The conference began with a bang with a performance from "the Circus Project." The most insane marching band I've ever seen stormed into the auditorium, followed by breakdancers, acrobats, people hanging from the ceiling on silk scarves and a girl who could shoot a crossbow with her feet. It was wonderfully bizarre.
ICON is a conference about "illustration" in general, and the theme of the show was "Work and Play." All day long we'd listen to an hour of lectures, then go downstairs for coffee and snacks, then upstairs for more lectures, repeat repeat repeat.
That's Victo Ngai in the middle, who looked like the rock star I've always imagined her as
Children's book superstar team Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett were hilarious
I went into ICON with one old friend and some new friends. By the end of the conference we had bonded over our mutual experience of sleep deprivation and information overload. During lunch breaks we went to the famous Portland food carts and enjoyed the summer breezes. We ate lunch in the park and talked about how illustrators are the nicest people in the world.
On Thursday evening was the Roadshow, where 60 artists had tables selling their wares. Across the board, all the artists were very talented people and I felt honored to be among them.
THE COLD NEVER BOTHERED ME ANYWAY
I met a girl who said she reads this blog. (You know who you are, hi!) But despite the turnout and the presence of alcohol at the show, I sold very very little. So that was disappointing. I don't know if my art just wasn't a good fit for this show, or if the attendees were just mostly broke artists. When I got bored, I started keeping track of comments people made to me. Ten people told me that my work "looks traditional," and two people told me that I "look young."
Like a little tiny baby
On Friday evening was the "Work and Play" show at Land Gallery. I created my "Busyness and Inspiration" illustration for this show, and it hung on the wall with the other selected pieces. This was the first time my art has been in a gallery!
On the final day the keynote speaker was Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK GO - and although his talk wasn't illustration related, he still had some interesting insights into creativity and the balance of work and play.
At ICON, most aspects of illustration were at least briefly touched on - animation, surface art, editorial, children's books, concept art, comics, graphic design, fine art, art direction and art education. On one hand, it was cool to learn about the diversity of artists in all types of industries, and how they balance work and play. On the other hand, talks that were applicable and informative for my own career were few and far between. (For example, a talk about the history of LGBTQ in comics was interesting, but not very useful for me personally.)
Some of the best speakers were Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, Robynne Raye, Linda Joy Kattwinkel and Andy J. Miller. But there were quite a few boring speakers. Their talks followed a pattern I named "The Chronological Model." First they would talk about their childhood. "I lived here, then we moved here, then I went to school here, then we moved again." Next they would show photos of projects they were working on. "Here's a thing I'm drawing. Here's another thing. This is a thing I painted. Here's my studio. Here's a statue I made. Here's a drawing of my dad. Here's a show I did." It was like listening to a 2nd grader do show-and-tell. I don't want to be too harsh, since most artists aren't professional public speakers, but it did seem like they were pretty unprepared and even unsure of why they were up there.
Overall, I enjoyed ICON for the inspiration, motivation and the chance to meet cool illustrators, who are the nicest people in the world. However, I don't feel like I left with a lot of practical information that I can apply to my own career. The scope of the conference was just too broad. Basically, inspirational, not practical.
What I got out of the conference the most was the importance of creating a huge quantity of work. I was stunned by the amount of artwork some of the speakers produced. Even for the artists who were not very good speakers, it was still clear that creativity permeated every hour of their lives. It was definitely the kick in the pants I've been needing lately, and I'm returning to work feeling refreshed. As my friend Johnny wrote in his conference notes: