Live-Blogging From Nashua: Kevin Hawkes' Keynote

The ballroom's filling up, and I'm sitting next to National Book Award finalist Nancy Werlin (new fantasy/romance YA Impossible coming this September). Kevin Hawkes is about to speak, and he'll probably use a lot of slides, so I'll just give you a quote or two to keep you with us.

Before Kevin speaks, Anna Boll gives us a bit about next year's conference, with keynote Cynthia Lord and illustrator Floyd Cooper. It will take place April 24-26, 2009, so mark your calendars. Anna introduces Kevin Hawkes, lauding his ability to make characters come alive.

Our theme this year is stretching our wings, Kevin says, which is risky. Who are the people that gave you your wings? Kevin introduces a few of those important people in his life, like his mother, who taught him to recognize magic, or the absence of it, in art. There were some key risks he took, and they paid off. Moving, for example, to Boston, was a big deal. He visited Little Brown, and an editor asked, "What kind of children's book do you want to illustrate?" He didn't know how to answer, and he began showing his portfolio to publishers, but his work was (as a friend put it) ... "strange-looking."

He changed his portfolio to do something fresh and new, and begins showing some slides of his new paintings from that time. Still he wasn't getting much response from publishers in New York and continued working in a bookstore, illustrating during his lunch hour. He finally got a call from New York based on a sales rep looking over his shoulder in the store. That was another risk: putting your work out there and hoping that somebody liked it. Which they finally did.

Kevin shows more slides of his early illustrations and first picture books ... Another risk for him was moving into non-fiction, which brought into play his love of history and research. Every book required a change in approach as an illustrator because every book was different.