May 24 2012 4:43pm

At the First Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Convention

The first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

This past weekend was the first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention (hopefully the first of many), held in Kansas City. For 19 years, Spectrum has been the premier art annual for fantasy and science fiction illustration, sculpture, concept art, and comics. Never one to rest on their laurels, the founders, Cathy and Arnie Fenner, have mounted two major New York exhibitions of selections from the annuals and, now, have created the largest gathering of genre artists and fans seen in the US. 

The first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

The Fenners state, “The purpose of SFAL is exactly the same as that of the Spectrum annual and the two Spectrum exhibits at the Museum of American Illustration: to raise the public’s awareness of and appreciation for fantastic art. Simple as that.” And boy did it show. It was a huge, classy event with a singular focus on art. 

The weekend started Thursday evening with the screening of the documentary Better Things: The Life and Choices and Jeff Jones at a downtown art-house theater. The filmmaker, Maria Cabardo, was on hand and anxiously waiting to view the movie for the first time with an audience that would be simultaneously more sympathetic and more demanding, as a number of people in the room were friends of Jones’ and everyone was a huge fan. It was a great way to start the weekend — a social event, not a marketing one, and the movie itself was a powerful testament to the power and complexity of art. 

On Friday morning, a few hundred artists began building their displays in the convention hall. Phil Hale, Michael Whelan, Mike Mignola, Julie Bell, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos, Justin Sweet, Brom, Stephan Martiniere, Tim Bruckner....truly, the list goes on and on. By late afternoon, the doors opened to the public — collectors, art directors, and anyone with a deep, or passing, interest in art. The entry fee was kept small to be as inclusive as possible.

It was an insanely dense show — there wasn’t a single booth you wanted to skip over. I would say those first few hours were spent mostly in shock of the sheer volume of talent in the room. After the doors closed, there was a party on the veranda for all the exhibitors so they could get time to spend with each other (and away from their booths) followed by a massive late night drawing session.

Saturday featured panel discussions and a day-long portfolio review session where young artists were given the oportunity to sign up for one-on-one sessions with six different art directors, representing publishing, gamming, comics, and animation. (This is where I spent most of my day, scouting out new talent.) At the same time, more established artists were giving lectures on the main stage on the convention floor — this made it easy for people to wander in and eavesdrop on the lectures while browsing the exhibition.

I think everyone that attended Spectrum Live would agree that the Awards Gala on Saturday night was a highlight of the weekend. (I knew it was going to be a great night when a limo came and brought us to the art deco theater that was the venue for the evening, which just set the tone for the rest of the evening.) Spectrum has always had a silver and gold award for various categories in the annual and I was honored to present the award for the “Book” category.

The ceremony started with a dance performance with live digital painting by Andrew Jones and Phadroid, followed by the awards themselves. At the halfway point, the dance trope Quixotic performed with the aid of digital animated scenery. (Video of that performance here.)  The whole evening made each and every artist, medal winners or otherwise, feel important and empowered. (Award winners and finalists here.)

By Sunday there was a papable panic in the air — only a few more hours left. How to soak it all in (with so little sleep!?) There were painting demos, hurried sales, and a last minute attempt to be sure to hit every booth. 

Of course, each night was filled with great meals, better company, and long, delightful late night (early morning) hours hanging out at the hotel lounges.

Bravo to Cathy and Arnie Fenner for bringing us all togther. Huge thanks to their team for making so easy and enjoyable. And a special thanks to all the artists that got involved and took a chance on a new show. French sculptor Virginie Ropars summed up Spectrum Fantastic Art Live the best in her acceptance speech, “This is a giant cake of energy and creativity that I will take back and feed off for years to come.”

As will one sleepy art director....


Being an art festival, we’ve got even more photos than can fit! Here’s a sampling of more guests and events:

New Storytellers: Art as Narrative with Jon Schindhette, Nathan Fox, Mike Mignola, and Mark Chiarello


Arkady Rotman, Greg Manchess, Tara Chang looking at Eric Fortune’s latest paintings.


Jean-Baptiste Monge demo.



Michael Whelan presenting the Lifetime Achievement award.


Medal winner and performer, Andrew Jones.


Outside the Midland Theater, after the awards gala.


Inside the Midland Theater



An art director with a Crowbot


A couple of artists enjoying a quiet moment.

Irene Gallo is the Art Director of Tor Books.

Eithne O'Hanlon
1. Ni_Anluain
*grumbles about the pond...* dam Atlantic year! I will be there next year! :-D
Victor Chalfant
2. Victor Chalfant
I LOVED the entire event! It was SO much fun and I can't wait to go again next year. I've been so inspired by the work that I saw, and have been pushing myself to do more of my own work. I may even show some of it off next time!
Victor Chalfant
3. dwndrgn
VERY jealous! Looks like a fabulous event!

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