Art at TusCon

LAST WEEKEND I attended TusCon*, the local science fiction/fantasy convention here in Tucson. I missed it for the past few years, so it was good to go back. I made a point of matting and framing a bunch of newer work for people to see. The Sky Lord and the Sky Noble went into matching frames; the ALA Gaming @ Your Library original looked remarkably good framed up; and quite a bit more.

The marvelous Patricia Briggs was Guest of Honor, and I met her when she introduced herself to me in the art show. She spoke enthusiastically about how much she enjoyed reading (as well as using and, I think, abusing!) the old Grimtooth Traps books from Flying Buffalo (which are being re-released even now). Another gamer-author, FTW!

Her husband remarked on how much he liked one of my Magic: the Gathering originals. In the end, they took the painting home with them, which pleased and honored me considerably. Thank you, Pat and Mike — what a pleasure to have met you!

For reasons I’ve never entirely understood, I typically spend sf/f conventions talking with writerly folks and friends more than my fellow artists. This convention was the exception, and I spent a lot of time with old friends from Phoenix: artists Gilead and Larry Vela.

Larry was helping run the art show, and has always been incredibly supportive of me and my work. He was interested in how I was handling my freelance time management (which I first talked about a year ago in It’s A Question of Time). I was happy to share what I’d learned about myself and my work, and the changes I’d made over the last year and a half.

But it was Gilead who really knocked me off my feet. At the risk of telling a story that is his to tell, I’d like to share what he said.

I’ve known Gilead over two decades, and while I’ve always respected his vigor and determination, his ideas and willingness to give of himself to strengthen the artistic community, much of his art left me a a bit unmoved. The inks were often overworked, the paintings lacked a certain luster and liveliness. He was always striving to improve, and I could see talent there, but not the execution.

After he listened to me talking about some of the insights I’d had recently, he told me of his own epiphany. He had spent years working a day-job painting holiday windows on storefronts and house murals, all the while seeking to improve his “real art” — fantasy drawings and paintings for publication in books and games. The sign painter was just the workman, not an artist, and was firmly shut out of the studio.

The shopfront work kept him busy, but there was a lack of outside enthusiasm in what he most cared about. He did thought-exercises and goals work, including periodically answering the question “What is it you MOST want to do?” Usually the answer was “fantasy art for publication.” One day, in a hurry, he simply said “fantasy art.”

That’s not the same answer. Not by a long shot. And he knew it.

He started making fantastical art without consideration whether it had narrative (which most illustrations do), a veritable explosion of work. And he invited the sign painter into the studio — the guy who had buttloads of experience, was truly “the expert” whom he’d kept locked out for who knows how long. The sign painter did everything “wrong” by most artistic rules — pure colors, black outlines, and more — but it worked. See for yourself on Gilead’s website. He was invited to show in formal art galleries in trendy Scottsdale, and swiftly got a one-man show. The pieces sold hand over fist.

The change is remarkable. When I first walked into TusCon’s art show, I saw some pieces and thought “gee those are different, pretty nice stuff — I wonder who did them?” I had no idea they were Gilead’s. I don’t like every piece, and I still see traces of the old artist who was trying too hard, but I like many of the pieces. There is a lightness, a freedom, and the vigor of his personality shines in the artwork now.

Gilead’s path is not mine, I think. I do like narrative in my artwork — perhaps it’s related to why I like to write as well as draw. But this question (and others) intrigue me.

Identifying goals is something I wrestle with — I do things that interest me, and wind up following my nose as much as planning my journeys. It has made for an interesting life (in all definitions of “interesting”). I’m not unhappy with the results of trusting my instincts, but sometimes I get tangled up making decisions that put my heart and my head at odds. Knowing what outcome I want makes troublesome decisions easier.

I call myself a Maker, and it’s the most rewarding part of being me: making things that no one else can make quite the way I do, whether art or telling stories or a game scenario or anything else I’ve ever had the pleasure to create. That’s the obvious answer to “What do you most want to do?”

However, I’m curious what the not-so-obvious answer(s) to this question might be. If I find out, I’ll let you know.

I rarely do art that isn’t done to assignment. I usually have enough on my plate that free time to do “whatever” goes into things like writing — the Google 20% I talked about in A Fifth of My Time has pretty much all been fiction writing, even if a lot of it keeps veering off into fanfic instead of standalone work.

Now and then I do art that isn’t “for” anything, though. One of the pieces I hung at TusCon was an experimental canvas print of a piece I call “Cloaked in Dusk and Twilight.” I did the painting, in part, to practice some of the skills David Cherry taught me when I visited him years ago. I hadn’t had many painting assignments, so I gave myself an assignment to see what I could accomplish on my own. It sat around, half-finished, until I did the last bits in 2004. The original sold at the first convention I hung it, which was at TusCon that same year.

I always meant to make some prints of it, but hadn’t gotten around to it. A few weeks before TusCon, Netted by the Webbys (who come up with some great stuff) had told me about a company called CanvasPop. There was a special offer, and I thought it might be interesting to give this a try for the con. I was busy though, and lacked a proper Round Tuit. Yet from the info on the CanvasPop website, it seemed I could get a print made in time, and for a reasonable price.

So I figured to test the waters. On Thursday, a week before the con, I loaded up the info and got nearly to the end of the order process when I realized there was no way I could get it in time and keep the price reasonable. I closed my order, incomplete, and figured I’d go back another time.

