Welcome to more epic recapping of ICON9, the Illustration Con held in Austin. Last Friday July 8 more awesomeness awaited us in the form of Martha Rich, ICON’s Emcee and quick-change artist. Who needs a Martha Rich paper doll set? I do!


Tall Tale or fact? Martha is a Mainer! She grew up in Pennsylvania, the daughter of ministers, and invited us all to exchange the peace, which the mob of 600 gladly did.

Anita Kunz made a stellar presentation on why art matters. Whoever thought a cartoon could kill, she asked. With imagery, she showed how art can recruit or resist war, worship gods, build up or tear down politicians, expose injustice, teach children, describe the sublime, immortalize, or heal. “Let’s make sure we use it wisely,” she said. She laid it all bare by sharing her very first painting. I love this so much. As the day went on, many speakers shared very early work, tracing an arc from it’s source, which I find deeply fascinating and it moves me to tears.


Jonathan Tobin, an attorney and former designer, discussed orphaned works with a story dating from the 6th century.


Most surprising fact: copyright is guaranteed in the Constitution, in Article1, Section 8:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

He advised us to get involved. With so much digitization online, if we’re outraged, we aren’t paying attention.

The next panel discussed Zines to Screens. Hellen Jo, Calvin Wong, and Paul Windle are all veteran zinesters now with awesome day jobs, if not dream jobs. Hellen said hers would actually be “eating chips and getting paid for it.” Hey, me too.


Each of them brought their story-telling humor from zines to storyboarding and full creative license at ADHD, The Regular Show and Super Deluxe. Cal remarked that it’s come full circle for him. Watching the Simpsons informed his aesthetic, and now TV has become a mirror, as his coming of age story is part of a new work. Rad.

Kathie Sever, an Austin local, quietly wove the story of her family roots in art and craft bringing her to using chain stitching to create wearable art. Had to draw those braids.


During the snack break, I marveled at this miniature paper model of the ICON stage set by Jason Holley.


Henrik Drescher’s talk was titled Swimming in the Picture Pond, but he said, “This isn’t swimming, it’s climbing.” He left art school to travel and make books, before encountering the work of Jack Kerouac, all the while building his own visual vocabulary in notebooks and found objects. “What an object emanates is very important to me,” he said. His limited editions are punctuation marks of his cataloging of the world. Sublime.


Antoinette Carroll declared, “Everything we do changes the world.” She employs design as an activist tool, to challenge, change, and champion with her Creative Reaction Lab.


Brainstorming in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing, a group of designers created Cards Against Brutality, not a game, but a thought-changer. This and other collaborative projects aim to illuminate our common humanity. She challenged us all to disrupt the system and look beyond fear.

Her rousing presentation was followed by a sobering talk among Lars Refn, Matt Bors, and Steve Brodner, who moderated A Global Conversation on Political Satire.


Lars said, “I  made a difference, but not the one I wanted.” Post Charlie Hebdo, the world of satire is altered. Steve asked, “How do the limits of artistic freedom change your way of working?” He reminded us there are places in the world that are “irony free” and the term “blind spot” came up more than once. Matt Bors acknowledged, “I need to watch what I draw.” This discussion needed more time, so some headed for lunch while others gathered to continue the dialogue.

Len Small delivered his talk on editorial art direction (see previous post) followed by a panel on Illustration Journalism, with Susie Caigle, Darryl Holliday (my sketch below), and Jamie Hibdon.


They go where photography is not allowed, and cover stories beyond the powers of photography, with a deft filter on complex contemporary issues. I want to get in on this!

Between speakers there were sometimes graphic results of an ICON survey, perfectly illustrated by Mark Todd. I finally got to meet him at the Roadshow. His book, authored with Esther Pearl Watson, Whatcha Mean What’s A Zine is like a textbook bible in my illustration classes at Maine College of Art.


Kyle T. Webster revealed his Secrets of the Brush World, saying it’s better to use a glass bottom boat before diving into deep waters. He has combined play and expertise to create innovative digital brushes and a successful global empire to boot. He turned his mantra make it, show it, let the internet grow it into a country ballad.

Local artist Kim Cadmus Owens was next, talking about painting the urban landscape before it disappears.


Three powers in illustration, Melinda Beck, Julia Rothman, and Jessica Hische told us how to Mind Your Own Business. I couldn’t draw all of them at once. Here is Julia.


Besides dishing about double standards, social media, and contracts, Jessica’s message says it all:


Kayla E gave a refreshing and lively talk about inclusivity. Collaboration and amplification are ways to step outside our bubbles and blind spots, but only if we get ALL IN on it. Amen.


Local artist Marc Burckhardt shared this moment, when he realized as a young boy he could “negotiate around things by drawing.” Understatement of the year.


He sees “no firewall between illustration and fine art” and has in fact changed the direction of his commissioned work by creating exquisitely crafted personal work. This was a common theme of the entire conference. Make it and share it, please yourself first.

New York Times Art Director Alexandra Szigamond outlined her many roles as a collector, explorer, trendspotter, matchmaker, and translator. Her palomino-like jumpsuit was perfect in this setting.


Her job is no longer just print, she must design across multiple media, from the verbal to the visual, print to digital, desktop to mobile, with the invisible to the visible being her favorite part.

The sheer variety of presenters at ICON is eye-boggling. Up came James Victore, almost like a circus barker strong man stand-up hybrid in his delivery, saying “trust is my lifeblood.”


He signs everything, and his studio is just “where we duct tape stuff together.” The real inspiration comes meeting people anywhere and everywhere, and asking burning questions, always.

