Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Icon 8 Round Up

This last weekend I got to hang out, nerd out and generally rock out with hundreds of other illustrators in my own city. How did this conglomeration of artistic folk happen to descend onto the fair city of Portland? ICON: The Illustration Conference, that's how.

If you don't know what ICON is, it's basically a big get-together held every two years, designed to give an insight into illustration as it stands today, and to strengthen the community as a whole. There is a lot I'm going to cover, so fair warning: This is going to be a long and (blurry) image-heavy post. Here we go!

Before the official start of the conference on Friday, Wednesday and Thursday were scheduled for small educator talks and workshops. I took the free Adobe CC 2014 workshop and a Zine workshop hosted by Kate Bingaman-Burt and Jennifer Daniels. We each made 30, eight-page zines in 2.5 hours, and then traded them with classmates.

  It was like a really fun artistic sweatshop!

But the conference started in earnest on Friday:

The photo is blurry, but that's a real live marching band with dancers and circus acts.

Most of the schedule was dedicated to speakers and lectures.  We heard from art directors, fine artists, working illustrators and even a rep or two. There were a few misses, but most were awesome. Some favorites were Andrea Dezso, Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett, Aaron and Owen Smith, Nelson Lowry, and two super-informative legal discussions by Linda Joy Kattwinkel. The only gripe I heard regarding the overall line-up of speakers, was the lack of any Sci-fi/Fantasy artists. That was a bit of an oversight, considering the Pacific Northwest is home to Wizards of the Coast and some of the best artists in the country, but the lectures were still great in general.

Between speakers, while we filled up on cookies and coffee,  a brilliant stage crew led by Jason Holly built and moved the set decorations, creating a semi-narrative story whose theme seemed to be "eat mushrooms and you'll turn into a woodland creature and draw better."

There were also other events such as a gallery show at The Land Gallery and the Roadshow, where attendees set up booths and sold their wares to other attendees. Unfortunately both of these events suffered from the size of the spaces where they were held, particularly the Roadshow. It was so crowded, by the time I got to a booth I wanted to see, I'd just get shoved along to the next one. I know tables were expensive, especially because the artists only had three hours to show their stuff, so its a shame it wasn't a better set up.

My friend Kelley McMorris at her booth, clenching her fists in rage as I take a thousand photos trying to get one that wasn't blurry. (still blurry)

I also set up a little happy hour thing at one of my favorite bars so people staying at the official hotel had somewhere to go drink, knowing fellow artists would also be there. The staff at Imperial totally set us up, dedicating an entire area for ICONers, allowing us to relax and get a chance to really talk to other attendees. I met some super cool people...

... and here they are!

But the best part of the entire conference (for me at least) were the closing ceremonies. After the Keynote speech by Damian Kulash of OK GO (!?) We all headed over to the Crystal Ballroom for dinner, a legit rock show from Portugal the Man, and a freaking dance party. It was awesome.

Portugal the Man melting our faces with rock.

I can't tell you how amazing it feels to completely let go with hundreds of like-minded people, with no pretenses, ego, or social order: Like a wedding if you were friends with every person there. This alone was probably worth the price of admission for me, but I really love to dance : )

And we danced our asses off!

So that takes us to my final impressions. I guess the first question you might ask is "Would you recommend Icon"? I absolutely would, but with reservations. The cost is high, around $560 for a ticket, and after you factor in airfare and a hotel, you could have bought multiple postcard mailers, a subscription to Agency Access or hell, even a new computer. I honestly don't know if this is the type of event that will directly lead to jobs, so for someone struggling it might not be the right move. And that's too bad, because they'd probably benefit the most from the lessons learned and the sense of community I got from the experience.

And speaking of lessons learned, what were they? The biggest take away for me was to simply make more work. There is a prevailing mentality that some of the big names in the business got where they are by getting "handed" jobs. While I'm sure there are people who fell into success, most of the speakers at this conference were "handed" jobs only because they produced so much work, they couldn't be ignored. Fear can often keep us from putting pen to paper (or stylus to tablet), but the only way to get over the fear of doing something, is to simply do it (or in honor of local business Nike "Just Do It"). On that note I'll leave you with a photo of my favorite note I took all conference. Till next time...


Mark Kaufman said...

Great insights Johnny, and thank you for not sugar coating your thoughts. That's important as people see all of the positive comments floating around, but also important for the board to hear about the things that didn't go right or things that we missed.

My biggest gripe was that I didn't get to meet and greet EVERYONE. Especially you! Thank you.

J said...

Ahh thats totally another regret! So many cool people, so little time. Pretty sure Icon should just go on for 360 days.

Peter Diamond said...

It's a good point about the price Johnny; I too am not sure if ICON is the right move for someone whose 1st priority is getting more work. I do think this kind of 'face time' does lead to work in that it can reinforce your other promo activities, but I'm glad I didn't go to ICON with those considerations weighing on me. You want to make connections with potential clients of course but I think the primary value of this thing was social. Community building you might call it. The question is if you are in a position to invest in that or not.

Kelley said...

Clenching fists in rage!!!

(great writeup, by the way!)