare an illustration for the First Look Critique. It’s an invaluable experience to get a first hand critique from an art director and professional illustrators.

July 2017 cover of the FRIEND

Shawna’s cover for the July 2017 issue of the Friend.


9. What advice would you have for a beginning illustrator?

Go to this conference! And go to as many conferences as you can.

Also, don’t be nervous! Don’t worry if you’re just beginning on the journey. Everyone is at different places in the journey, but everyone was a beginner at one time. Go prepared to talk with everyone and learn from everyone. We are all there to help each other!


10. What advice would you have for a continuing illustrator?

Go to this conference!

It’s so important to keep networking and find your circle of trust and support for your journey. Some of the things taught at the conference, you probably already know. But you never know what new things you will learn. And never underestimate what you can teach to others!

Also, you never know what new work opportunities could come out of showing your portfolio at this conference. It’s such a great opportunity to connect directly with art directors and other professional illustrators.

Save the Date for the 2018 Illustrator’s Conference.

SCBWI poster_2018_save-the-date2

Save the Date

What is your favorite part of the Illustrator’s Conference. Here is a video of what few of the conference planners have to say.  

The Utah Southern Idaho SCBWI Illustrator’s Conference


Nicki Carmack the Art Director From Peachtree Publishing

This years gathering of Illustrators met at the Sons of the Utah Pioneer Building for the Utah Southern Idaho SCBWI Illustrator’s Conference. This years conference was filled with great information for illustrator’s.


Nicki Carmack presenting to the Utah Southern Idaho SCBWI Illustrator’s Conference

Nicki Carmack, the art director from Peachtree Publishing in Atlanta, Georgia gave some great information on Book Covers and the 10 foot rule.


Nicki Carmack sharing ideas on great book covers.

She talked about some things to remember when creating book covers and showed some great examples of covers from Peachtree. Nicki also spent time doing personal critiques of picture books.


Nicki Carmack taking a look at some of the portfolios.

Greg and Hala Swearingen were the guest illustrators this year. They talked about generating ideas. “What do you want to say?” The advantages of experimenting, and using different angles to create your illustrations.

This was a conference that was great for the seasoned illustrator and those that were new to the field. Next years conference will be March 3rd. Save the date. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday.

The Art Director and the Illustrators gave on the spot critiques of covers created by the attending illustrators.


Nicki Carmack, Jen Eichelberger, Sherry Meidell, Shawna Tenney, Manelle Oliphant, Hala Swearingen, Greag Swearingen and Travis Rawlings.

A big thank you to all those who made this years conference a great success.

“Book Covers Catch the Art Directors Eye”

2017 SCBWI Utah Southern Idaho
Illustrator’s Conference
Any questions? email

Click HERE to Register.

Utah/Southern Idaho SCBWI Illustration Conference
“Book Covers – Catch the Art Directors Eye”
February 18th, 2017 at the Sons of the Utah Pioneers Building, 3301 East 2920 South,. Salt Lake City, Utah

8:30 – 9:00 dried bread and water, networking, set up portfolios ($5.00 for portfolio display bring cash  if you want to participate) and grab a seat
9:00 – Welcome and announcements
9:15 – Nicki Carmack, Creative Director Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta Georgia.
10:15 – Greg Swearingen & Hala Wittwer Swearingen:
“Practical Strategies for Making Great Images Happen on a Deadline”
Their topics will include:  generating ideas, composition strategies, reference gathering, and simplifying rendering.

12:15 – lunch: hot bowl of soup and water (local art directors check out portfolios and have a bowl of soup)
1:15 – Nicki Carmack, Greg Swearingen and Hala Wittwer
First Look Critique of middle grade novel covers from us illustrators
2:15 –  Illustrator to Illustrator
2:45 – 3:30 Panel: Nicki Carmack, Greg Swearingen and Hala Wittwer Swearingen

Nicki Carmack Creative Director from Peachtree Publishers will be doing a limited number of 10 minute Portfolio reviews. The fee is $45.00 Email to get info on paying and signing up for the Portfolio reviews.

There will be a Portfolio display again this year. Notify Manelle Olipant at if you have any questions and bring $5.00 the day of the conference to participate. The portfolios will be viewed by local art directors and Nicki Carmack from Peachtree. You need to be registered for the conference to participate in the Portfolio Display.

