Illustration Instruction and Community (Illuxcon Part 1)
Back in November this year I had the great privilege of going to a little convention called Illuxcon. In Altoona, PA, numerous contemporary sci-fi and fantasy art masters gathered together to display their works. In addition to the artists 100 student tickets were sold, as were 200 other tickets. With over 60 artists and around 300 attendees, this made for an amazing ratio of artist to attendee. This translated to a weekend of classes, one-on-one talks, seminars, portfolio reviews, and getting to hang out directly with artists. In short the weekend was amazing!
My Illuxcon experience began Friday morning at 10 am when I attended a digital painting demo by Justin Sweet. For those who don’t know this artist go check out his stuff right away. Justin is one of the most talented digital and traditional painters I have met, and for two full hours that morning a room of about 40 people and me got to pick his brain about digital art while we watched him paint on his computer. It was an incredible seminar!
[At this point I need to interject a little note about my portfolio. Just like Dragon Con I came to Illuxcon with plans of getting my portfolio reviewed by as many artists as possible. However I only had two new pieces since Dragon Con, the Hooded Woman and Zombies Gaming. Due to the fact that I was showing a majority of the same art, I was to discover that, not surprisingly, I would receive a lot of the same comments I did at Dragon Con. For that reason I will not re-hash those comments here, but feel free to read my earlier posts. As these comments come up in my Illuxcon notes below I will refer to them as Dragon Con feedback.]
After Justin’s seminar I went to him for a portfolio review. In addition to Dragon Con feedback Justin made one comment in particular that really stood out for me. He referred to my art, in particular my Zombie Gaming Piece, as the “Art of the Weird.” This was not something I had considered before, but it did resonate with me. I really like strange things. I enjoy drawing interesting people more than beautiful people, for example. I’m not sure where this will go exactly but it has given me a lot to think about.
Later that afternoon I went to a seminar by Steve Ellis titled Painting an Exciting Action Scene. Steve started his demo by showing a bunch of his action-oriented paintings. Not only was I really impressed with Steve’s art I discovered that I had been a long time fan of Steve’s work without even knowing it. For those, like me, who don’t recognize Steve’s name at first, you might recognize his older work as Steve was one of the main illustrators for White Wolf’s game Werewolf: The Apocalypse.
Steve’s demo had about 30 attendees, many of who were very quiet while Steve painted. I was not one of the quiet ones however, and I spent a full two hours quizzing Steve about all aspects of acrylic painting, drawing, and digital art. Steve is an amazing illustrator, particularly when it comes to dynamic action. He’s worked in comics, games, and illustration, and not only is he a great artist; he is a super nice guy. After the demo it was fairly obvious that Steve had a lot more to clean up and carry than he had planned so I offered to help. Together we carried all his stuff back to the showroom, were he had a booth. Once there I asked him to review my portfolio. Just when we were getting started Steve’s family showed up to take him to dinner. He apologized, I said it was fine, and off he went. I knew I’d get another chance to talk to him, but little did I know how much this one event would shape the rest of my convention.
The convention actually ended at 5 pm on Friday, which to me seemed really early, but it worked out. I had dinner with my wife and when we got back to the hotel, we saw that the bar had really cheep drinks and half-off appetizers, so we decided to have a few margaritas and some potato skins. We were staying at the Con hotel so as we were enjoying ourselves the bar filled up with professional illustrators and other convention attendees. Before we knew it there were little groups in every corner sketching, exchanging portfolios, and talking about art. The atmosphere was very cool!
During this time Steve Ellis walked in. He spotted me and came right over to where my wife and I were sitting. He apologized again for having to leave earlier and said I should come by and see him on Saturday. I introduced him to my wife, and we just started chatting. As we talked more people gathered around, other illustrators and friends of Steve. This is when things got really cool. As more folks joined our group we got to meet more people. Eventually we broke off into smaller groups, just like most social gatherings conversations ebbed and flowed.
In a sort amount of time my wife and I ended up chatting with a young artist named Eric Fortune. At the time I didn’t realize who Eric was, that’s the thing about illustrators, it so much easier to recognize someone by their paintings than by name alone. After talking with Eric for a bit he suggested that we go find out what all the drawing commotion was about in the corner of the bar.
Over the next several hours my wife and I got to hang out with a lot of really cool people. Many were scribbling away in their sketchbooks, just drawing for the love of drawing. A smaller group was playing a game called collaborations or collabs for short. In collabs one person starts a drawing and then passes it to another artist, who then ads a little drawing of his own. Before you know it you have a hilarious little illustration full of naughty bits and clever little artist jokes. Working on the collabs were primarily Eric Fortune, David Palumbo, Tiffany Prothero, my wife, and yours truly. I didn’t realize the significance of all these artists at the time, but the next day I would be blown away by their talents. At one point an admirer of our work from another table sent a round of drinks over to our table as a thanks for our entertainment.
The synergy at the bar was amazing! So many artists both professional and student, established and seeking, all in one place, just being creative; it was awesome! I got to see some other guy’s portfolios, two of which really stood out: Rob Rey, and Jeffrey Lance. Rob gave me some amazing tips on how to scan and print your art at home on the Epson 1280 ink jet printer, and Jeff had a series on video game pin-ups that were great!
Well after midnight my wife and I decided to call it a night. We had had an incredible night drawing naughty bits with other illustrators. All thanks to Steve Ellis NOT reviewing my portfolio (yet), and Eric Fortune inviting us over to draw genitals. What a night, and this was only the first day of the convention!