ICON 7- The Illustration Conference, Day 2

All that stuff from my previous post was merely from one day. One giant, LONG day! This post is about the Saturday happenings.

First up in the morning was the “Our Favorite Art Directors” panel. Steven Charny (Rolling Stone), Paul Buckley (Penguin), and Thomas Schmid (Buck TV) were there to show what they do in their respective companies, and the kinds of things they look for in art.

There was a “debate” about whether or not you should get an MFA or not. I nearly skipped this one, due to the fact that I will never get an MFA… but these two guys- Marshall Arisman (Chair, MFA Illustration for the School of Visual Arts) and David Porter (Illustration Professor at RISD) made it an interesting an broader discussion.

They both sort of agree that an MFA isn’t as necessary as life experiences and developing your own conceptual thinking.

Tim O’Brien, a photo-realist with a self-described “aggressive” style, changed the course of his own career when he discovered he kept being hired to do work he wasn’t enthused about. I thought it was a good point- that you have the power to change the course of your career if you want to.

Yes, Tim did the Hunger Games book art, amongst many other unbelievably excellent pieces. Check out his website.

Here is Tommy Lee Edwards, creator of beautiful concept art that is used in all kinds of ways… comics, video games, movies, etc. He likes to help create a feel for the world of each movie or game, something that other people can refer to. I think he’s been successful at that- I definitely connect his art with some of the movies and related media I’ve seen.

Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson started up Idiots’ Books on their own, after ditching the comfort of the real world and moving into a barn. Their story and their collaborations are charming, funny, and mostly weird. They are great role models for doing whatever the heck you want and making it work.

Sketchbooks… what do they mean to you? Here are 3 rampant sketchbookers- Jillian Tamaki, John Cuneo, and Marcellus Hall. Jillian said that her sketchbook is a personal place and a respite from clients. Marcellus likes to use his for “reportage”… bearing witness to everyday life.

Christy Karacas is the guy behind Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show, ‘Superjail!‘ I have never seen such violent and creepy animation, frankly… and I am pretty sure Christy and team are proud of that! Content-wise, this is not something I would ever watch on my own (sorry, I’m a remorseless bunny-drawer for a reason), but I am glad to have seen their process, which is very hands on, traditional(ish) animation, produced here in the US of A. There is integrity in the way it is made, for sure.

Yuko Shimuzu create covers for DC Comics/Vertigo, which are more artistically sophisticated and adult oriented than typical comics. One of the things she did during the earlier, searching part of her career is make a literal “Dream List” of people and companies she wanted to work with… and has managed to cross off most. She said it’s not important, really, to get everything off the list, but to try for them.

It was fun to hear from some of the masters in the fantasy and sci-fi realm. Irene Gallo (Creative Director for Tor Books), Greg Manchess, and our old RISD classmate Jon Foster were on hand to discuss how fans help drive the excitement in the genre. It really is it’s own world, where fans truly support individual artists. Sci-fi and fantasy conventions are key places for them to connect with their fans, and in turn, to keep them motivated to create great art. And man, they make GREAT art. Check it out.

Another fun and unexpected talk was given by radio producer and storyteller Starlee Kine and illustrator Arthur Jones, who collaborate to make personal, funny and insightful animated and illustrated projects that really capture their spirits.

And then, it was time for closing remarks. Icon president John Hendrix thanked the mountain of volunteers, and then introduced the winner of the first ICON Medal for Collaborative Vision.

Brian Rea and Paul Sahre, the medal winners, took us through the logistics of creating hundreds of designed and illustrated pages from Malcolm Gladwell Collected.

The evening ended with a crazy “Moth Ball” party, and a last loud chance to see everyone. I was happy to run into one of my favorite teachers from RISD, Erminio Pinque, the guy behind the local puppety/costumed/musical phenomenon known as Big Nazo.

All in all, I was very glad this thing came to Providence!

ICON7- The Illustration Conference, Day 1

The ICON 7 Illustration Conference was held right here in RI this year, sponsored in part by good ol’ RISD. That was good news for Eric and I…we had our tickets reserved months ago, and it was finally held this week.

The weather was perfect, the city was looking’ good for the hundreds of illustrators that came to town. We didn’t manage to get to any of the workshops that occurred on previous days, beyond going to the RISD Icons art show opening at the Woods-Gerry Gallery (the show is up until June 24th, so you can still catch it).

