“Spectrum Fantastic Art Live is a three-day celebration of the art and artists that bring to life the fantastic worlds of our favorite science fiction, fantasy, and horror books, movies, and comics. SFAL allows fans and artists to mingle, shop, learn and be inspired through exhibits of original works of art, panel discussions and workshops hosted by some of the most notable members of this artistic community. They can get their personal portfolios critiqued by leading industry Art Directors and revel in the vast creative energy that permeates every facet of the experience. Our goal is to honor our industry, celebrate the creators and mentor new talent.”
This weekend I had to the opportunity attend Spectrum Fantastic Art Live with Alana Rose. It was amazing to see what a great community there is in the world of fantastic arts. I spent the weekend surrounded by some of the top creatives and art directors within the world of fantasy arts. It was awe-inspiring, humbling, educational and inspirational. We attended numerous panel discussions and lectures that were so educational and entertaining we would lose track of time. It seemed that just when it was getting good it was time to move on to the next room and the next speaker. As well as learning a great deal and being inspired by the speakers, there were also tons of artists who had booths at the convention. Some I had heard of and some I hadn’t, but it was great to see the work and realize that the art world is so much better and bigger than what I had previously perceived.
Aside from the great speakers, the best thing about this experience was seeing how humble everyone was. Only in this industry will you see world famous illustrators asking for signed pieces from the up and coming. It was very encouraging to see that even if I’m not published and world renowned there is a place to meet those people and even those illustrators could like my work. It was also great to see at the awards ceremony how humble everyone was about the awards they won. I think people in the art world, illustrators and art directors alike, are often perceived as these untouchable masters; but they really are just wonderful people who are more than willing to help those aspiring to do the same.
I learned some great things and had wonderful experiences at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live that I want to share. (I could have divided this into multiple posts but I don’t much see the point in making you search, might as well put it all in one place.) Hopefully anyone reading will not only learn something but be encouraged to attend next year-- maybe I’ll see some of you there!
The first day we arrived we spent a lot of our time looking at all the illustrators who had booths at the convention. We saw some amazing work we had never seen before, gushed over illustrators we had admired, and started to feel like we had a long way to go before we could exhibit at a show like this. But despite feeling a bit overwhelmed by the quality of work and a little down about the quality of our own, it had lit a fire under the both of us to am up what we are doing and strive for something more.
Friday- Day One
We attended 2 panels that day.
The first was all about using social media to promote yourself. Apparently deviantART is not only a place of resource for aspiring artists but big name illustrators and art directors as well. Many art directors apparently use deviantART to discover new talent. As well as being a good place to get noticed, deviantART is also a great art community in which to get inspired and talk to fellow creatives.
The second was by far the most informative of the panels we attended. Included were various art directors ranging from book covers to game cards. I took quite a bit of notes on this one and thought it might be helpful to share about what I learned for anyone trying to break into the industry, like me. It’s not terribly organized but you’ll get the point:
-If you are a student, present yourself as a student. Art directors don’t like being deceived into thinking you are better than what you can deliver.
-Make sure your portfolio represents what you can actually deliver. If the turn around for a job is 4weeks don’t show things that took you 6months to create.
-You are judged on your worst work in your portfolio, not your best.
-Show what you want to do. If you want to do book covers don’t show horizontal works when book covers are all vertical.
-Keep all of your stuff updated, website, blog, deviantART, facebook; keep it current.
-Don’t stalk! Don’t constantly tag art directors on work, infact, NEVER tag an art director.
-Keep in mind art directors are people too, they have private lives. If you send a friend reqest and you don’t get a response, then drop it.
-If you follow an art director on social media and then meet them in person, let them know how you know them. We all do that panic when someone knows us but we don’t have any idea how; be nice fill in the blank for them.
Art Director Pet Peeves:
-Don’t change things you aren’t asked to change! If they didn’t ask for a bird on a shoulder, don’t put it there.
-Use photo references! and if you are sent a template, USE THE TEMPLATE!
-Don’t ask for a critique or advice from an art director and then argue with them about it
-Don’t use the exact same reference for multiple pieces, no one wants the same book cover on two different books. That’s unprofessional and is a quick way to end your career.
-Follow the process that is given to you. Do not start on final work before the sketches have been approved and you have been told to begin.
-Keep in mind, negotiating isn’t always possible. Art directors don’t always have that kind of power but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
-Art directors don’t like surprises! Don’t experiment with your style or medium on a project, they hired you for what you were already doing not your experimentation.
How to Make an Art Director Happy!
