Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Illuxcon 2009 post-mortem

I’m back from Illuxcon 2009 in Altoona Pennsylvania. This is a very focused and intimate fantasy illustration convention geared towards the making, showing and selling of original fantasy art. This year there were a number of student attendees as well, and a schedule of roundtable discussions, demonstrations and lectures. I traveled to this convention to meet current clients, introduce myself to potential new ones, and to get inspired and informed about this small industry. The convention was the size of a wedding, and you’re constantly rubbing shoulders with top professionals and art directors in the field. I’ve come home with more accurate parameters, clearer expectations and corrected assumptions for this profession.

Convention poster by Matt Stewart. I love!

The convention floor showing artists' tables with paintings for sale

Even the buffet at the restaurant across the street was lined with fantasy art on the walls.

Michael Whelan and Chris Moeller demonstrate acrylic painting as they work and swap to make collaborative art.

Below I will detail in point form some thoughts as I wrote them down in my notebook. Hopefully this helps inform people interested in the same topics:

General observations:
All of the paintings are really tight! You can’t be too tight with some stuff…card art is not the format for fuzzy edges and old-master’s techniques. These need to be tight and bright. Lots of contrast and detail in art that gets shrunk to a couple inches for printing.

Much work that I thought was digital is actually acrylic painting. Acrylic is more common than oils for the card illustrations, due to speed, sharpness and cleanliness. These artists can paint in acrylics as well as or better than what a digital painting allows.

Most artists are fast. Many do a card art image (Fully painted 11x14” painting) in 3 days (after concept approval).

Lots of artists are using Donato’s methods. Everything from his self-promotional tools to the way he draws his roughs and prepares his surfaces are being copied (rightly so) by other artists.
Single character or limited scope paintings for gaming can take a day.

Original drawings sell for $30-$300 at conventions, depending on size and scope.

For Blizzard to give you card art work, they have to drop someone from their current crop of artists. This is highly competitive, so don’t screw up!

Donato Giancola displays a promotional portfolio folder of prints that he gives out and sells

On self promotion and furthering your career (roundtable discussion):

Don’t be afraid! Just jump in… don’t over think. Have a positive attitude and believe in yourself.

As a beginner, just start with whatever jobs you can get to get the ball rolling in your career. Take all jobs for experience, but also keep on target with your own goals and style development.

The competition now is much greater and the talent/quality much higher than in the 70’s (when Boris Vallejo broke in)

Be regular in your promotion. Always update your blog and site and constantly generate new prints, calendars and promotional materials so that you develop a regular following which expects new content.

Getting an agent may be useful in that they can get you into doors that would be difficult for you as a new artist/individual to open yourself

Make a new poster/postcard/self-published book per year or so. Expensive promotional items like books might cost you money up front, but a collector can take one away and may purchase an original later with the book as a reminder of the work.

Licensing one popular image can pay more than a whole book’s worth of illustrations in the long run. Keep image rights in contracts if possible. As you become more established in your field, work more to stand your ground in keeping your image rights. This is your future earning power.

Donato makes really high quality portfolios and catalogues for self-promotion, and is not necessarily looking to turn a profit on these items. In the long run these high-quality items won’t be thrown away like other samples, and the PR effect becomes more powerful.

Conventions are a key to “breaking in”. You have to be present in the location of the industry in some manner, whether you live where the companies are, or attend conventions and promote yourself in person.

Don’t be cheap in marketing yourself. Be wise. Be targeted.

Your best promotion is “busting you ass”. Do great work to impress your art director. Quality gets around.

Art director’s Roundtable discussion:

They want to see a new portfolio every year from someone looking to break in. You should always have new stuff.

You’re judged by your weakest image, because this is possibly what you may give them for quality.

Use YOUR name and not a moniker or nickname, like “Darken 666” when talking online, promoting yourself, etc. Your name is your calling card. Be mature.

Many referrals for new artists come through existing artists.

Art directors commonly want many loose thumbnail sketches, 3 roughs and one tight comprehensive drawing in the development process of your illustration. Some prefer more or less involvement, but are all open to communication and suggestion. Color roughs sometimes necessary.
And now that I've got a clearer snapshot into the industry it's back to work... with no excuses!


Michael Grills said...

Awesome post Mike. Thanks for sharing what you have learned. This level of sharing is priceless.

Mike Sass said...

actually it cost me about 2 grand! haha :)

Off the Coast of Utopia said...

Great post Mike. I am directing some of my students to it. Did you chat with Donato? I saw him in Lucca 3 weeks ago and dropped your name.

mike sass said...

yeah, I saw his Luccia catalogue. Great you saw the show there. I hung out with Donato somewhat... gotta absorb genius whan I can... He likes his nachos!

Off the Coast of Utopia said...

I forgot to tell you, there was a show of his work. It was amazing!

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