Illustration Instruction and Community (Illuxcon Part 2)
On the second day of Illuxcon things didn’t get started until noon. Which after the night we had before was perfect. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with my wife before heading of to another day of portfolio reviews and seminars.
Throughout the day I popped in and out of several different painting demos, but I ended up spending the majority of my day talking with other artists and showing my portfolio. As I mentioned in my last post a lot of the feedback was the same as Dragon Con, because I hadn’t changed my portfolio enough yet. That said I still got to talk with a lot of amazing artists.
I talked with Charles Vess, whose art I copied when I was 12; I got to meet Ian Miller, whose drawings established the world of Warhammer 40K; I spoke with Steve Prescott, one of my favorite artists working for Wizards of the Coast, and another artist influenced by Mike Mignola; and I showed my stuff to Scott Altman, who spent a large bit of the Con drawing and painting amazing things at his booth.
In addition I got to chat more with my collab friends from the previous night Eric Fortune, David Palumbo, Tiffany Prothero. Finally seeing Eric’s art I realized that I have been a fan of his stuff for about a year now. David’s a very talented artist, having worked on numerous projects for Wizard’s of the Coast. At Tiffany’s booth I got to see her amazing Asian influenced paintings as well as meet her friend, and studio mate, Christine MacTernan, whose sketchbook frankly blew me away!
All the artists were amazing, gracious with their time, honest with their comments, and genuine in trying to help me become a better artist. At one point one of the artists made the comment that it would be great if we could seal the doors and have the entire world consist of people just like all the artists present. I have to say that in a lot of ways I agree. Everyone was great!
Out of all my portfolio reviews four really stood out, and gave me different feedback than I’d gotten at Dragon Con. The first was an artist who wasn’t even presenting in the show, Ben Thompson. Ben was watching his friend’s booth and working on a digital painting on his laptop when I approached him. We talked for a bit and I was to discover than Ben worked for Upper Deck as the Art Director on the World of Warcraft collectible card game line. Ben’s digital work is excellent, and he offered me some great feedback. In particular he encouraged me to use different digital brushes when painting, the same way you would when working in a traditional medium. Additionally he told me that as I did new stuff he would be happy to give me critique if I emailed him. I was floored!
I had attended a seminar by Joe Devito, a veteran of the art world, Friday afternoon, but I didn’t really get a chance to talk with him until Saturday. Joe’s seminar was on “How to Draw from Imagination.” It was a great class all about using the basics of drawing, reducing things to simple shapes, and then adding lighting based on how basic shapes accept light and cast shadow. It was a refreshing look at the most simple of drawing techniques. The way Joe talks about art was great. First off he is a very charismatic guy, with his New York accent and cut to the chase manner of speaking. In his opinion art was easy if you just stuck to the basics. His class really got me fired up about drawing!
When I finally sat down with Joe to show him my portfolio he had two pieces of advice for me that really stood out. The first was that he could tell my work had changed recently and he encouraged me to do more stuff like the Zombie Gaming piece. He added that I needed to really think about the focus before I started painting and make sure that thing is the brightest. Otherwise he said I was on the right track and that I was really close to “getting it.” The second gem Joe had for me was to be a “personality.” Let your colorful side fly, engage people when they come by, talk to them, find out a little about them, and have a good time. Don’t be the typical quiet artist who is too shy to talk about your art, have a little spunk!
After that confidence boost from Joe it was much easier to show my portfolio to more people, and I finally got my opportunity to sit down with Steve Ellis. I must say I am a huge fan of Steve’s art. I ended up buying one of his prints. His stuff just has so much energy, and he has just a hint of impressionist style to his painting, which I love. When Steve saw my portfolio he made a lot of the comments I had become accustom to hearing but added a couple of new points. He explained that harsh intersecting diagonals in composition help create tension. He explained that you can see this in the human form as one side of the body will shift to balance the other, creating dynamic angles. Steve also informed me that he doesn’t use references, except on occasion. He explained that his background in comics never afforded him the time to gather lots of references for his art. He encouraged me to balance the use of references with the vigor of sketching and that a balance can be achieved.
In a neat turn of events the last artist I would speak with would also give me the feedback that was most striking. Patrick Jones is a very successful illustrator and teacher. When I asked him to look at my portfolio he said, “Sure, as long as you are willing to accept harsh and honest feedback.” I said I was, and so he gave my book a glance. He carefully flipped through all my pieces and then stopped back on the Zombie Gaming piece. Patrick explained that he noticed that the Zombie piece was a different style than my other pieces and a lot better. He asked me if I liked working in that style and I said I did. He then proclaimed that I should not do anything like those other pieces again and that I should do more stuff like the Zombie piece. He then shut my portfolio. I thanked him for his time and we parted ways.
After a weekend of having to re-hash a lot of problems that I now recognized in my own art it felt so good to end the weekend feeling like someone else understood. The Zombie piece, which was the culmination of everything I had learned at Dragon Con, was good…and I should do more stuff like it! The weekend couldn’t have had a better ending. I made a lot of friends, got to hang with some other cool artists, got some really good feedback from professional artists, and in the end a really talented professional helped me see that I was close to “getting it.” I had a lot to think about on my drive home, and I was sad to leave the little artist commune that was Illuxcon. In the end I mostly excited to start incorporating all the feedback and energy into new paintings!