Imagine my astonishment when I got an email next morning asking “Liz, is there anything I can do to help?” It was from Chris Rayburn, the sales manager of CanvasPop.

Businesses talk about “best practices” and “engagement” but you could have knocked me over with a feather when I read that email. I sent back a reply, explaining why I had cancelled my order. My own dawdling was at fault, not any problem with what they were offering or expecting. The uber-fast shipping would add to my costs enough that I didn’t think I could expect to recoup the cost, and more to the point, it would be touch-and-go whether I’d get it in time to hang at the show early on Friday.

Chris phoned me to say they’d make it happen, and cover the cost of shipping as well. I received the print Thursday and hung it Friday with the rest of my work.

Only rarely have I ever had such individual attention and service, or such an astounding level of personal interest from a company that, to my knowledge, had no reason to know me from Adam or expect me to become a big client down the line.

I do a lot of reading, observing, and thinking about “business” these days. Some of it is as part of the library’s Emerging Tech committee, because libraries must market themselves and learn from regular business practices as never before. Some of it is related to questions of motivation and leadership, related to my professional interest in games and game design, and how these things intersect with the real world.

Some is part of rebooting my freelancing life, which is really just entrepreneurship on the hoof — and I’m approaching it more thoughtfully than in the previous three decades I spent doing things by hit or miss.

There was nothing hit or miss about Chris’s efforts on behalf of CanvasPop, and he won my respect — and my business. In return, I’m writing about them here, just as I mentioned them on Twitter and Facebook while this was going on. Word of mouth counts for more than conventional advertising, according to the business sources I read, and I want to say this company knows how to treat people right. I acknowledge Chris and his compatriots for being good and doing good, and I hope that translates to the company doing well over time.

Now, the fact is that the canvas print of “Dusk and Twilight” didn’t sell at TusCon. As Larry Vela (whom I mentioned above) said, “The colors are a lot more vivid than you usually use.”

That was an understatement. The print was wildly oversaturated, too neon-bright and vivid. This was not CanvasPop’s fault — it was my noobishness about the difference between print media (CMYK) and screen colors (RGB). I got a proof (on my computer of course) so the RGB colors looked fine, and I approved it happily. But the final CMYK print colors were ‘way off.

I know this stuff, but I didn’t think about it until I got a short run of photomedia prints from my favorite printshop guy down the street, also part of my planning for TusCon. His first efforts to make prints for me were also insanely oversaturated, and he had to work a lot of magic to make the prints match the colors of the original painting. Those look pretty good, I have to say.

So here’s the deal. I was very grateful that Pat and Mike Briggs bought my MtG original, but that’s the only thing that did sell — and I had hoped to sell a bit more than that. Holidays are coming — for me and for you. Here’s your chance for a nice piece of art that doesn’t appear in any publication — art done just because I wanted to make it.

Buy my prints. Please. The canvas prints are 9″x16″, same size as the original painting. I have 20 photomedia prints on slick cover-weight paper — image 6″x10″, signed and numbered, starting at 1/20.

I am going to offer a first-come, first-served option to get a short printrun of canvas prints, newly-made from CanvasPop, to be signed and numbered. I’ll be working with Chris and his design staff to get the colors looking like they should.

You can have one of the canvas prints for… Name Your Price, as long as it is at least $100 to cover my basic costs (plus s/h to your location). You decide exactly how much it is worth to you. Think of it as supporting your friendly local artist and an awfully nice company alike. I will take orders for up to 20 of these. (Order by November 27th and you should receive them in time for Christmas if that’s your celebration!) This name-your-price offer is only good through December 31st, 2011. After that, as I fill out the edition of 20, the price will be higher.

You can order one of the 20 photomedia prints for $25 each, plus s/h. I have these in hand already, so if you order by December 8th, I should be able to get them to you promptly.

I’ve been meaning to get a sales cart installed on this site for awhile, but things remain in flux around here. Therefore, we’ll do this old-school. Email me at etdanforth-at-gmail-dot-com. Be specific about whether you want a canvas print or a photoprint. I will assign prints in the order I receive your requests. I will take PayPal payments made to that same email address. I will make an addendum here if and when either of these sell out.

I’ll send something special with every order I get by the end of the year. If you pay more for the canvas print than my minimum, you might get a Magic: the Gathering whiteback artist proof card (available only from the artist) … maybe with a sketch on it. Or a deck of cards with my picture in the mix. Depending on your enthusiasm, I’ll scale up the pot-sweetener further — you never know what I’ll decide on, but I hope it’ll be something you’ll enjoy getting as a lagniappe!

Most of all, you will get my sincerest thanks. With luck, this will help everyone end the year on an up-note. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?


*For the record, the town is Tucson. The convention is TusCon, for “Tucson Convention.” So yes, we know the difference.

3 Replies to “Art at TusCon”

  1. Sounds like fun. I wish I’d been able to go – that would be nice, to go to a con that’s about as far away from me as I can get and still be in the contiguous 48 states.

    I would’ve dressed up as a Sand Person, and if anybody asked, I would’ve said “I’m a TusCon Raider!” Then I’d’ve hit them over the head with my gaffi stick and run away while they were stunned by my bad pun.

  2. Knick, that crowd would probably hit you with twelve puns as bad or worse, before you even made it out the door…. just fair warning, if you ever make it to the convention!

Comments are closed.