When I was in high school, a buddy of mine used to sit at the lab tables (which were in the back of the classroom) instead of the desks in my Advanced Biology Class. Our teacher, Dr. Freeman, would hold the class at bay waiting for him to seat himself at a desk rather than a lab table, all the while inviting him to “join us.” It took a bit of coaxing, but he’d eventually come around and sit with the rest of the class.
Now, to the sketchbook circles at conventions I offer the same invitation: Join us.
While sketchbook circles are something that may have existed at conventions long before I came into the picture, I personally have only recently run into them, myself. Basically, a sketchbook circle tends to consist of a bunch of young artists and illustrators who, rather than socialize and hang out with the older, more seasoned professionals, choose instead to stick their heads in their sketchbooks, often sitting in a circle with seemingly little socialization even with their neighbors. At least, that’s how it seems.
While I am usually of the opinion that an artist should draw, then draw some more, and when they’re finally tired of drawing should continue to do the same, there is a time and place for everything. The way I see it, the seasoned professionals at these conventions are a valuable resource, and not engaging them, listening to their stories, and generally getting to know them is a waste.
It has been my experience that the fantasy and science fiction genre of illustration is full of the most open and generous artists I’ve ever met. They’ve been willing to teach me all manner of things, critique my work and give me advice. Some have even become friends. This didn’t happen because I sat on a hotel lobby floor hunched over my sketchbook. This happened because I put myself out there, asked questions, solicited their thoughts, and had a laugh or two with them. Put simply, we got to know each other.
While I appreciate that drawing is vital to the betterment of your artistic abilities, you just paid good money to attend a convention and sit at on a hotel lobby floor and draw —something you could have done at home for free. You know what you can’t do at home? You can’t talk to the likes of Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood, Michael Whelan, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, or any other artists of their ilk that may be at your disposal at said event.
Seriously. There are folks out there who would love to get to know you, but aren’t going to engage you while you’ve got your back turned with your nose in your sketchbook. Opportunities to talk with a lot of these folks are fleeting. To not drink deeply from this well is a shame — not just because of what you’ll miss, but because of what some of the illustrators standing around and chatting might miss, as well: you.
I will grant you that what I ask can be very intimidating. It took a long time for me to get the guts to even say word one to some of the folks I mention above. In fact, there are certain illustrators that I STILL have difficulty talking to after many years of knowing them. I still stutter, hem and haw. After all, what does one say to their heroes? But I’m asking for the difficult — not the impossible.
Understand, also, that I’m not suggesting that you completely abandon your drawing circle nor your friends and acquaintances therein. Bring them along, in fact! Have a laugh, try to press the flesh, share a drink, and listen to a tale or two. Tell a tale or two yourselves, even! Engage these folks — even if you’re nothing more than a wallflower at first, as I once was. You may hear a horror story that you can learn from, or a funny story that has you howling…or you may be bored to tears. But, you won’t know if you don’t give it a try.
Again, it was quite difficult for me at first, but the effort I put into getting over my fears and talking to folks with more experience under their belt has resulted in benefits beyond what I could have imagined. So, next convention put your sketchbooks down for a night. Talk to a couple people. Get to know someone. Sit back, have a laugh, and