(Portfolios should be no larger than 11 x 14, bound portfolios with 15 images max -no original art-one set of contact information card such as postcard or business card) No digital portfolios. You can attach one or two book dummies to the portfolio attached with a string.
If you have published books they can be displayed on our published books table.

Go to to register – go down to upcoming events and click on Illustrators Conference. That will take you to the registration page.
Early Bird Prices Register before January 23, 2016:
SCBWI Members: $60.00
Students: $65.00
General Public $75.00
Portfolio Display $5.00 (bring cash the day of the conference)
Register after January 15, 2015
SCBWI Members $70.00
Students: $75.00
General Public $85.00
Portfolio Display $5.00 (bring cash the day of the conference)


Nicki Carmack

Nicki Carmack graduated from the University of Brighton, England with a degree in Visual Communications in 1987.

Her design career started in the field of financial marketing, but she soon discovered a love for book design, and worked for Dorling Kindersley in London.

In 1992 Nicki moved to the United States and returned to the financial industry as a senior graphic designer, and ultimately creative director for Harland Clarke. However, she still loved the creative process of publishing design, and discovered Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta. Nicki worked as a contract designer for Peachtree for some a number of years, and was taken on as creative director when she left her corporate role in 2012. Her responsibilities include creative development of everything from picture books to young adult titles, advertising, marketing collateral, catalogs and tradeshow graphics.”


Greg Swearingen, Illustrator
Greg Swearingen has been illustrating professionally since 1998. He has created book covers for Harper Collins, Scholastic, Random House, and Disney Press among others. His work has received awards from Communication Arts and he has been awarded medals from Spectrum, SILA, and Society of Illustrators New York.


Hala Wittwer Swearingen, Illustrator

Hala Wittwer Swearingen (MFA Art Institute of Boston) joined the SUU illustration faculty after six years of teaching graduate and undergraduate illustration at California State University Fullerton. She is the illustrator of Dragon Egg by Mallory Loehr and Meow by Jane Yolen. Her work has been recognized in Spectrum and Society of Illustrators New York. She has received awards from SILA, Communication Arts, and the Hiii Illustration Annual China.

Get Ready 2017 Utah/Southern Idaho SCBWI Illustrator’s Conference


The Utah/Southern Idaho SCBWI Illustrator’s Conference is coming up. Mark your calendars now.

More information coming.

Three Internet Sensations The 2016 SCBWI Utah Southern Idaho Illustrator’s Conference

Sensation #1: You get to hear about some people before you meet them in person. They have a presence on the web. Giuseppe Castellano the art director from Penguin Random House does a good job on social media. He also did a great job presenting. He talked about putting your personality into your art and gave information to help us raise the quality of our illustrations. He also gave great advice on web sites and getting your art out there. He was introduced by Shawna Tenney who had previously interviewed Giuseppe on the Oatley Academy podcast, Stories Unbound.


The illustrator’s at the Utah Southern Idaho SCBWI 2016 Illustrator’s Conference

Sensation #2 and #3: Will Terry and Jake Parker presented together with some friendly banter back and forth. They talked about four ways to improve your art. The good thing about Will’s presentation was the visual examples he used to really show what he was talking about. He taught in such a way that you really got it.

Jake Parker put his money where his mouth was. He put us all on snap chat before he started his presentation. Jake has come up with some of the most ingenious ways to use social media. He demonstrated how he does thumbnails and drew a double spread from prompts from the audience. It was great to see his thought process and principles of art as he created the spread.


Giuseppe Castellano, Will Terry and Jake Parker during First Look

Giuseppe, Will and Jake participated in critiquing first look. You could see your art flash on the screen and get their first impressions of your art. You learned not only from your own critique but also from the others put up front.

We were excited to have Bob Cross from Gibb Smith, Margaret Weber from Covenant Communications Mckelle G. from Jolly Fish Press and Richard Ericksen and his wife Gorgeous from Shadow Mountain attend and take a look at the portfolios. There were chances to visit with the other illustrators who attended. There were also chances to ask questions of the presenters. I had things that I needed reminding of and learned things that will improve my illustrations.


Checking out the portfolios

It is great for us illustrators to get out of our studios and get around others who are working and creating art. It helps to improve not only our art work but the ways we work. A big thank you to the illustrating committee, Manelle Oliphant, Jennifer Eichelberger and Shawna Tenney, our presenters and to all the illustrators who joined us for the day. Keep on creating.

Giuseppe Castellano (@pinocastellano) Twitter

Will Terry

Jake Parker (Twitter)

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