A Happy Hour thankfully followed. We all sorely needed libation before the next thing, an opening for the Tall Tales ICON9 Group Show. I confess, I skipped it. Met local peeps for dinner and sat in a breeze on a grassy lawn, a much needed respite from the relentless ballroom action.

Saturday July 9, are you ready for more?

Alex Mathers did this piece, shown during a panel with Lindsay Nohl and Lily Smith Kirkley talking about building their businesses. He studied geography, which led to working in real estate, and then illustration. The paths a career takes can’t always be explained.


Selina Alko and Sean Qualls collaborate in life and work. The story behind A Case for Loving had so many fascinating details! I’m always interested in process, early sketches, how images evolve.


They shared their secret: separate studios! Since my husband is also an illustrator, that works for us, too. All under one roof, though. I wholeheartedly agree with their statement: “librarians are the backbone of the children’s book industry.” Hear, hear!

Svein Storksen was an accident, arriving quite close behind his twin siblings. He survived his unkissed teen years to find common ground among art students in college, growing up to become an illustrator and publishing company of one.


Kent Bye and Ashley Pinnick shared their faith in the final frontier of Virtual Reality, a veritable Wild West of possibility.


We’re moving from the Information Age to the Experiential Age, one Pokemon at a time. I myself want less screen time, not more, but they make a compelling argument for augmenting our realities.

I fell head over heels for the work of Poul Lange, not to be confused with a Hoarder. No, he is a collagist of the first order, putting broken ukuleles and botanicals to sublime use.


A native of Denmark, he now lives in LA, where The Glue That Binds finds higher purpose, uniting objects and found images into visual poetry. When his wife told him, “Use it or lose it,” he embarked on a 365 day journey to make a collage a day. This turned into a gallery show, and that turned into more. And more. So so grateful, am I.

Allejandro Magallanes Gonzalez from Mexico paced around the stage, speaking partly in Spanish, and always visually with bold design.


We were treated to a Kaleidoscope line-up of ICON attendees who vied for their short moment on the Mainstage. Jill Calder seized the day with her Horses, Teeth, and Bloody Royalty: Illustrating a Scottish Hero.


She embraced the challenge to better her ability to draw horses by going at repeated failure with gusto. The results are dynamic and inspiring.

Kenton Visser’s Yes Virginia There Is a Catharsis showed how his art helped him heal. He said, “Austin is the quarantine for everything cool so it doesn’t leak out to the rest of the state.” For him, art is work, and like exercise, it helps the body and soul.

Cynthia Morris confessed she got an F in art, but has since slain her inner critic by drawing in a sketchbook, empowered by listening to podcasts of Design Matters and doing travel retreats. She just did an artist residency in Paris, so she’s gotten it figured out!


Other speakers included Lenny Terenzi, Tom Froese, and Beverly Coraldean, each one revealing the highs and lows of creative lives, always moving forward. Illustration may be a sometimes fickle field, but illustrators possess a drive that often goes beyond the over-used “passion.” How brave and mighty this band of folks.

I went to lunch with a group of women I’ve only met online. Delicious to have face time! I didn’t realize until later that front left is Shelley Ann Jackson, illustrator, author, educator, SCBWI member, local Texan, and girl group ringleader. Wow! Other ladies include Michelle Kondrich, Andi Burnett, Laura Menardi Jacobsen, Diandre Mae, and Kat Hubbs.


It was all too short, but infinitely sweet to meet y’all!

Having arrived back too late to catch Ping Zhu, I took a short time-out, and so mostly missed Public School, too. Glad I was there for the incredible Gemma Correll whose quirky humor busted my guts. She calls herself “an introspective introvert” and uses her sketchbook as “a filter between my brain and my art.” Here are her stickers for adults.


During the snack break, it got all batty onstage.


Norma Jean Maloney talked about The Lost Art of the Hand-Painted Sign with such humble grace, I loved every second. She asked, “Your dreams are picking you, are you listening?”


Roman Muradov spoke on the benefits of idleness, On Doing Nothing.


He said, “To do nothing well is to get lost.” The whole thing was mesmerizing and sometimes funny and I got a little lost listening and drawing him, so good.

Michael Thompson makes his messages loud and clear, visually communicating on a broad range of global topics with social activism via Freestylee.


We were all reeling from the events in Dallas. This message, silence = complicity hit the hole in my heart.

Eleanor Davis created the visual for the ICON9 poster. She read a story while her art told another. It was magical.


The keynote closers also read stories while playing soothing music. Jet Elfman sang while Charlyne Yi read from Oh the Moon, her illustrated novel. It was like a bedtime hypnosis, I was in a dream state by then.


Marty and I said farewell to Sophie Roach’s marker mural and all the ballroom bonding.


Austin’s got that carnival feel down. In the short walk to the closing party at Stubbs BBQ, we found lots to love.



Did I see a Pokemon? I think so.

First person we ran into was Jill Calder, who joined us in the messy rib fest.


This is just before Esther Pearl Watson got the dance floor full of amateurs.


We tried a lame two-step but had flunked our Western Swing class many years ago. Still, it was a hotsy-totsy hella good time! Thanks to ICON9 and all the hard-working folks that pulled it off. It’s a shot in the drawing arm that should last me til the next one!


















  1. Love your drawing of Eleanor Davis! And it looks like you went to a place named VALHALLA. That’s where all the Nordic gods did all their partying, you know. Quite a place. 🙂

  2. Thanks 4 taking me along! Fabulous!

  3. Fascinating replay!
    Wonderful writing and drawings Jamie.

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