Thursday, July 24, 2014

ICON8 Review

I think it would be appropriate to resurrect this long-neglected blog by writing a slightly belated review of ICON8.



ICON (the Illustration Conference) began in 1999 in Santa Fe, NM and has been held in various cities in the US since then (SF, NY, St. Louis, Providence RI, Philly, etc.), switching from a yearly event to every other year at some point. ICON is organized by a massive team of volunteers (a board) consisting of people from every facet of the industry – illustrators, art directors, artist reps, publishers and the like.

This year, it was held in Portland, OR. Given that Portland is less than a 6-hour drive from my house, and that I've been a full-time illustrator for over 20 years, it would have been a crime to NOT attend my first ICON.

Double-decker bike. Only in Portland.
The action began at 9:00am on Wednesday, July 9th with various workshops at the PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art). Wednesday was our travel day (my family came with me; they played and explored while I conferenced) so I didn't make it in time to attend any. However, the workshops continued on Thursday but, being a bonehead, I failed to sign up for any of them ahead of time, thus the ones I was interested in were full. I decided to attend the free education seminar, which was still interesting.


The opening ceremonies kicked off that evening at the Portland Art Museum (in the auditorium, where most action would take place the remainder of the conference). It commenced in grand fashion, with a creatively dressed marching band, accompanied by cheerleaders, a baton twirler, a roller derby girl, a couple of gymnasts, and finally a girl who shot a bow and arrow at a target using only her feet while balancing on her hands! I should back up and mention that, before that spectacle, the attendees were treated with free champagne and hors d'oeuvres. They treated us well.


























Paula Scher was the Keynote speaker and got the ball rolling with a presentation that discussed key experiences that affect how she works and thinks about design. The theme of ICON8 was "Work and Play," so many of the speakers weaved that theme into their presentations.

After Paula Scher's presentation, the attendees (which numbered well into the hundreds) marched down three flights of stairs to sardine themselves into the Roadshow, where there were rows of tables set up for various selected artist and illustrators to show and sell their work. Oh, I should also mention: free beer.

Artist sell their wares at the Roadshow

I knew "of" a handful of attendees, but hadn't really set up any official time or place to meet anyone in person. I did run into fellow illustrator & Facebook friend Carl Wiens, with whom I chatted for a few minutes. Other than that, I flew solo that night. There was apparently a cocktail party, but I chose to head back to my hotel room and spend the rest of the evening with my family.

Friday was packed, morning to evening, with a nearly dizzying amount of speakers. A few really stood out for me, but there was so much to take in that it was nearly overwhelming. They included many illustrators, designers, art directors, a lawyer (discussing the legal aspects of our business), an artist rep, publishers, etc.

I ran into a few other cohorts on Friday, including fellow illustrators Chris Philpot (who I pretty much hung out with the rest of the conference), Leslie Newman and Sandy Haight (the latter two from the Seattle area), along with art director Stephanie Glaros of Experience Life Magazine, who has kindly sent me assignments the last few years (sadly for me, she's leaving as of August 1st to go out on her own as a photographer.) I met several other people between Friday and Saturday (Wendy Quesinberry, who I worked with back in the 90's, art director of Family Circle Lisa Kelsey, illustrator extraordinaire Kyle T Webster, and others I'm too lazy and/or forgetful to recall.)

During one of the breaks, I perused the tables set up outside the auditorium and saw one of my illustration idols, Marshall Arisman.

The inimitable Marshall Arisman and his better half.
I introduced myself, and quickly shared with him a story. While I was attending the Art Institute of Seattle more than 25 years ago, one of my assignments was to write a report on an illustrator of my choice. I chose Mr. Arisman. He was selling a book, which he graciously autographed. He's a cool guy!

Happy Hour followed the days' speakers, which meant...you guessed it...free beer.

Sunset in Portland. I had dinner with friends al fresco at Jake's (left of photo).
Afterwards, I tagged along with Chris and a friend of his to the Land Gallery, where several illustrators' work was displayed and for sale, after which I made the mistake of thinking that walking back to my hotel would be a good idea. I misjudged both how far away it was, and the part of town I would have to cross. I ended up speed-walking, at 11:00pm, under the freeway overpass, by seedy parking lots filled with shopping carts, past a rail yard, along dimly lit streets until I finally arrived 45 minutes later, heart racing and dripping in sweat, at my hotel. My family wasn't too pleased with my decision. Neither was I.

Much like Friday, Saturday began with a day filled with more very entertaining and inspiring speakers. This blog post could go on forever if I went into detail, so I'll refrain.

The closing speaker was Damian Kulash, lead singer of the band OK Go. It seemed to be a curious choice to end an illustration conference with a speaker not involved in the illustration industry, but his message was very relevant. In a nutshell, he explained how something seeming accidental early in his band's career led to something bigger and better than they had imagined. Don't be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. The creative process can't always be directed or controlled.

Damian Kulash, of OK Go.
The closing night party was held a few blocks away at the Crystal Ballroom. It was rather hot and stuffy (and loud), but it was fun to mingle. There was a free buffet-style dinner and, of course...free beer.

After the party, I had to find my way to home base once again. The street cars had stopped running, and my phone was nearly dead. I managed to flag down a cab just as my wife was calling my dying phone, so I avoided the "scary nighttime walk" this time.

By nature, I'm a pretty reclusive person. The lifestyle of an illustrator suits me well. I enjoy working on my own, being undistracted by the activities of a traditional office environment. I'm not sure I would label myself "anti-social," but let's just say I'm perfectly comfortable NOT being thrust into a social situation involving hundreds of people I don't know personally. Given that self-assessment, I was a little apprehensive about not only the conference, but navigating a city I've never explored. With that said, this ended up being a very positive, motivational and inspirational experience for me. This, hopefully, will not be my last ICON. The location of the 2016 conference hasn't been announced, but I'm already budgeting for the tax deduction.

(some photos courtesy of ICON - The Illustration Conference Facebook page)

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