Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chris Sickels: ICON 6 Illustration Conference Report

Review by Chris Sickels:

ICON 6 Pasadena CA July 14-17 2010

go here for some great interstitial videos made by Jason Holley:

there are some video recordings uploaded on EFII:
Escape From Illustration Island – Illustration Resources and Community

In the past I have had some mixed feelings about the illustration conferences, I attended ICON2, 4 and most recently 6.

When I went to ICON2 in Santa Fe I had been free-lancing since 1995 and working part time to supplement income. I went to the conference expecting lots of black and white answers and advice on how to take my work to the next level. I attended all of the talks and presentations by the greats, determined to find out what made the industry tick and get what I needed to take my work to the next level. What I came away with was that there are no clear answers, even the best illustrators have trouble being completely open about their work, and how they handle clients and jobs. There is no clear cut way to handle situations, you have to be flexible, nimble all the while having a tough as nails hide to take criticisms and revisions and still come out on the other end with a good visual solution.

Four years later, I was asked to give a little presentation at ICON4 along with Molly Zakrajsek, Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd. I decided that what I would show would be all of my screw ups and failures. I figured that is what would I could offer to show folks that it doesn't always go as planned, but that if you don't take risks and fall on your ass, your work won't grow to its full potential. I attended the conference as well, but its content is a little foggy, as I mostly sat sweating, dreading getting up in front of peers and idols and talking about my failures. I remember sitting in a cab with Seymour Chwast and Molly Zakrajsek, when I told Mr. Chwast how nervous i was he said (something to the extent of) that he doesn't get nervous anymore, he probably should be more nervous about presentations but figures that worrying wastes his time. There is something to be said for that 'Worrying wastes your time.' Man, to this day I kick myself for not asking him more questions in that short cab ride.

Another four year later I attend ICON6. I decided that I would be going to mainly meet up with fellow illustrators that I hadnt seen in years, to hear good stories share some stories, and have some stories to tell. It just happened that one of the common threads through the conference was just that, storytelling. Illustrators are storytellers, we need to embrace and run with that strength.

The conference kicked off with a conversation about print and the ipad. Wired magazine and Adobe showcased how they have reinvented the magazine into an interactive journey on the ipad, with layered stories, graphics that beg for the viewer to explore, twist and dive right in and 'play' as opposed to just being a passive consumer of information. The Wired Tablet App: A Video Demonstration | Epicenter | Wired.com That session sparked a dialogue that lasted the whole conference, about the what illustrators should be prepared to offer in light of this new interaction with images and graphics. Should we focus on the strength and power of the single image or should we make our work move/animate?

here is my little list of highlights:

Melinda Beck melinda beck studio told her story of how she occasionally does work for little or no charge for events and organizations she is passionate about and when Google Chrome tried to strong arm her into doing work for them for free, she showed how passionate she can be about standing up for her rights as an image maker and making her case for saying no (in a big way) to big clients that have their work ethics all bassackwards.

Todd Oldham WELCOME - TODD OLDHAM - ANNOUNCING OUR NEWEST BOOKS KID MADE MODERN AND JOAN JETT gave a little Cincinnati shout out when he spoke about his time with Charley Harper and the books and projects that came from that relationship.

Artist Wayne White AMMO BOOKS gave a rousing talk about his work as a puppeteer on PeeWee's Playhouse, his word paintings and his enormous tribute to country singer George Jones.

Tim Biskup Tim Biskup spoke of his attempts to get the 'art' world to take his work seriously and then realizing that he needed to stay true to himself and trust his gut and not worry about trying to get other people to like or accept his work.

Sally Morrow, Creative Director of Sandstrom Partners, Irene Gallo, Art Director, Tor, Forge, & Starscape Books and SooJin Buzelli, Creative Director, Asset International all spoke of how they passionately use illustration to connect with their respective audiences. These creative directors really get what we do and hearing them speak assures me that the 'dream' clients and project do exist.

John Hendrix John Hendrix talked about the tough 6 year road he took to create a children's book about John Brown.

Fernanda Cohen Fernanda Cohen and Yuko Shimizu +++ YUKO SHIMIZU online portfolio +++ talked about not waiting to get your work out there, to pursue with passion your own projects and to not just sit back and think work will come to you.

There were some good presentations from the animation world, how color can tells stories, how drawing cant be faked in animation. The conference was closed with a talk by Kathy Altieri from Dreamworks she talked about passion, hard work and what it is like working as a small cog inside a large animation machine. Here is a quote by Martha Graham that she mentioned : "There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost."
Yeah, the hotel was nice albeit a bit pricey, but literally bumping into art directors and illustrators for 3 days is pretty cool.

If you go to the next ICON will you get something out of it?

You will get a hefty pile of receipts for tax deduction.

You will make some connections, probably more on a peer level than a client level.

You will see people sketching prolifically (everywhere) that either will make you want to draw more to catch up or make you feel like you need to go back to school.

You will see lots of recent students that are hungry and will show you that the competition is only going to get harder.

You won't get any clear answers, but if you keep asking around you'll start to hear a general consensus.

You will see that most everyone is willing to talk and share with you, even if they are a little drunk.


  1. As promised, I finally found someone to give us a review of Icon 6. Chris was nice enough to write this up for us and has gone to the conferences as an attendee and a speaker.

    This year looks like it had an impressive group of presenters.

  2. Man, this looks awesome. I wanna go...

  3. Chris thank you for taking the time to write this up thoughtfully with links and candor.
    As someone who has to chose which conventions to attend
    yearly a review like this is very helpful.

    Now if we can just get a review for Illuxcon.

  4. I need to find out where and when the next Icon is unless someone already knows.

    Woody, Illuxcon looks really cool. I know some people that have gone, no one from Cincinnati though. I noticed that some people from Columbus are going to this year's show. Maybe they can let us know what they think of the show. (Unless you are going-and you probably should...)

  5. I'm interested by the Wired/Adobe/Ipad collaboration. And I remember the stories of Melinda Beck's struggle well.

    And have you noticed how many creative people love that Martha Graham quote about one's unique expression? I love it myself - if I could do graffiti-like lettering, I'd write it on my wall.

  6. Great overview, Chris! I appreciate the links as well.