This year I had the unbelievable honor of being the Artist Guest of Honor at Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana. This is an especially significant honor for me since I got my professional start in the fantasy gaming industry by showing my work to art directors and editors at Gen Con back in 1994. A huge thanks goes out to Barbara Fisher and the rest of the Gen Con team for giving me such a special moment in my professional career.
My wife, Silvia, at our booth.
I had attended Gen Con almost every year when it was located in my hometown of Milwaukee. In 2003, Gen Con moved to Indianapolis, and I just never got around to going. What a lazy bum I am! So this year was my first trip to Gen Con Indy. I had no idea what to expect.
When I learned that I was going to be the Artist Guest of Honor, I reached out to past Guests of Honor like my buddies Tony DiTerlizzi, Jeff Easley and Tom Baxa to see if they had any suggestions. The advice they gave helped me in planning for such an amazing event. A huge thanks goes out to those guys.
You gotta love that hair!
Silvia and me at our booth.
I knew I’d have a large booth, so months prior to the show I began making preparations to fill out the space I had with prints, original art and books. I even had a computer screen at my booth that ran looping video featuring a slideshow of my artwork and a timelapse video of me creating a drawing. Apparently, the Gen Con planners had moved the location of the Artist Guest of Honor booth this year to a more prime location. That’s an understatement, really. My booth was located practically in the middle of the main exhibit hall. Because of this, traffic at my booth was non-stop. Future Artist Guests of Honor will really appreciate this kind of exposure but will need to have an assistant with them. I was lucky enough to have my wonderful wife, Silvia, as a helper. I wouldn’t have survived the weekend without her.
Goofing around with some costume contest winners.
On Friday, the second day of the convention, I did a painting demo to a sold-out crowd. It was heartening to see so many people show up just to see me paint and learn a few tips. At the end of my demo, I collected tickets from everyone in preparation for a lottery drawing to give away the painting that I worked on during the demo. Joel Mentor was the lucky winner of the painting, and he couldn’t have been more excited.
From left to right: James Cole, me, Joel Mentor.
On Saturday, I was supposed to give another painting demo for a few VIGs (Very Important Gamers). Planning for that event got a little confusing, so timing didn’t work out as planned. In the end, only one VIG member was available for the painting demo. But this ended up being a great thing for that member because he got to sit down with me for a one-on-one lesson and demonstration. Joseph and I had a great time. At the end of my demo/lesson, I handed Joseph my brush, relinquished my seat, and let him work on my painting. He was thrilled to do so, and he actually did an amazing job!
VIGer Joseph and me during my painting demo.
One of the “duties” as Artist Guest of Honor is to help judge the Art Show. This is both exciting and scary. I love seeing art and the artists that create the work. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if I don’t pick their work to win an award. So it is a very bittersweet assignment. That being said, two other artists joined me in judging the Art Show. The talented Wayne Reynolds and Chris Rahn are two artists whose work I admire, so it was great to walk around the Art Show with them and agree upon the winners. In fact, we were all in agreement most of the time with the artists we chose. This made the experience much easier and I didn’t have to fight it out with Wayne Reynolds, which we all know he would have lost!
Me with artist Chris Rahn.
Congratulations to Emily Fiegenschuh in winning first place for her amazing painting for the cover of her book, The Explorer’s Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures. Mark Poole took second place with his gorgeous painting, Snowblind. Scott Murphy received the Best in Show award for his painting, Goblin Engineer, which all of us judges fell in love with.
Me with the very tall and very talented John Esh.
Each of the judges had to agree on the artists chosen for the various prizes. However, we each received a Juror’s Choice award that we could give to any one artist of our sole choosing. I was struck by the work of artist John Esh. I found myself returning to his work time and again when I walked around the show. I felt his work was consistent, well done and he had a unique voice with his art.
Meeting artists at any convention is always a highlight for me. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. I’d been away from Gen Con for so long that all of the artists I met there I had never met before. Some I have befriended through Facebook or other sites, but I never met them face-to-face. Jim Pavelec was one of those guys. Jim is such an amazingly talented artist whom I was excited to finally meet. A week after Gen Con, I would see Jim again at Chicago Comic Con. He’s a super great guy!
Me with the extraordinarily gifted artist, Ralph Horsley.
Then I got to meet the extremely talented Ralph Horsley, who is a really nice guy. We were fans of each other, so we traded paintings. I’d wish I had more time to pour over his paintings because they are so wonderful to look at, but I know I’ll be seeing him at other events.
I think artist Omar Rayyan is trying to eat my brain or he wants to make out with me.
Incredible artist Chris Seaman and me at his booth in the art show.
I also got to meet other amazing artists such as Omar Rayyan, Chris Seaman, Chris Rahn, Wayne Reynolds, Tyler Walpole, Vinod Rams, Mark Poole, Aaron Miller, and Dan Scott. All are very talented artists that create inspiring work to see in person.
That’s Chris Figueroa in the scarecrow outfit. Scary!
Signing the arm of a fan.
Giving a free copy of my Thumb Wars book to a lucky little girl
And this recap wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank the many fans and admirers of my work that stopped by to visit me at Gen Con. I am always humbled that so many people enjoy my work. It makes me so happy to hear stories from people about how my art inspired them to create art or how my work has been a part of their gaming adventures over the years. I wasn’t prepared for the response I received at Gen Con, it certainly made me feel great. Thank you all so much.
I hope to be back at Gen Con in 2012.