Tall Tales from ICON9: Day 1 and 2

Posted by on Jul 14, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, collage, comics, drawing, fashion illustration, Illustration, travels, zines | 1 comment

ICON9 was one giddy up good time in Austin!


My sketch of Daisy’s boot, from a pair she bought the last time we were in Austin, became the opener for zines I brought along.

I drew on the flights from Maine, too. Couldn’t believe what I saw out the window!


After a hearty welcome from our dear locals, Kathy and Barton, Marty and I checked into the Hilton Austin which was HQ for the hoedown.

July 6 began four rootin’ tootin’ days of the best illustration conference on the prairie.


I missed the introductions, trying to find coffee to fuel me for the full day ahead of an education symposium and workshops. Once again, Stagecraft Chair, Jason Holley, created a spectacular set that morphed continuously between segments. Here is David Terrell, professor at Kansas City Art Institute sporting a platypus hat. It’s all about forming a hybrid tribe, this radical teaching.


Next up Tilly Janssen and Marleen de Lange presented a lecture titled The Bigger Picture, about their methods of getting students to ask deeper questions about their illustration at HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht Netherlands. By prompting students to analyze their aesthetic triggers, they push finding relevant meaning in their illustration.


Marty headed off to his workshop, Time of the Sign, with Norma Jeanne Maloney of Red Rider Studios.

The toughest part of ICON is all the awesomeness running concurrently. Y’all can’t be in two places at once. I stuck around for most of the education presentations, and glad I did, absolutely thrilled by Colleen Schindler Lynch’s talk: What’s the Skinny? Diversifying Fashion Illustration.


She is shaping a new curriculum that diversifies the concept of beauty, while also archiving a database of diverse fashion images, with help from the Teaching About Diversity Fund. As an occasional fashion illustrator and fan of fashion illustration, I enjoyed these samples from Jade Pilgrom.

I heard D.B. Dowd last fall at the Illustration Research Symposium, and his latest talk, Arguing for Aristotle, made the case for using theory and philosophy to define ideas in illustration, where the lack of pretense has produced a lack of reflectivity. The emphasis on technical aspects, the HOW, has de-emphasized the WHY. In the age of Photoshop, photography has lost it’s authority. Illustration is poised to capture our cultural fluctuations by identifying creative values and translating them.

Roderick Mills of the University of Brighton talked about exploring new technologies in developing an expanded illustration practice, which now encompasses a wide range.


He reminded us there are piles of books about How To Illustrate, but very few about the WHY. Beyond how to illustrate, let’s ask how do we mediate the world, blurring definitions as our field becomes both more accessible and more ambiguous.

After lunch, Susan Doyle, Chair of Illustration at RISD, Jaleen Grove from Ontario College of Art and Design University, and Whitney Sherman, Chair of MICA’s MFA in Illustration Practice presented their case study on producing a history of illustration like no other. Their history of illustration project, first announced at ICON8 in Portland, OR, aims to bridge critical theory and history with illustration practice. Their collective undertaking is all on their own time, nothing short of mind-boggling on top of their academic and artistic pursuits. A standing ovation is in order!

They were quite clear about what the book is NOT: an encyclopedia, a coffee table art book, or a narrow prism. It WILL BE chock full of inclusive themes and overlapping cross-references, thanks to an army of professional illustrators writing about what they know. They provided a hand-out of the table of contents, as well as sample “tech boxes” that include topics such as gillotage, halftone, and hegemony.

Funny thing, though: somehow Charles Dana Gibson fell into so many categories, he was momentarily lost in the cracks. Listen up: they are in need of more writers. And donors!



Nanette Hoogslag of Anglia Ruskin University and Lee Ford from Sheffield Hallam University discussed Making Illustration in the Digital Era. Their question: how can illustration keep making sense in a post-semiotic world? Are we moving past the Gutenberg Parenthesis, beyond print thinking? Again, the premise that illustration is a means to translate, to be a shaping power of perception in an open text world, cannot be ignored. We are now exposed to illustrational experiences in which the distribution and transmission can determine how an image is received. How do platforms influence the message? They shared imagery from Animade, Kin Design Studio and this one.


Sabrina Scott delivered a potent presentation, Drawing the Other, in which she analyzed seven years of American Illustration annuals to learn what representations of humans are deemed worthy. Here’s my drawing of her.


