Thursday, October 9, 2014

Illuxcon 2014

2014 has been a busy year! I started working at an art store (after being unemployed for over a year). I received my first children's book illustration commission and most recently I was able to show my work at an awesome great little illustration convention called Illuxcon.

A couple of weeks ago I attended Illuxcon for the second time. It is an illustration convention with a focus on fantastic art created traditionally and held annually on the 3rd week of September in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Though it was my second time attending, it was my first time attending as an exhibitor in the Showcase hall. For this little known illustrator coming from the far end of Australia, which incidentally makes it one of the longest plane rides you could ever take (Perth to Boston total travelling time around 28 hours), it was a big deal to have the chance to show my art to collectors and artists. I have to thank Jeannie and Patrick Wilshire (the organisers of IIluxcon) for their support without which I would not have been able to make it to the convention.
My display at the Showcase

Things I Learned from Illuxcon

Paint Bigger

Many of the paintings were at least 40x50cm, however character sketchers were smaller. Most of my paintings have been limited by the size of the paper and the board I used to stretch the paintings on. Since discovering hot press 645gsm Fabriano watercolour paper from my workplace I will no longer need to stretch it beforehand due to the fact that with it being thicker the paper is able to hold more water with little to no buckling. Also Larger paintings look better for display and when prints are made of them they look better when reduced in size. However the only drawback of a bigger painting is transportation and display.
Tran Nguyen talking to Donato Giancola

Paint in a Series

A series of paintings all following a similar theme looks good when hung together and will complement the rest of your work. I noticed that when this was done, more paintings would be sold, examples of this include Kiri's miniature paintings and Iris' creepy portraits of freaks and monsters. After a review I was recommended to do a series of paintings based on the portrait I did of Lady Matilda with her steampunk gun and pet dragon. I also had some interest in my mermaid painting "The Rescue" and "Dragon Tea" painting.
Jeremy Wilson's work in the Salon Show

Kiri Leonard's display at the Showcase

Iris Compiet's display at the Showcase

Enhance a Watercolour Painting

A lot of the paintings were oil paintings. Including two of my favourite watercolour artists (Wylie Beckert and Justin Gerard), many artists chose to enhance their paintings with oils, acrylics, pencil, ink and digital. I found the use of painting in oils over a finished watercolour painting an interesting method I'd like to employ once I get back to Australia.
Wylie Beckert (right) and Sam Guay (left)

Ask for Feedback

As well as signing up for 2 pre-organised portfolio reviews, I also showed my work to a number of professional artists. One artist in particular Rebecca Guay even drew a rough alternative sketch to show how a painting I had done could have been improved. Her suggestions included; for poses and hand movements consider alternatives to the predictable - make unusual choices, when drawing your final make your marks surgically precise. And since I mentioned Arthur Rackham she also suggested I consider how does he convey movement in his paintings. She said many more things but unfortunately my brain is like a sieve and I think next time I will put my phone onto record.

Rebecca Guay in front of her display in the Salon Show

Talk to Everyone

The convention was jam packed with artists who had all levels of experience and since many of the artists I only knew via their art work, it paid well to not be shy. At one point I found myself talking to Jim Burns. We talked about storytelling through art and how I'd like to write a book one day. Though his style and technique are quite different from my own I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. This conversation paid me back well as the following evening at the Showcase Jim Burns came up to my table to look at my work, following him was a couple who are avid collectors of his work, upon seeing my Lady Matilda painting they offered a price for it, which I was unsure of until he guaranteed he would ensure the art work would be scanned as I was unable to do so before the convention. So Jim Burns' collector ended up making the first purchase of my work that night.
Lady Matilda

