Anne Telford, Editor-at-Large, Communications Arts Magazine, and I were Co-Chairs of the First Illustration Conference held in Santa Fe in 1999. Today, Anne eloquently reports on the diverse and distinctive sessions from this year's conference in Detroit.
Twenty years after helping to found a national conference for illustrators, I sat in a hotel ballroom with 700+ others to watch ICON10 unfold with a joyous gospel choir welcoming us all to Detroit, Michigan. Indeed, that soulful welcome set the stage for an inclusive conference—many speakers were people of color, several came from other nations, and there were more female speakers than in past conferences. This anniversary conference also had co-presidents for the first time: Julie Murphy and Len Small.
From its inception in 1999 in Santa Fe, to its present vibrant entity, the road has sometimes been rocky and occasionally steep, but a succession of talented, entrepreneurial illustrators have guided ICON into an inspiring vehicle for community with an increased focus on the importance of art and creativity. Director Mark Heflin has lovingly guided the conference and is an effective cheerleader.
ICON10 addressed diversity, while refraining from overt politicization (despite the overwhelming output of anti-Trump illustration, non of the creators of those pervasive images, were on the roster). Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins, founders of lifestyle brand Massive Goods brought sex into the conversation showing images from My Brother’s Husband, a book by a gay manga artist and introducing queer art and sex into the design debate. Animation and VR capture were center stage this conference. Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio and Richard Borge were two animation/stop motion artists soaking up the sessions. Ako Castuera makes sculpture and is known for her work as a storyboard artist and writer on the TV show Adventure Time. Her presentation was engaging and inspiring. Many of the young speakers and attendees are exploring animation and VR as additional outlets for their creativity.
Detroit with its maker vibe, and creative renaissance was a perfect location. Don Kilpatrick was a passionate representative of this spirit, showing his woodblock prints and studio in a well-received presentation.
The opening keynote was Tyree Guyton and Jenenne Whitfield, founder/president of The Heidelberg Project, a sprawling mutating art installation in a blighted neighborhood that has been transformed into an international cultural destination. Friday’s keynote speaker Emil Ferris, the cartoonist whose 2017 graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters, brought many in the audience to tears and Gail Andersen closed out the conference with spicy behind-the-scenes stories of illustrator hijinks, as well as her path to design stardom at Rolling Stone, et al.
R.O. Blechman and his son Nicholas offered a wonderful peek at a warm and robust relationship between two generations of trenchant social observers. R.O. opened their session by stating, “Fine art vs. illustration. Come on!” The two garnered many laughs with their behind-the-scenes observations and delightful camaraderie.
Attorney Chuck Cordes advised registering your name as a trademark to protect your brand. Make noise on your own behalf; confront the infringer. Vandana Taxali, an intellectual property attorney and artist representative for her brother, the noted Canadian illustrator, Gary Taxali, offered excellent legal advice:
.have a solid client contract
.have your own negotiables, state these first before getting into the contract
.see client as a collaborator, not just a client
.ask for more $
Taxali touted Blockchain technology as a new method to track usage of copyright images. Check https://www.entcounsel.com for more information and useful forms.
Marti Golan of Reader’s Digest claimed mailers are dead, and advised employing a good email blast to get in front of art directors. It’s imperative to have a solid link, if it takes more than a few seconds to bring up your work, she’s on to the next one. She also advocates entering contests to help get your art noticed.
One of the most dynamic components was Kaleidoscope, four five-minute presentations including Eunsan Huh, who wanted to learn Icelandic so she began deconstructing words through illustrations creating a visual aid for learning the notoriously difficult language, resulting in the delightful book Iceland In Icons.
The overall mood was upbeat, hopeful, and focused on personal stories, new outlets and new ways of creating images (one speaker worked in VR the entire 20 minutes, creating mesmerizing loops and waves of color). The majority of speakers were compelling, open, and engaging. Breaks, parties and outside events were joyous and many friendships were made and old ones cemented with cocktails in the hotel bar. (There was also a daily Sober ICON 12-step meeting.) I rank it as one of the best so far. And the closing party at the cavernous and slightly spooky landmark Michigan Theatre— now used as a parking garage—was stellar
Robert Hunt gave an intensive workshop before the conference proper that attendees were raving about afterwards. In a main stage presentation he urged attendees to bring diversity to illustration. People need to bring their own experiences and identity to a project, he said. He also advised having empathy for the intended audience, and for your clients. In the end, it’s all about love. Love your work, love your community.”
I could not think of better advice in this divisive year. The ICON community is thriving and is more diverse and visionary than ever. I can’t wait for 2020 and ICON11. I think we should hold it in Puerto Rico!