Thursday, June 21, 2012

IMC 2012

The IMC ended almost a week ago, and apart from a Facebook status or two, I've not really talked about it publicly. There's a good reason it's taken this long: I had no idea where to start.

A lot of that had to do with it being too big for words. I was, and in a large part still am, overwhelmed by how incredible it was in every way I can think of - the individuals, the inspiration, the community, the improvement, the encouragement, the fun - and come on, I got to meet, learn from, and hang out with these guys:

L to R, alternating bottom and top rows: Irene Gallo, Iain McCaig, Scott Fischer, James Gurney, Doug Alexander, Donato, Brom, Dan Dos Santos, Rebecca Guay, Greg Manchess, Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo

...not to mention all of my incredible classmates.

But it was more than that which kept me tongue-tied, and which in all honesty rendered me somewhat of an emotional mess on and off for the larger part of the class week. It was that same thing which made it impossible to talk about (or type up, or sometimes even think about) certain parts without choking up or even crying for the two days after I got back home - and while I am a sap, that's over the top even for me.

It took a while to realize the cause of all this. (The intense learning and realizations came so thick and fast during the IMC I wasn't able to process them as they came, let alone address any foggy ideas lurking in the background.) With some distance, however, I've figured out the main reason I wound up as shell-shocked as I did:

Turns out, there's a real reaction when one gets stripped of artistic self-worth issues one wasn't even consciously aware of having internalized.


For those who missed it, I had a rough junior year in art school, a fact that I'm still figuring out. I was working hard but not smart; I was trying to learn how to use oils while simultaneously trying to execute an ambitious series of oil paintings without much technical guidance; I was constantly and consistently frustrated with/furious at my lack of progress; my main professor was of the school of thought that motivation comes from just being pushed harder; and I spent a lot of time dipping in and out of what I now suspect might have been depression.

What I took away from that year was that I was ambitious but mediocre - "not as good as [I] think [I] am," to quote one memorable critique.

I really wasn't aware at the time of how deeply this affected me, though in hindsight I can clearly see the results. On the one hand, it drove me to work harder - my summer of painting being one direct result - but also meant that I literally could not think of myself as anything more than 'okay', and certainly couldn't picture myself as part of the industry I was working so hard trying to join. I even nearly dropped one of my strongest pieces from my portfolio because I liked it so much that I "couldn't see the things that had to be wrong with it" given that it was one of my older pieces.

This is a blog post I wrote less than two months ago, still in the thick of it. If I use a conservative estimate, by then I'd been making consistently good art for two or three months, and receiving steady praise and acknowledgement from people I respected. But as you can read I was still clearly uncomfortable, and though I dance around it a bit in that post, I didn't actually know why.

Now I do, because I spent a week at the IMC doing the best work of my life and getting feedback from a huge portion of the genre illustration community, and then spent a couple of days thinking.

What happened is really nothing more complicated than I worked hard, my work was good, and people responded. In that regard, it was no different than those last few months of school - except that the scale and intensity of the IMC is exponentially larger, and concentrated into a fraction of the time, with all the real life distractions removed.

And you know what? It's hard to hold on to gnawing insecurity when almost everyone who stopped by my easel told me that the value and color of my figures against the light was spot on. It's hard to shrug it off when Iain McCaig tells me my drawing is perfect. It's hard to ignore Boris Vallejo when he says, "This is great, what you're doing - keep going!" It's hard not to be moved when peers several steps up the ladder are remarking on my improvement and encouraging me onward.

It's also hard to ignore the existence of something that made my reaction to all of the above incidents (and all those not mentioned) fairly pure bewilderment.

The reaction itself wasn't new - I'd spent an entire evening at the Illustration/Cartooning Open Studios being bewildered at people's compliments a month earlier. What was new was how I'd bounce from that to either a growing sense of confidence or an urge to cry.

There wasn't actually enough time to even be self-aware at that point. For extra fun, in the middle of this another intense realization of conscious incompetence occurred, which always sends me reeling. It was invigorating, but also more than a little vertiginous, and clouded the heart of the issue more. Not that I'd have been able to reflect upon my state even without it, but, you know.

I'm not sure where I was planning on going with this. It's clearly less an IMC 2012 post-mortem than a probably incomprehensible rambling on my own personal issues. Good things happened - amazing things happened - and they were important! But my memories are now almost two weeks old in parts, and I'm not sure if hazily trying to recollect exactly what happened when Greg Manchess and Scott Fischer sat down and painted on the wrong side of a board together is worth more than trying to work through a stumbling block in my head.

I'll be taking my impressions and lessons forward with me. What I gained isn't only concrete - a painting I can hold in my hands - but is also casting ripples that I'm already feeling. I took notes during the lectures and jotted down the critique I couldn't implement immediately, and others documented the shenanigans. What's left is to start processing what happened, then, and that's up to me.

That is, in fact, James Gurney.

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