Tomorrow I set sail for Indianapolis, Indiana for the annual geek-fest known as Gen Con. For the uninitiated, it's a 4-day gaming convention where many companies come to show off their latest and greatest, and tens of thousands of people come to play. Nestled in the main exhibition hall one can find a gated area that for me is the highlight of the con: the Art Show.
When I started attending Gen Con 8 years ago, the Art Show was much smaller and in its own room, but it outgrew the space provided, was moved to the main hall and now boasts somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-90 artists who are there to meet and greet fans, show off their work, and sell their wares. Then, every night after dinner, the artists congregate and before long the sound of laughter drowns out all other sounds, faces tend to grow more ruddy and the tales being spun become that much taller. In short, it’s a good time.
The thing that I really want to get to, however, is the business side of things. I've been asked many times by illustrators who are interested in gaming art for recommendations on how to get started. Depending on the person and the state of their work, my advice may vary, but the one thing that stays constant is my recommendation to attend Gen Con.
Gen Con affords a starting illustrator two big opportunities that otherwise may be hard to come by. The first opportunity is the attending artists. By and large, illustrators in the field of Fantasy and Sci-fi art are among the most generous I’ve ever met. I’ve been the beneficiary of more free advice from my fellow artists than I can ever repay. They’ve reviewed my portfolio, given me techniques to try, and even pointed me towards companies that may be willing to hire me. I cannot stress enough the value of this and how far it got me, personally.
The second opportunity Gen Con provides is the art directors. Gen Con is well attended by art directors for the various companies attending the convention — as well as others whose companies are not attending— and they are there to look at work. Some art directors (like those for Wizards of the Coast) have specific schedules and sign-up sheets making it easy to get face time with them, others are floating about and must be hunted down but are out there nevertheless. Even if you don’t get work from an interview or a portfolio review, the critiques gained from such experiences are worth your time. Every bit of input these art directors give you can be spun into gold if you give it a chance, especially if you walk in with an open mind.
The other nice thing about the art directors attending is that if you have worked with them before, it’s great to meet them and get to know them in person (as often so much of what we do is through e-mail now). Oftentimes, strengthening a relationship you already have is just as important as creating new relationships, and there are few better opportunities to do this with many of these art directors than at Gen Con.
Personally, I have been blessed with many bits of advice from both the artists and art directors at Gen Con, and I still ask for their advice to this day. I’ve gotten a lot of work as a result of attending and over the years I’ve gotten to know collectors and fans who’ve further enriched my time there. I believe it has done the same for many other artists and I believe Gen Con can do it again for those of you out there who are just now trying to get your foot in the door.