Our first full day of stuff was Friday the 15th, and it started early. The darkly chipper Masters of Ceremonies were Jennifer Daniel and Nicholas Blechman.

Gregory DiBisceglie, creative manager for Campaign Planning and Special Projects at Macy’s, showed how he tries to raise the bar of creative experiences that Macy’s offers. Why, there’s one of his special projects now… art created by Chris Buzelli for Macy’s Flower Show.

Here’s the art powerhouse Bob Staake, with a page from one of his children’s books. He started off working in a well-regarded cartoony style, but has since morphed into more graphic looks. He says that since art is always subservient to something else, he likes to shake up his style depending on the need. He also like to surprise an art director with unique takes.

My favorite point he made was that art directors come to you because you’re a thinker. So true. Style and execution is less important than concept, so long as the art gets your point across effectively. I find this very true in product design, as well.

Christopher S. Neal, Josh Cochran, and Sam Weber came to talk about the importance of community and collaboration, as learned in the Pencil Factory studio space in Brooklyn. They not only collaborate with each other, but with lots of varied clients.

The importance of collaboration was a theme that kept popping up throughout the conference. Apparently sequestering oneself up in a studio all alone with no input is not the best way to achieve good art, or to get anything to happen with your art. Huh… go figure!

Here are the folks from the Children’s Book panel: Cecily Kaiser (Abrams), Chad Beckerman (Abrams), and Elizabeth Parisi (Scholastic), with Rachael Cole (Schwartz & Wade/Random House) as moderator.

As a children’s author/illustrator, I thought I had heard it all about this subject. But they did touch on some important points that probably can’t hit home enough: books need to jump off a shelf due to their individuality. Relevancy and different takes on common subjects can set a book apart from the mountains of others.

Chad with a morphing cover sketch by Dan Santat.

Lunch break. Did I mention the weather was ideal for this?

I’m glad Providence was lookin’ good for the conference. The hotel where some of the events were used to be an abandoned, graffitied shell of turn-of-the-century despair. Pretty nice now, darn it!

Here’s Jessica Hische, who spends a lot of time procrastiworking on all kinds of projects, many involving her own custom typefaces. “Make things you wish existed.”

Here’s another good thought to remember:

Kiel Johnson took everyone by surprise, I think. It’s hard to describe the level of intensity of what he has made, done, created with cardboard. He said that getting out and working with others has led to surprising artistic places that he never would have gone to himself.

Another shot showing his intensity level… he decided to draw everything (everything!) he owned.

Here are Adam Rex and Dan Santat, during their session on being Man-Whores. Or, uh… promotion. yeah, promotion. They shared some of the things that worked for them (meeting people at ComicCon, devoting actual time to promotion), and what didn’t work (scaring children with clone videos).

At their book signing, I asked Adam and Dan to “do something adorable” so I could take a picture. This is what they came up with.

Pretty adorable, right? hehehe

Here’s Julia Rothman, who talked a little about how she entered into true licensing after learning the hard way about flat fee sales. This shot shows her My Little Pony style sheets that she did for Hasbro. Getting her work seen on Design Sponge seemed to open up a new flow of people that wanted to work with her, and she’s been going full steam ever since.

The evening keynote was by Lynda Barry, cartoonist extraordinaire, and her “special guest” and long-time friend Matt Groening, creator of Life In Hell, the Simpsons, and Futurama. Pretty much one of the best “talks” I’ve ever seen.

Lynda by herself is a hoot. Intertwined within her off-kilter stories, she had some really poignant things to say about trusting yourself, not editing yourself, and rediscovering your own hands to make a personal connection with your work.

Jeez, though. These two together were unstoppable. They just kept tossing little stories out, back and forth…

Honestly, I could have listened to them for hours, they were so funny and insightful. I felt very privileged and lucky to hear them.

Matt said that he had just stopped writing “Life in Hell” after 37(!!) years. He did so last week. Wow.

After that, they opened up the Rhode Show, which was a bazaar of illustrators with tables full of their work and promos. It was very well attended and a lot of fun. A good way to meet a lot of people and see their work.

Here’s my pal Mary Beth Cryan at her booth, displaying all her paper-engineered goodness!

I got to meet Matt Groening at the Rhode Show. A true high point of the whole thing. Things like this don’t usually happen in Providence.


Here’s some of the day’s loot haul… I officially have a lot of business cards, websites and books to investigate!

Next up… DAY TWO.