On Finding What You Love (and the Great Peter Brown)

This past September, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 ALSC Institute in Indianapolis. It was an amazing experience and I learned something new from every program I attended. But I also had some great “aha” moments outside of the scheduled workshops, and I am slowly getting around to writing them up! If you’re curious, links to the other posts are at the end of this one.

There were a LOT of amazing authors and illustrators at ALSC this past fall, and it was definitely a highlight of the conference to hear from so many people whose books I so admire. My favorite was Peter Brown. He had a funny, fascinating talk to share with us about his path to becoming a children’s author and illustrator and his process for creating a couple of his recent titles. I enjoyed the whole presentation, but the best part for me was when he described his quest, just out of art school, to find and develop his own personal style.

Peter showed us slides of some of his art school work–still life studies and presentation sketches that displayed his great talent. He said he knew he could draw well, but that he knew that “drawing well” wasn’t enough; he needed a unique look and feel for his picture books. But to find it, he didn’t just flounder around, drawing in lots of different random styles to see if he could chance upon something he liked. Instead–and this is the part of his talk I loved so much–he showed us how, step by step, he started by surrounding himself with art that he was passionate about. He went looking for what he loved and put it up on his walls and lived with it for awhile. Then he asked himself what it is that drew him to those pieces. He showed us the lists he made of features or characteristics of that art that spoke to him so strongly. Finally, after living with this process and thinking about it for awhile, he started to create his own art that deliberately incorporated those aspects of line, color, form, dimension that he discovered he loved best.

We can all do this. We can all actively inhabit our own lives, discovering and articulating what it is that we love and what we want to be passionate about. It takes time, and effort, and a lot of thinking. But it’s worth it.

Don’t just say, “Oh, that’s a cute book for storytime.” Make a list of all of your favorites, and look at them closely again and again. Pay attention to what they have in common. Then you don’t have to wait until something fresh lands on your new book shelf; you can be pursuing old and new reviews and gathering titles that you know will suit your storytime style. And when someone suggests that you use a book you don’t prefer, you will be able to thank them, but be confident you know exactly why it’s not for you.

Why do your successful programs work so well? What professional projects or career direction do you want to pursue next? How have your best bosses supported their staff, and how can you do the same for your colleagues? Who are the customer service standouts at your library, and what can you learn from them? How do you want to craft your storytime style? What topic or focus do you want for your blog?

If you’re working in a library, I don’t care what your job is, you are amazing. Library work is not easy, and we are constantly asked to stretch ourselves further and further. It can absolutely wear us down and burn us out. But do what you can to be intentional about what you do and what you learn. Keep discovering what you love about your work.

You’re worth it.

On Finding Your Tribe (and the TSA Agent)
On Customer Service (and the Southwest Skycap)

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