Pat Wilshire had a crazy idea: Running a convention dedicated solely to SF/F artists. I say crazy because I know what it’s like to get a bunch of artists organized. Crazy.
Pat is an avid art collector. A few years ago he created The Illustration Exchange —a community website for collectors to share their thoughts, advice, and artwork. November 6th-9th he and his wife Jeannie ran the first (hopefully of many) IlluxCons in Altoona, PA. The idea was to create an intimate environment that got collectors, students, and artists together. By all accounts it was a tremendous success.
I asked Pat a few questions about putting the event together
What was IlluxCon’s mission statement?
In a nutshell, the purpose of IlluXCon is to provide a physical nexus for the promotion and celebration of fantastic illustration. We wanted to create an event that would bring collectors, students, and artists together in a way that was mutually beneficial, where the artists got as much out of the show as the collectors and students did.
Too often, when artists attend a show, they’re an “attraction”—we wanted them to be part of the festivities. It was particularly gratifying to pop into a demo and see numerous artists there right alongside the attendees.
What gave you the idea for IlluxCon?
Jeannie (my wife) and I had discussed in passing the fact that there was no show purely dedicated to fantastic illustration, in the manner of “Hey, there oughta be a show . . . ” But we never thought seriously about it. Then, last summer, we were visiting Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, and Dave Palumbo and the topic came up. Jeannie mentioned that we thought there should be something like that. Boris, Julie, and Dave got very excited, and said that they’d come, it would be lots of fun, and we really needed to do it. Jeannie and I discussed it on the way home, roughed out a plan for how the show might work, and bounced it off of a few artists to see what they thought. It took off from there. Originally, we were shooting to have twenty-five artists, and figured collectors would come from the East Coast, but it ended up with folks coming from all over the US, Canada, Germany, England, and Australia.
How many artists were in attendance?
There were 44 artists displaying there.
You made an effort to include students. Can you talk about why that was important to you?
Students are the future of fantastic illustration, and they are the ones who need to be inspired to continue the traditions of the field. We particularly wanted to make sure that students were exposed to as much traditional media as possible, and hopefully to get them excited by the possibilities of physical paintings.
Also, the history of painting is one of techniques and ideas being passed from master to student, and that’s something we wanted to encourage at the show.
The students were an amazing addition to the show—they provided a huge spark of energy and excitement. I saw artists spending 45 minutes reviewing a single portfolio—not because it was expected but just because they were enthusiastic about helping the students to learn their craft. Illustrators in this field generally love what they do, and when you get them together with young students who feel the same way, good things happen.
What was the most surprising thing about organizing it or watching it run?
The most surprising thing was discovering how effectively I can function with no sleep . ;-0)
Honestly, though, the biggest surprise was the mood – everyone at the show just seemed to be so happy, and having so much fun. We thought people would have a good time, obviously, but it ended up going beyond what we expected. Several artists and attendees commented to me that they felt as if they were reuniting with old friends, when in fact the people in question had never met before.
Most challenging part?
The most challenging part of the show was just logistics, really. Within that arena, I suppose the demos and lectures provided the most headaches—fortunately, I had a really, really good IT staff at the show who handled things beautifully. I owe them many beers . . .
Do you think the economy effected the convention?
Yes and no. I expected the economic situation (along with the Frank auction) to have a major impact on original art sales, but it really didn’t—sales were very, very good. Where I think it did have an impact is on attendance—I know of a number of folks who didn’t make it to the show for financial reasons. They’d bought tickets, but couldn’t afford to make the trip.
You had a public day for locals not steeped in the SF art community to attend. How did that go?
It went very well! It was very important to us to include the local community in the show—since part of our goal is to celebrate the field, that means spreading the word. We had a good turnout, and had some unexpected occurrences, such as my doctor and his wife appeared at the show and bought $6000 worth of art. Turns out she is a huge SF/F fan. We also had a couple of art teachers from one of the local public school districts come up to us and say that they’d do just about anything to have their students get to experience the show and/or the artists in some way next year. These were good reminders that people who love fantastic illustration come from all sorts of different places, and people who’ve never really experienced the field may be as excited by it as anyone else when given the chance.
Everyone who attended has nothing but great things to say. Is there an IlluxCon 2 in the works?
November 12-15, 2009! And it will be even better than the first show —we have a few nifty ideas in mind to add extra kewlness while maintaining the size and intimacy that made the show a hit. IlluXCon will never be significantly larger than the first show, in terms of number of people present.
More pictures and a quick con report from Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo.
Top: IlluxCon floor. Julie Bell, Thomas Kouebler, and Boris Vallejo. Bob Eggleton. John Jude Palencar. Michael Whelan.