For instance, males are nude 2% of the time, while females are nude 30% of the time. Does illustration reflect sexism? Racism? Are we reinforcing stereotypes in our work? We need to be kind and smarter with the imagery we create. We need to hold ourselves accountable. YES, we do.

I passed Marty coming back from his workshop with Guiseppe Castellano as I ducked out for a workshop with Rebecca Mock, Deconstructing the GIF. She told us right off that she learned the “slow, dumb way” by double clicking her favorite GIFs, taking them apart frame by frame discovering the beat, that pause before the punchline. She considers the scene, what is seen and what is implied. In building the image, “composition is everything” and then file sizes and number of frames determine the success of a GIF. This workshop was a packed house, and she provided a detailed hand-out. Thank you! Because my eyeballs were melted by then.

We bumbled in the steamy heat over to Brazos Hall for a cocktail party.


After swigging a single Lone Star, we found the Alamo Drafthouse, where a curated collection of kinetic adventures was screened, aka Motion Commotion. So many cool animations!! Wish there was a program or list somewhere of what we saw. A handful of makers took questions from the crowd.


That’s just the First Day. Are you still with me?

July 7 was more, more, more: workshops, education panels, opening ceremonies and the Roadshow. Marty went to Alex Mathers’ workshop and I went to Gina Triplett and Matt Curtius’ workshop, Personal Work and Work-Work, a bounty of insights and information. Best part: seeing their sources of inspiration from Matt’s mother’s quilts to Gina’s dad’s painted trays. After a thorough talk about their business pie, they did a demo of their variety of techniques involving masking, painting, drawing, stenciling. Matt said, “Our main vehicle is emotion.”


We had time to work on something of our own with their materials or whatever we wanted. I’d brought gouache and some collage stuff. Look, a peony.


After lunch Marty headed to a workshop with Anita Kunz, Idea Generation on a Deadline. I took in the Education Round Table moderated by Sam Weber. Faculty panelists included Laurie Burruss, Lee Ford, Petrula Vontrikis, LyndaWeinman, David Terrill, and Nanette Hoogslag.


The best skill these days is responsiveness, not necessarily mastery. Educators must instill a level of self-discovery that lasts a lifetime. It’s irresponsible with today’s education costs not to discuss the economy of the field. Faculty can model the ability to learn something new by initiating projects in which everyone begins at ground zero, not knowing a thing.

I ducked out for Len Small’s workshop: A Few Pixels to the Left, his perspective on art direction of editorial art at Nautilus. His wry humor and candid insights filled my head as I sketched him from nearly the back row.


His gems: be clever, be nice, be quick. Will do!

Without much break, everyone gathered for the Opening Ceremonies, awaiting that legendary ICON pomp and circumstance at 5:30. Ballet Folklorico got the crowd hyped with staccato moves and swirling costumes.


Executive Director Mark Heflin welcomed our tribe.

ICON9 President Esther Pearl Watson was visibly proud to have us all in her home state, wearing the BEST cowboy boots EVER.


She introduced the keynote speaker, William Joyce, whose film degree from SMU proved rather handy as he pursued a career as an award-winning picture book creator.


When he was five, he discovered Where the Wild Things are, and decided that being a Maker Upper was his calling. He’s pursued his unique stories ever since saying, “I’m a dorky guy from Louisiana and I’ve stayed there.” After winning an Oscar for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, his hometown of Shreveport held a ticker tape parade in his honor, the first one since the end of World War II.

He left the stage to a standing ovation, and then our herd mobbed over to the Roadshow. My first purchase was from my former student and recent Maine College of Art grad, Sophie Cangelosi, proud of her!


It’s a blast meeting such lovely folks as illustrators. This is Catherine Lepage, creator of Thin Slices of Anxiety.


Here I am with the Little Friends of Printmaking. Trying to lure them back for a Maine visit.


I visited Nicole Ray’s table, who I just met in Gina and Matt’s workshop. Bravo!


I wasted no time in shopping til I was broke. Other peeps probably partied, but all I could do was take stock of my purchases before collapsing into bed with them.


Can I keep up this pace for two more days? Stay tuned, cowgirls.






One Comment

  1. Yeay, LOVED that peony !

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