Jim Burns' display in the Main Show

Don't Expect to Make A Lot of Money

Expect instead to spend A LOT of money. If you are showing at the convention there are numerous ways to spend your money (apart from the fact that you have to pay for your flight there which came to over $3000 for me, accommodation and food). First promotion - ordering prints, business cards, banners, display stands, frames for paintings. To cover various markets I brought some original paintings that I had matted so that I could frame them once I arrived in the US. I ordered two types of prints while in the US, one set I had printed on high quality artist paper which I signed and embossed and kept to a limited number. I also ordered a smaller sized range of prints that I had printed on a cheaper paper from the same company. I didn't sell any of the limited edition prints but did sell a couple of the cheaper prints. I had postcards made up which I handed out for free along with business cards and a sticker which I printed from home. The limited edition and cheaper prints I will make available for purchase from my website. Before I arrived I had 2 weeks holiday in the US, during this time I painted 3 watercolours, 2 of which I sold at the convention. The convention is an advertising opportunity to display your skills, make contacts for potential future work and collaborations, an opportunity for Art Directors to meet you in person (which gives them a chance to know what kind of person you are, for example neat, friendly, reliable etc) and since there are a lot of collectors who are attending for some of the bigger name artists in the main show, it's a chance for you to find a supporter for your work - a potential patron.
It was nice to see my postcard amongst other really awesome artworks

My display at the Showcase

Have a Good Display

People will be drawn to a good display. I noticed that artists who had opaque "walls" to hang their artwork upon did very well. Travelling from another country makes this option very difficult to do, though one international artist was able to overcome this problem by an American friend who was able to help her out by lending her a display system. Even though you are not supposed to hang anything from walls, having a table up against a wall helps the viewer to direct the gaze directly to your work.
Jason Cheesman-Meyer at his display at the Showcase

Sarah Finnigan hides behind her incredible work at the Showcase

Make Time to Have Coffee

I made so many friends at Illuxcon, or rather I should say, I was able to confirm so many friendships at Illuxcon. I had made a lot of friends online while I was still in Australia. One group of friends in particular was made when someone invited me to join the Women In Fantasy Illustration group on Facebook (WIFI for short). The group was initially started as a support group with the proviso that it wouldn't become an anti male militant feminist group. A lot of the women from the WIFI group met up at Illuxcon, at one point we all met for dinner - it was quite a large table! The WIFI group was a godsend, through it I was even able to find two other girls who were looking for someone to share a hotel room helping to bring my total costs down. Having friends at the convention made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable, it didn't matter where I went there would always be someone who knew my name - or at the very least recognised me by my artwork.
Some of the members of the WIFI group meeting for dinner
Making friends at breakfast (American diners make the best breakfasts!)

Final Words

If you are an artist just starting out looking to start a career in fantasy illustration I highly recommend you attend this convention Illuxcon or another similar convention that is held earlier in the year called Spectrum (I am yet to attend this one but I have heard it is also focused on fantasy illustration both traditional and digital). I know from my own experience it will do the world of good for your work and for yourself as an artist to attend something like this. Being able to see the standard of work, hear the stories of working in the industry, sharing mutual experiences with other artists on a similar journey to you is something that can not be replaced by reading about it in a blog or watched on youtube it has to be experienced. It is expensive and this tends to be the major reason why someone may choose not to attend if you come from another country, however Illuxcon have started up a scholarship to help with this. As well as scholarships depending where you live local and national government grants for artists are available, an example is Artflight which is available in Western Australia which provides funds up to $3000 to pay for your flight costs. Another way to raise the money which I have heard many artists have been able to successfully employ is to start a Kickstarter (or similar) campaign.

Whatever you choose to do if you're an artist just starting out - good luck! Work hard, promote your art, talk to other artists and don't give up - it's hard work and doesn't pay well but being a fantasy illustrator sure beats working in a dull 9 to 5 job in a boring office! 

Allentown Art Museum, one of the venues for the Convention
The Main Show

Gary Lippincott's display at the Main Show. A great guy who I had the pleasure of meeting.

The back of my display - using every square inch!

My roomie Brenda Lyons in her display at the Showcase- a really great artist and now good friend! :)

Lindsey Look a fantastic artist in her display at the Salon. I really wish I could have afforded one of her paintings!

Aaron Miller holding a portfolio review in his space at the Showcase

Rebecca Guay before I had the guts to talk to her - I'm a big fan of her work

Patrick Jones another Aussie artist (left) getting out the print I just bought for my boyfriend

Brenda's great display

After talking to Kat Guevara-Birmelin for the past 3 years online we finally got to meet at Illuxcon. Here she is at her great display at the Showcase.

Illuxcon September 2015, Allentown, PA (USA)
Spectrum May 22 - 24th 2015, Kansas City, MO (USA)

NOTE: Some of these photos have been sourced from other exhibitors and attendees at the show.