I wanted to write a follow-up to my first ICON8 post—so here goes!
Delight, enthusiasm, surprise.
These were the lingering effects that really stuck with me post-ICON. From the changing narrative displays on the stage, to the little pauses and page turns for comedic effect in presentation, to learning that people you admire are just as awesome in person as you hoped, I was constantly feeling one of those above emotions. Which thus has made me want to do the same in my work for others and for myself. One of the tricky things I’ve found is making time for my own work when teaching and freelancing take up so much time, not to mention work-life balance. I’m not great at that balance, but I think I do need to make more time to play and let ideas develop on the page, or in my world. Saying no is something I have to continue to do so that I can invest in myself and my growth. Because as this sprint has grown into a marathon, and next spring marks my tenth anniversary as an illustrator (!) a lot of change and growth is going to need to happen to evolve into my next form. And it’s got me itching to explore a lot more narrative and conceptual things in my work. I have ideas for books, zines, animations. I’m excited for decade number two.
PS: going to ICON made me remember about grad school. I wish there were grad school patronages because now I really want to go back! Maybe one day; I’ll have to save up :)
Bringing people together.
One of those latent things I forgot I really enjoy doing, and one of the great end-results of ICON! It’s why I loved making Picture Book Report, why I was thrilled to bring so many artists I love together for Join Together last year at Land, and what is really fun for me about teaching. I’m sure if you were there and I talked to you, you might have noticed after a while I really had a lot of fun smooshing people together and ask ‘hey, do you know this person?’ It feels great to grow the connections between people, and I was especially happy to get my shy students to meet the people they’ve admired. Being bold and just raising your hand, not being afraid to look silly is a great skill to build.(It also helped for closing night when I danced like a fool across the Crystal Ballroom!)
Seriously though, bringing people together was what really drew me to Portland, and it’s underlined how I want to have a group studio and bring people together both in the work and the occasional drawing club. Beyond that I really want to curate another project. Picture Book Report gave me so much and I loved what my contributors made; what that next project could be though I wonder! I’ll let that brew for now.
I heard authenticity brought up a lot. Tell your story, share yourself both in the studio and out, bring your creativity into your life in a playful way. In short: be real! Which I wondered if that was a pushback against something— were people being false in a previous generation? Maybe it’s a pushback against the sense that you are your work. This seems to be encouraged by the perfectly manicured, curated life we are able to show online— you can see the work, and you can often think it was created in one graceful fell swoop with no struggles or gnashing of teeth. You can share a photo of a perfectly organized studio space, nothing out of order and everything carefully curated to show a version of yourself. But that doesn’t really tell me who you are, just what your taste is. If so, I’m all for the pushback of real authenticity of who you are— that creativity takes hard work, a sort of scrappiness, that sometimes it’s going to be a mess of art supplies and papers and scribbles. This is more of what I like about living in Portland vs. the beautifully hewn wood slabs and Edison bulb aesthetic. It’s pretty but it’s a shorthand, and as a creative who loves creatives I want to learn the true language. Maybe I just want to see more of how the sausage is made. I think I’m a process junkie; I’d rather see those little steps and tease little details rather than keep a secret and unveil a project. I am bad at keeping my own secrets and admittedly I’m bad at the minimalist curation (although I feel the pressure to do it all the time); so if this is what’s meant by authenticity than I am all for it!
So in terms of authenticity I loved seeing those mistakes surface in presentations, or those explosions of process, or that sense of personality shine through. I wish I saw even more! It’s why I am always so excited to see a presentation by Kate Bingaman-Burt, and why I loved seeing Jennifer Daniel speak. The humor and personality shows through their life, and their work. Even when things go awry or you’re hit with a big challenge, it’s way more interesting to see how you roll with the punches and grow from it rather than just show 100% success all the time.
Everything that went on during ICON was super inspirational! But sometimes I want to dig my teeth in deeper. It would be cool to continue to see more cross-disciplinary speakers like they did this year, more discussions with art buyers, art directors, etc. It would be really interesting to talk deeper about problems and growing pains our industry might be facing as it’s evolving and growing new limbs, as illustrators start designing, animating, sculpting, concepting, whatever! I’ve had many a talk with my rep Scott Hull about who’s actually buying illustration these days, especially when you get past editorial or publishing. And how do you share your value to clients when you might actually being hired by someone who isn’t so creative? How do you navigate budgets being slashed as more things are being made for the web? How do you learn to edit, market and art direct yourself on entrepreneurial projects when there’s so many possibilities and platforms now? It’s an exciting time and I would love to hear more dialogue about issues people are facing, and even more discussion between people at different stages of their career and where we can learn from each other.