-Turn in your work early if you can.
-Be a good communicator and plan ahead. If you are behind let them know as soon as you know. And be able to accurately determine how much time you need. If you warn them ahead of time often they can figure out how to get you more time.
-Be professional, Be nice, Be on time
-Show multiple ideas, art directors like options! When asked to do some sketches show completely different ideas beyond variation of one idea.
-Get the art directo involved. They are not your enemy, they’re on your team; learn to collaborate.
-Go beyond the usual answer! Get creative with your ideas, don’t always draw the obvious answer to the problem.
-Ask the director what particular work made them pick you for the job. That way you know exactly what style they expect to see out of you.
Extra General Information:
-Watermark the bottom of images so that when someone stumbles on your work away from you website they know who they are looking at.
-A date at the bottom is also great so that art directors get an idea of the difference between what your old work looks like and what you are leaning toward currently
-Make your work on your website right click downloadable. That makes it easy for them to save your stuff to show others. And if someone’s going to steal you work, they are going to steal it no matter what you do. It’s a good idea to copyright your work just incase!
-Do not put big watermarks over the top of your work. It’s just annoying!
-As far as mailers go, the preference differs. Some directors like hard copy some prefer email, but all agree quarterly mailing is the best. Make sure you’re always sending out new images though--they don’t want to see the same image more than once.
I told you, I learned a lot!!
Saturday- Day Two
We attended a lecture from illustrator Charles Vess who has worked for Marvel as well as collaborated with writer Neil Gaiman. He spoke on the history of Fantasy and gave me a huge list of artist to look up. Some of the artists he spoke on include: Arthur Rackham, Harry Rountree, Theodor Kittelsen and Omar Rymann.
We then went to a panel about Illustrating the Narrative which included Nathan Fox, Mat Rota, and Kyle Strum. They discussed how narrative illustration differs from fine arts and how including a story no matter how many panels of images you have can benefit the impact of your work. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion:
-Engage the power of body language. Use the way your characters hold themselves and relate to others as a way to tell your story.
-When you image is looking boring or static, think of interesting poses, lines, colors and environments; anything you’ve always wanted to include in a piece but never found a place. Then go back to the story and see where you can fit those things in. If you are excited and interested your work will be exciting and interesting.
-Do your research and know your content inside and out, that way you can manipulate it anyway you want.
-Adding tiny details that give clues to your character’s history or personality can enhance your overall story.
-Watch everything! Read everything! Look at everything! Stories are everywhere!
-Using a small color pallet is difficult but can be even more interesting than hiding within lots of color.
The last lecture we attended on Saturday was by Peter de Seve about character design. For those of you who don't know Peter de Seve is the illustrator for the characters of Ice Age. He designed iconic characters such as Sid the Sloth and Scrat the Squirrel. He has also been featured numerous times on the the cover of The New Yorker. Along with being fabulous illustrator he is also a great orator and highly amusing to listen to. Here are some of the tips he gave for character concept design.
-Go see animals or people in real life. It gives you a more complete idea of how they move and their mannerisms. Pictures are good, videos are great, but real life is the best.
-Observe all the time- characters are all around you.
-You aren’t just drawing what a character looks like. You’re drawing who they are.
-Don’t use the obvious stereotypes to design your characters, give them quirks that make them lovable.
Sunday- Day Three
Our last day at the conference was bittersweet. On the one hand we were exhausted and ready to go home but on the other it was such an amazing experience that we never wanted to leave. We had to get up much earlier than the other two days to get the the first panel we wanted to see but it was well worth it.
The first panel we went to was Art as a Brand and the Artist Entrepreneur. During the discussion we learned quite a few tips and tricks to promotion and freelancing.
-Maintain ownership over as much of your work as possible, even the simple sketches. They can come back to make you a lot of money later.
-High Tech, High Touch: use lots of social media but don’t forget to meet people in person.
-Being in an art gallery lends to your credibility and helps to reach other niches of people.
-Selling sketches for a little extra cash can act as an extra stream of income.
-It’s not enough to promote yourself, you have to be entertaining and give the viewer something to keep them interested. Making jokes, doing giveaways, and showing processes and tutorials are great ways to get people interested and keep them interested.
-Social media gives people a personal connection with you, don’t be a dick.
-Get people involved and interested before a convention by posting what you will have there.
-Doing what you like is the most important thing. People like honesty and they can tell if your work is honest or forced.
-Consciously do something different, don’t take someone else’s thing. Find your own.
-Don’t send newsletters out on Thursday-Sunday. Tuesdays are the best for that.
