I’m finally recovered from the successive conventions of DragonCon and IlluXCon and boy can I just say what an amazing experience IlluXCon was! I’ve come back feeling so very inspired and motivated. There’s a lot I want to say about it, so hang on to your butts for a long post!
First thing to know about my experience is that I battled with myself in regards to whether IlluXCon was was worth the money we paid to attend. We saved roughly $1300 to cover hotel, room, food, badge, and board, which can be really painful for those of us on shoestring budgets. All in all, I will say yes, this was very worth the money, but not because I made money at the show. In fact, I sold one $20 print the entire Showcase, but that is not where this show’s worth lies.
Instead, I had so many passionate and livening conversations with so many artists, from world-famous artists to up and coming artists like myself. I learned so much from simply having great conversations with people and receiving good advice which is worth its weight in gold from pros who are further along in their careers. To say nothing of the barrage of helpful info packed panels on every aspect of art!
The passion you absorb just from being around so many other artists is also a priceless experience. I have returned hyped and revived after being around such a great crowd of kindred spirits! It is just the medicine the doctor ordered for the feelings of burnout and exhaustion that have plagued me.
– Sitting down for lunch only to realize John Jude Palencar was right across from me. He pointed to me and went “Hey that’s my book in your hand!”
– Talking with so many great artists who gave me specific advice about my work. The list of folks I got to chat up includes Noah Bradley, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos, Winona Nelson, E.M Gist, and Michael C. Hayes. Mike was especially detailed in that he made sure to let me know what I’m doing right, which is sometimes easy to ignore! That was a great lesson in and of itself.
– Nearly EVERY single artist in attendance, including world-famous ones and AD’s, all jammed into the hotel’s lobby being yelled at to stop drinking by midnight lest the bartender lose his license.
– My first ever in-person interview with an Art Director, particularly Jon Schindehette. He gave me encouraging and prudent feedback as well as answered some pointed questions, specifically the following:
The Question: How often should an artist send an AD new work?
The Answer: As often as they have something that pushes their work to the next level.
– Meeting familiar faces I’ve only known through the net! Like Cris aka. Quickreaver.
– Realizing my Showcase table was beside one of the most talented book cover artists for Mercedes Lackey series, Jody Lee!
– Having a passionate conversation about comic books, creativity, and unique creators, such as David Mack, Neil Gaiman, and Drew Hayes with Bill Baker. It’s not often that a person I meet knows all three of these creators who are a triad of inspiration for me.
Speaking of the Showcase, I learned a lot from selling there which I will carry over into next year, should I choose to sell there again. The Showcase happened on the weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), where art collectors were invited to attend the show and meet artists face to face. I noticed as soon as I told people my work was digital that they almost immediately lost interest. It seems there still is a general lack of respect for digital as being an investment as a collectible piece. My digital Art Nouveau piece, Lady of December, still caught a lot of interest, but no buyers.
This has led me to the decision that if I am to show my work there or in galleries that I will need to bring some traditional pieces along as well. I don’t mind doing this, however, because it’s just easier for me to do intensive line work in my Nouveau inspired style by hand anyways. So keep an eye out for more ink and watercolor Nouveau pieces from me! I’m looking forward to scratching that Traditional media itch that’s been nagging me after all these months of doing digital work.
Something else happened that I did not expect at the Showcase that is worth mentioning is that I did not expect to be handed portfolios by other up and coming artists. I spent 80% of my time chatting up younger artists about their work. I’ve always felt that I’m the ‘eternally breaking in to the industry’ person. Having someone trust me enough to request feedback on their work was so unexpected! I got to encourage and inspire them in person and that just filled me with joy! Inspiring you guys inspires me, and it always has, point of fact. Part of the reason I keep this journal! (I know I occasionally do crit here, but it’s so different doing it in real life.)
The Number One thing I learned there is that the art industry is full of people who are passionate about what they do. World famous and novice alike are made equal by this passion. The first day I arrived and went through the Main Showcase, I literally crawled out of the room dragging my jaw along with me feeling feeble and unworthy as an artist. However, as the week progressed and I got to talk to more and more with other artists who offered encouragement and critique, I realized something.
I AM ready for this career path. My work IS good enough. I only need a bit of love and polish before I’m ready to start pitching myself as a hireable artist. I am one step away from my goals. That one step has always felt like a canyon I could never cross. Every artist I spoke to in review said practically the same thing, nearly word for word each time (“Work on lighting, polish anatomy a bit, and you’re there!”).
Sometimes we’re so hard on ourselves that we curl up in a ball and don’t take chances. I haven’t sent my work to AD’s in over a year because I simply wasn’t up to par. My portfolio was too full of life drawing and student work or pieces that I just wasn’t excited about. Sometime in this past year I have transformed, but I was too caught up in my own feelings of slowness, anxiety, and self-loathing to really notice it and PUSH my work where it needed to be pushed so that I could improve.
Having other artists I respect reinforce a properly centered view of my art has been so very cathartic. Even better, I am now informed with the knowledge of which companies are hiring, how much they pay, and who I should talk to in order to be hired. This is knowledge that you can get via the internet, but which comes so much quicker having a good conversation with another artist. As one artist put it to me, this is the ‘family reunion’ for illustrators where they all get to catch up and see how everyone is doing in a business and non-business sense.
As Lauren Panepinto said in her recent Muddy Colors post on physical vs virtual networking, “One hour of physical networking is worth 100 hours of virtual networking.” That is incredible advice and one of the best lessons I’ve taken away from attending IlluXCon.
To be sure, I’m going to do everything I can to be able to attend next year and maybe to add Spectrum to my list. Here’s hoping!
I have an album of public IlluXCon images on FB if you want to get a glimpse of the con. Check it out here!