I had a lot of fun at my Light Grey Art Lab workshop a couple of years ago and one thing I really enjoyed was the roundtable we did on day 2. Getting to talk with those lovely people about all sorts of issues both tangible and intangible they are working through was so beneficial! And even though I led it, I learned a lot too (always the best!) Sometimes I know that in my own practice, I like hashing out things and talking about the trials and successes of things, which might be why I find the whole curated online realm frustrating sometimes. It’s hard to know if talking realistically or digging deeper comes off as complaining, but I think the more we own the struggles and discuss it more in our field the stronger we get and the less we’ll be willing to put up with bad practices.
Things I would love to see for ICON9:
- A continued focus on education. I really enjoyed the workshops and educators papers quite a bit and I wonder how many regular attendees got to see this. Sometimes it was tough to pick between the two, and I could also see potentially integrating workshops into the main event to break things up and let us process. This could be tricky, but one thing I noticed on day two of the conference itself was that there was almost an information oversaturation point for me; even if there was a longer lunch break to draw and absorb I think that might’ve helped, as my brain was filled with lessons and faces and experiences galore!
- Piggybacking on point 1, I think if education is an important part of ICON that documentation is also a key part of that. I appreciated the use of social networks to share snippets, but I think video documentation would’ve been a great thing to implement if possible. Even if it were only shared internally and shared to attendees later on when they might’ve forgotten the many things they learned at the event), or to use as an education tool for students, or even used to help promote and improve future ICONs, it’s a valuable tool. If cost were an issue, I suspect the partner school would be happy to lend services/tools (I know PNCA would’ve!).
- One thing I noticed was that for the most part people grouped together with similar age groups or peer groups. Which is pretty natural, but I would’ve loved to see more interaction across generations. It happened a bit during workshops but it’s too easy to stick with your known groups! I’m happy that my background has allowed me to mix between groups; from students to people my age to those ahead of me; in a way not going to one of the big art schools made it a little easier for me to cross groups. I wish I did it even more though, but next time!
- Even more diversity of attendees and speakers. I appreciated the number of female illustrators and designers at the event but I would love to see even more diversity of opinions and backgrounds— the more we see this in our field the better it gets for everyone. I really appreciated that the speakers for ICON8 weren’t all in the editorial and publishing field— subjects I would ordinarily not gravitate towards were my favorites, and it helped me remember how varied our creative field can be.
- I’m also hoping ICON9 is set in Minneapolis, and I want Light Grey Art Lab to host an amazing gallery/book/project event :)
As a last takeaway, I wanted to make a list of various little takeaways I jotted down from ICON8. Hopefully it might give a glimpse into the event and give those who didn’t attend a little snippet of inspiration! If I get to go to ICON9, I’m really curious what I’ll learn there….
- Illustration is now a multi-faceted beast. So what is its or my true identity?
- "You have no control over what becomes iconic….push back against something [in your world and in your work.]… growth happens the most in your 20s…you don’t need to know how to do it, just WHO knows how to do it."—Paula Scher
- Art should exist in life, not just in the work.
- Non-drawing activities are really great in unexpected ways.
- Sketching is vital.
- Put the passion into your surroundings, stoke the creative fires- it will feed you. (Often in ways you can’t expect.)
- "If you can defend your work you can get people to sit with it."— Jennifer Daniel
- "Keep it blurry….You [first] build your chair and sit in it… but you are constantly reimagining your world." — Souther Salazar
- Play first, edit later.
- Illustrate the metaphysical.
- "Passion shows new perspectives no one else sees."— Cassie Zhang
- "People buy your joy… put your voice in the work."— Lilla Rogers
- "You should write so that the illustrations have a job."— Mac Barnett
- "Everyone changes and one changes throughout a lifetime."— Vivienne Flesher
- Work will inspire future work. Each piece gets you one step closer, but of course we don’t exactly know where it will take us.