-Facebook is best in the mornings and early afternoon during the week; or super late at night.
Just a sidenote- While we were listening to this panel a guy in the row in front of us was creepily drawing the girl sitting directly in front of us. He would look over and stare at her awkwardly for a bit and then bury his head in his notebook. Very amusing... he figured out that we were watching him but it didn’t stop him.
The next lecture we went to turned out to be way more awesome than we had even expected. This is also the lecture that we officially decided that we need to research the speakers better in the future. This lecture was about designing Alien Creatures by Terryl Whitlatch. Again, for those of you (like the oblivious Alana and I) who don’t know, Terryl Whitlatch is the illustrator for Indian in the Cupboard, the bears from both Brother Bear and Brave, and for the kicker.... all the creatures of Star Wars Phantom Menace!!! are you kidding me! eeeeek! it was amazing! she’s a fabulous illustrator, and a lovely woman, very sweet but very honest. So here’s some tips she gave for creature design:
-Avoid Frankensteinian splits. Half and halfs are boring, morph and combine creatures to make a new species of awesomeness.
-Understanding anatomy is crucial to the movement and design of a creature. You should know not only what they look like in clothes, but what is under those clothes, under the skin and all the way down to the bone.
-Have quirks and backstories to keep your characters interesting.
-Use real animals as inspiration and to keep your creatures plausible.
-Human facial features and anthropomorphizing is necessary for creating emotion in invertebrates.
A discussion panel about Women in Fantasy was next. The panel included, Lauren Panepinto (Orbit Books and Yen Press), Dawn Murin (Wizards of the Coast- Dungeons and Dragons), Terryl Whitlatch (Illustrator- Lucas Films and others), Tara McPherson (artist and founder of Cotton Candy Machine), Zoe Robinson (Fantasy Flight Games). So here are some of the highlights from their discussion about not only how women are portrayed in the industry of fantasy but also how they are treated as co-workers.
-There are far fewer women in the industry than men, sometimes it can work in your favor but other times you are ignored. Each company often has its “token girl” which can work for you or against you.
-There’s a big gap between school and the industry. Often in school you will work mostly with women but in the industry this is less so the case. 98% of fantasy freelance goes to men, that’s just the way it is.
-You will often be “man-splained” to, this is when the geeky men explain something to the “silly little girl” which that girl is already more than aware of. Just nod your head and smile.
-Women are trained not to fight but this male dominated field is highly competitive. Put on your power suit if need be and stand up for what you want. Do anything that gives you an edge, as a woman, you’ll need it.
-Draw with authority and be gutsy (this doesn’t just apply to drawing), it will get you noticed. You need to be as good and better than the men in your field to get the work.
-Stay calm and don’t let your emotions get ahead of you. You don’t want to encourage the stereotyping of your gender.
-Conduct yourself with confidence, it will earn you respect.
-If there is something awesomely feminist about a work, like they actually covered up the warrior girl’s boobs for once, don’t point it out!!! That will turn the fan boys off to it in an instant, just sit back and enjoy.
-Humor is a great way to be strong without being a bitch. It’s hard to be angry at someone who is sweetly humorous, use this to your advantage.
-If you are in charge and the conversation is getting out of hand, take over by quickly summarizing what everyone has been saying and then steer the conversation in the direction of your thoughts... this is known as the “sneaky secretary”
-If you are not in charge, try clarifying what people are saying as a way to draw the attention back to you so your thoughts can be heard.
-Own your work, know you deserve what you are after, don’t be nervous or overly humble.
-Multiple women on the panel suggested reading Sheryl Sandberg's (facebook CEO) book "Lean In" which discussed women in the workplace and how your body language as a woman is crucial.
Matt Rota’s demo on Digital Coloring was next and although I think there should be a whole weekend devoted to him solely, his one hour lecture was highly informative. Not only did he present some really great information, he also presented in a way that was so easy to understand that it was almost annoying that I hadn’t learned it before. As soon as I recover from the exhausting weekend and having been sick the whole time, I intend to play around with the tips that he taught and hopefully will have some pieces up within the next couple of weeks.
Alright folks, I know that was a super long post but hopefully you’ve learned something and it’s sparked your interest in attending the next Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. I will certainly be there!
Here's a picture of an artist whose work I particularly love. I discovered his work just a few months ago and was giddy over seeing him at the event. I bought one of his sketchbooks and had him sign it. He was super nice and even drew an original illustration in the front of my book. Without further adieu....
Corey Godbey! (left)