Originally Published: April 2013
by Lisa Anchin
Children’s book author-illustrator Priscilla Burris emphasized that writers and illustrators aspiring to publish should “never give up” and should “enjoy the process and the journey” at her February 5th lecture in the Tuesday Professional Series.
Burris described her first portfolio showcase and review by an art director. She walked back to her car afterwards, completely discouraged, mumbling to herself, “I thought I was an illustrator.” She considered giving up but realized that, whether she ever got published or not, she would still keep drawing and creating characters. “We can’t not do this,” she said, speaking of aspiring illustrators everywhere. “It’s what we’re passionate about.”
Burris then described how another disappointment led to the discovery of an entirely new style. She was so upset after discouraging news from a publisher that she couldn’t bear to sit at her drawing table and play with her paints. Instead, she gave herself permission to play with Photoshop. She discovered that she loved the new medium, and she later perfected her Photoshop play into a fresh new style of illustration. Burris said, “Figure out what you love, and do that. Your passion shows on the page.”
Burris gave illustrators and writers ten tips for what to do when they feel like quitting, ways to kickstart new ideas and keep feeling positive about their work. Her suggestions ranged from practical ideas for the drawing table or writing pad to advice on getting out of the studio or office. She proposed that audience members redraw a favorite picture book in their own style or rewrite it in their own words. She also advised taking a walk, photographing ordinary things cropped in interesting ways, and later using these pictures as inspiration for a story or image. Burris summed up her list in six words: “Stretch and refresh your creative muscles.”
She gave attendees ideas for a full week of work, stressing the importance of being creative every single day. “Doing things over and over helps you loosen up. You have to exercise your drawing muscles,” she said. In order to motivate herself, Burris assigns each day of the week a different word and does a doodle or sketch inspired by that word. She suggested that writers do a similar exercise using the word to create a short scene or inspire a character.
Finally, Burris advised the audience to keep on doing what they love. “Cheer yourself up and leave bad news behind,” she said. “The most important thing is to never give up.”
Lisa Anchin is a Brooklyn-based children’s writer and illustrator doodling her way across the five boroughs. You can see more of her work at lisaanchin.com and find her on twitter at @lisaanchin