Icon 9 :: Austin, TX

Denise :: Icon9 was an amazing experience - I wanted to go to Icon8 in Portland, but it just did not work out. I knew when Icon9 came around, I would have to jump at the chance. I bought my ticket back in October and waited 9 months. My main take away on attending Icon is that it is a great event to inspire you to keep making more art. 

Although the workshops were extra, I decided to sign up for 6 (3 each day). I'm glad I did, because I got to hear Don Tate talk about working on Children's Books, Giuseppe Castellano talk about mistakes that illustrators make, Rebecca Mock deconstruct her animated gifs, Jessica Hische talk about how important it is to have a consistent process (she is a great speaker), Julia Rothman and Bridget Watson Payne discuss how to submit your book idea to publishers, and Anita Kunz on how to create ideas on a deadline. The workshops were phenomenal.

The main stage sessions took place over two days from 9 am to 7 pm - so the days were very full. I loved to hear all the artists stories; what they make, how they make, and why they make art. I discovered new artists whose work I fell in love with like Kathie Sever, Lily Smith-Kirkley, Selina Alko & Sean Qualls, Svein Størksen and Poul Lange. I got to hear artists whose work I have been following and love like Gemma Correll, Julia Rothman, and Eleanor Davis. 

A few things to mention; I didn't feel like I got enough time to really explore Austin. We were pretty busy with workshops, main event and evening festivities to really get out and explore. I think it would be wise to book an extra day or two at the next Icon to explore the city it is held in. And 5 days is a very long time to be away from your family - I missed my daughter and husband like crazy! I was a little jealous of the moms in Austin who were able to go home at the end of the night and see their family. But it was also a nice break from normal life. I had an amazing time and loved hanging out with Emily, Lauren, Jennifer Orkin Lewis, and Rachel Place. 

Jessica Hische said she likes to go to Icon because it is a reunion with your favorite illustrators. I was so happy to meet so many illustrators whose work I admire - in real life. It is a supportive and fun community and I look forward to keeping in touch and reuniting at Icon10!

I was scared out of my mind to fly -- yikes! I did it!

Emily and I in front of the famous Austin mural!

The city is full of gorgeous murals!

Opening night! 

Exploring South Congress. 

Emily matching Parts & Labour.

Emily matching her smoothie bowl. 

I do love you all so much!

So many good business cards! 

Lauren:: What a blast! I had the pleasure of driving down from Nashville with fellow illustrators Rebecca GreenKatie Turner, and Kayla Stark. We woke up at 5 a.m. and made the 14 hour trip down to Austin, all while having a smooth ride and plenty of time to talk about what we were looking forward to. I did two workshops, saw plenty of presentations from the education symposium, and went to basically every lecture and social event (including the Road Show and Tall Tales Gallery Show!)

So will I be back in 2018? Yes! ICON is a great event for professional practice and meeting other artists. As a college instructor, it was also wonderful to learn about all the exciting and new developments in the industry, even if they didn't necessarily pertain to me. However, if you are mainly going in the hopes of "being discovered" or finding your big break, this may not be your thing. Don't get me wrong, there are big names and some art directors floating around (and many fellow illustrators work at big companies which you may admire), but there is less "business" going on when compared to, say, Surtex. ICON is a conference, not a trade show. That's not a bad thing, though. ICON made sure that the fun didn't stop, so you are immersed in the illustration party pretty much 24/7 with happy hours, special events, tours...you name it! In the end, you're making a lot of friends, and that's never a bad thing in the illustration world, because you never know where that will lead.

 Enjoying the entertainment before the keynote speaker!

Enjoying the entertainment before the keynote speaker!

 Holding my favorite piece from a collage workshop.

Holding my favorite piece from a collage workshop.

 We had the pleasure of hanging with Jennifer Orkin Lewis, who is represented along with Jill Howarth and Lauren Lowen by Jennifer Nelson Artists.

We had the pleasure of hanging with Jennifer Orkin Lewis, who is represented along with Jill Howarth and Lauren Lowen by Jennifer Nelson Artists.

 Emily, Denise, and Jennifer Orkin Lewis (August Wren) at the closing party!

Emily, Denise, and Jennifer Orkin Lewis (August Wren) at the closing party!

Emily :: WOW! ICON9 was a total whirlwind. When we registered back in October, July seemed like such a long time to wait - which it was - but it led to some pretty impressive build-up and excitement for the trip. And it did not disappoint! Those ICON planners pack a LOT in to those 4 days, and by the end, I was exhausted!

I kept a sketchbook specifically for my ICON adventures - and this was the first page. I really wanted to see an armadillo! (I did not.)

The first two days of ICON were filled with optional workshops. There were so many great ones to choose from, and unfortunately there were two for each time slot, so there were some good ones I missed. I learned about creating animated GIFs with Rebecca Mock, creating a consistent process with Jessica Hische, pricing and other legal matters with Robert Hunt and Jonathan Tobin of Counsel for Creators, and editorial concepting with Anita Kunz. My favorite workshop, though - was more hands-on - signpainting with Norma Jeanne Maloney! Since I've been doing a few murals over the last couple years, it was nice to hear a REAL signpainter describe her tools and process. We even got the opportunity to try our hand at some lettering!

