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"Humble" would be the word that can summarize my feelings about attending this year's Illustration Master Class. Never in my life have I been surrounded by so many incredibly talented and wonderfully supportive people. My plan is to revisit many of the ideas and experiences from this trip through different blog posts. I thought I would just start with an over view of the whole experience first.
The Illustration Master Class is a week long intensive workshop focusing on Fantasy and Science Fiction Illustration. Rebbecca Guay is one of the central organizers ( if not "the" central organizer, ) and she is supported by a faculty that reads like a "who's who" of Fantasy/ Sci Fi Illustration; Donato Giancola, Scott Fischer, Gregory Manchess, Dan Dos Santos, Julie Bell, Boris Vallejo, and Art Director Irene Gallo. This year's special guests were none other than James Gurney of Dinotopia and the Gurney Journey, and Art Director for Magic the Gathering, Jeremy Jarvis. If you don't already know these folks and have an interest in the this field of Illustration, I would HIGHLY recommend searching these folks out online.
The outline for the week went something like; arrive on Friday, meet the faculty and thumbnail/ sketch critique on Saturday, followed by a healthy dose of "Get the F to Work" on Sunday through Thursday, ending with a clean-up and open studio on Friday. Each day was punctuated by 2 talks given by one or two members of the faculty. These were great moments to open up my mind and just soak in the incredible talent and intelligence of the presenters. During the studio hours, the faculty would circulate between the 85 participants and encourage, guide, suggest, and paint with them.
My personal journey here started 2 days prior to the IMC, with a plane flight into La Guardia airport in New York. I was up all night the night before preparing everything that I could think to bring with me, maybe I brought too much, but I remembered my portfolio...at 3AM! Sheesh! In a focused hurry I printed out 7 new prints, and whammo, there's a new portfolio. I believe it represents the best of my work as it is now. It was kinda fun actually. I slept mostly on the flight, connected in Philly, on time to LGA in a little puddle jumper. I brought my drawing board ( the standard one, 24x26" ) on the planes. On the first flight it was in the overhead compartment, on the second flight it fit in plane's closet. To circumvent any hassle from the airlines, I played the neurotic-artist card, which seemed to work.
The evening that I arrived I crashed at my sister in law's house in Queens, where I found out that New Yorkers, unlike San Franciscans, like to eat tacos rather than burritos... which is just weird. The next day I had arranged to meet with Dorian Iten at the bus station to ride up together. We met at the depot and prepared for the 4 hour bus ride. Most of our time was spent looking at Dorian's portfolio from the past 2 or 3 years in Florence where he'd been studying. I don't mind saying that already I was feeling quite small! We made it to Amherst College around 3pm and signed up for one of two groups. I accidentally signed up for the group that was headed by Donato, Dan, Boris, and Julie. What I had meant to sign up for was the group which had Jeremy Jarvis, Rebbecca, and James Gurney in it, as they worked in water-media to one extent or another. It was like choosing between 'brilliant' and 'awesome!'
That first night was spent meeting people and sharing work. I was immediately struck by the quality of craftsmanship out there, and the broad array of styles and ability levels. As people arrived, the overall vibe was one of joy, and an ineffable positivity. A group of about 7 of us headed out to town to have some Vietnamese food. We all chatted as if we'd known one another for years, there was such a feeling of immediate familiarity. Upon returning from dinner a lot of people gathered in the main community area of the dorms and began finalizing our sketches and chatting. It was great! There were lots of people talking, and introducing themselves and sharing their sketches, telling stories of last year, sharing art ideas. There are a number of people who'll be working in watercolor as well, which I was particularly excited to be apart of. I was part of the last few who were sharing ideas and sketches. As I went to bed, I felt like my work was somewhere in the middle of the pack. There's some work that I saw tonight that's totally pro, and others' who are just staring off on the path, but regardless of quality, everybody was on that path which I think is an important thing to remember.
Day Two: We Start in Ernest
This day can be summarized by the phrase "Epic Crit." The day started at 10 am and was over just past 11pm. It was amazing to hear Greg Manchess, James Gurney, Scott Fishcer, Jeremy, and Rebecca talk about each piece in detail and address each one according to it's own merits. We didn't crit through the whole 13 hours, we ate in the cafeteria and had two presentations.
The first presentation was the introductions of the faculty and the general outline for the program, which was followed by an amazing, and I mean AMAZING slide show of all the faculties work. In one way that presetation kinda said to me, "Ok, this is where the 'bar' is." The work was mostly oils, with Scott and Rebecca presenting some watermedia. At this point I am really liking Scott's work, it seems right up my alley. I make a mental note to talk with him about my portfolio and the business side of things. After this presentation we started the crits. I made copious notes in my sketchbook about each piece. Mine was on the far left, but the crit started on the far right, this meant that it was a looonng time until we got to my piece. But I am not complaining, I learned just as much by listening to what the faculty had to say about other folks pieces too.
We broke to go to dinner. I found a spot at a table with Michelle, Noel, James Gurney and Jeanette. We had a really nice discussion and many laughs. The highlight for me was James Gurney sketching me. He showed it to me afterwords, me and my block head and silly smile. I was honored. Then we went back in for more critiques.
As they approached the end of the crit the instructors were getting worn, and basically I critted my own work using all that had been pointed out in earlier pieces. James made me a quick sketch to help with the composition and value structure, and Greg helped me to crop it. There were a few comments made, but I got out of there pretty quick. I guess I could've stuck around, but they were tired and I was weird being in the hot seat. After the crit I came back and lay down for about 2o minutes, then went back to hammer it out some in the studio until 2AM.
So, that's the start of my tale of the IMC. These first days were so informative and important. I really admire all the people who came out to this event. It takes a lot to stand in front of your hero's and expose your work, warts and all, to them. I don't know about anybody else, but I suffer from an irrational desire to present things in their most perfect form, but as I noted to myself in my sketchbook "get over yourself!" Well, this is definitely the beginning of that!
I will continue to share my observations about the IMC as time goes on, but until then, Stay Tuned!
Here we go, in no particular order, Part 1:
Ask yourself this question…If I could illustrate anything and get paid for it, what would it be?
If you hate illustrating comics (even if you are great at them), it isn’t very sensible to fill your portfolio with samples of your comics work. Even if you think this is your best shot at getting that first commission, it’s recommended that you should focus on creating a portfolio that reflects the work you really, really want to do – not just the work you can do.
Here are a few things that might help:
You may have already considered all of the above and have a clear idea of what you want to be illustrating – now is the time to ask yourself some further questions: