The fall 2017 Mazza Weekend Conference keynote speakers were an eclectic mix of traditional and non-traditional, fiction and non-fiction, big city and small town. Their art styles, background, experience and content were quite diverse making for an interesting and stimulating weekend of learning.
The conference kicked off on Friday evening with David McPhail, who, has illustrated close to 200 books. He spoke of meeting Robert McCloskey and studying the art and prose of Beatrix Potter; pillars of the picture book world. McPhail delighted the audience with his conversational, comedic descriptions in typical New England style of how he works and what inspires him.
Saturday was chockful of interesting and thought-provoking talks. Daniel Salmieri, the Brooklyn-born illustrator who is married to a preschool teacher, shared the evolution of his style. He discussed the enjoyment he gets from drawing things “that could never really happen” in picture books and giggled at his own artwork throughout the talk. Becca Stadtlander, from Covington, KY, got her inspiration during art school studying Edward Gorey, a non-traditional influence for picture books. She loves covering her illustrations with detail, dubbing herself a “maximumist” instead of a minimalist. Conference guests were treated to a surprise visit from Michael J. Rosen, poet/author/artist, who collaborated with Stadtlander on an upcoming project. The two spoke together on the relationship between author and illustrator. Rhode Islander, Meghan McCarthy, writes and illustrates informational books in cartoon style complete with “googly eyes.” Meghan appreciates her father’s influence as a fellow artist. One of her unique hobbies, taking pictures of abandoned spaces, was the reason for a pit stop in Detroit on her way to the conference. The hyper-realistic style of Bill Thomson was fascinating to see. He uses photographic reference for his models, which have included photo shoots consisting of over 1,200 images. His most frequent models are his sons, of which he has three. The youngest son was excused from modeling after he wet his pants during a photo shoot. Thomson said, “Only big boys who don’t wet their pants get to be in Dad’s picture books.” The audience roared with laughter. Finally, Brendan Wenzel, Caldecott Honor winner, closed the day. Brendan shared his passion for conservation that was instilled as he and his wife traveled across the globe, experiencing different cultures and creatures along the way. His inspiration for They All Saw a Cat came from the idea that we all come from different places, physically and emotionally, yet we have similar experiences that we can share. This solid bit of motivation to, “open our minds and freely and graciously accept others” was a wonderful way to end the conference experience.