Norma Jeanne demonstrating her technique on the tricky "O" utilizing a mahl stick and quill #4. We practiced an A, E, O, S and Y - the five letters that exemplify all the lines, curves, diagonals and symmetry of the English alphabet.

There's my "E"! Not too bad, considering how nervous I was, with a few of my peers watching over my shoulder. My hand was shaking so much! Gotta work on my snap at the end!

On Wednesday night Denise and I went to the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for Motion Commotion - a series of animated shorts. Gosh, people are SO talented! I was especially interested in this event, because I am taking a Motion Design course at our local college in the fall and I'm super curious about animation and taking my work to the next level. It was fun watching these animations while we ate our dinner. Some of the artists were even in the audience, so there was a Q&A afterwards to get even more insight on their process.

Denise pointing out the cool tile work at the entrance to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

I had signed up for 5 workshops over the course of two days. While I wasn't workshopping, I was sitting in the main ballroom listening to the presenters at the Education Symposium and drawing. It was nice to have the option of learning even MORE during our downtimes. ICON also had a pop-up bookshop with the most amazingly curated selection of illustrated books, and tables with all of the sponsor's wares - including some awesome art supplies. There were even a bunch of button makers available for us to make buttons to wear and trade. Who doesn't love buttons? I'm telling ya - ICON thought of everything!

ICON sketchbook - Mahlstick

Finally, the main event arrived - 2 days PACKED with speakers! Each day was comprised of 5 speaker sessions with 20-minute breaks in between (except for lunch, where we got an hour or so). So from 9a to 7p, we were sitting in the ballroom, taking everything in. Midway through the first day, my butt was starting to get sore, so in anticipation to another day and a half of sitting, I started taking a quick walk around the block on our breaks - just to loosen up the hips a bit and get some exercise. Despite my sore body, what a phenomenal lineup of speakers! Of course there were speakers I was already familiar with that I was super excited to hear - and they did not disappoint. But there were quite a few artists and topics that I didn't know - and I probably learned even more from them.
A few themes:

  • collaboration
  • virtual reality
  • political cartooning
  • sharing a studio space
  • getting in front of art directors
  • storytelling
  • design activism
  • zines
  • collage
  • play and expertise
  • inclusivity

Gosh - the speakers were SO good and SO inspiring! In addition to individual speakers, there were also more casual panel discussions and a kaleidoscope session - in which a few of the attendees told their stories in 5 minute presentations. Fun!

The ICON stage changed during every break! Jason Holley and his team definitely kept us engaged with the ever-evolving scene!

Our evenings were filled with numerous social activities within walking distance of our hotel. There were multiple happy hours, Motion Commotion, The Roadshow - a pop-up market showcasing the art and product of dozens of the ICON attendees, Tall Tales - a group exhibition featuring the work of some ICON attendees, and the closing night party - featuring a live band, open bar and yummy BBQ. I really appreciated the effort the planners put in to ensure we had plenty to do.

BBQ, that-away!!

I waited all week for some Texas BBQ. And the brisket at Stubbs Bar-B-Que totally hit the spot.

Of course, all of these social events meant plenty of opportunities to hang out with fellow illustrators. I got to meet a few of my illustration idols, catch-up with some old pals, and meet new friends! I can see how ICON ends up being a reunion of sorts.

Lauren, Emily and Denise after the closing party. Phew! Whatta week.

ICON9 was incredible. I had heard great things, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. I absolutely want to go back to ICON10. Next time, though - I'll probably take more hands-on workshops than lecture-based workshops, just to mix it up a bit. I'll also try to pad my trip with an extra day to explore the host city a bit more. This was my first time in Austin, and though I am happy the conference was right downtown in the thick of things, there were still so many places I would have liked to experience - we just didn't have the time!

We ate a few smoothie bowls for lunch. One of mine was the most beautiful hot pink color. It was hard to believe it was natural! Turns out it was the pitaya (dragonfruit) that made it that beautiful hue.

Austin is a very creative, artsy city. I loved the beautiful storefronts, painted brick, funky floors, neon signs and murals. Murals, murals, murals! Everywhere! I couldn't get enough. Here are a few of my favorites:

The first night we had the most amazing Tex-Mex at Chuy's. The food and margaritas were phenomenal - and look at this floor!

Detail of the side of the Iron Works BBQ building.

Butterfly mural at the Art for the People gallery.

Oh, how I love me some painted brick!

Taped floor at Parts and Labor.

Just look at the Uncommon Objects storefront! 

Mural on the side of the Mexic-Arte Museum.

ICON, you were fantastic. I am still processing everything I heard and learned last week and I am ready to start making art in response! I had a wonderful time with my roomies, Denise and Lauren, and truly enjoyed the quality time spent with Jennifer Orkin Lewis (aka August Wren) and Rachel Place, some of my MATS buddies. I loved meeting everyone else and I can't wait to see y'all in 2018!