WWhen I look back at the past year, it keeps going back not to early January, but to attending my first Illuxcon in September 2014. It was my first real introduction to the community of Fantasy Art/Imaginative Realism, and I went not quite knowing what to expect, but hoping it would be the beginning of something, a lead to the way forward, whatever that was. I had some cobbled-together notion of what being a 'Professional Freelance Fantasy Artist' was supposed to be like-- very tough, with long hours and a lot of uncertainty. But I was very determined, or at least I had enough drive to just surpass the similarly large quantities of anxiety lurking just beneath the surface.
I distinctly remember climbing the stairs to the second floor of the Allentown Art Museum at Illuxcon and feeling a sense of wonder wash over me as I saw the dozens upon dozens of paintings hanging on the walls. They seemed to almost radiate with an internal glow, and there was something about the space itself which had a magic about it-- one which cannot be owed just to the art, but by a greater degree to the people there.
This was the point where everything began to pivot, for me. I met dozens of people that week, and of those there were perhaps half a dozen people whom I had interacted with that would more drastically shape the year to come. They were kind enough to grant me their time, their patience, their insights. The memory of these interactions meant something to me, and they lit the fire of my determination for the year to come.
I stumbled almost right away, of course. The pressure of 'having something to prove' can waver between leading you to work hard, or freezing you up entirely, if you aren't careful. But some of the very same people mentioned above were willing to be open about their own personal struggles, and their leading by example led me to give myself permission to be human-- to stop being so afraid of showing flaws that I would avoid speaking up at all.
There were several more major pivots in 2015-- mentoring with Todd Lockwood which was key in greatly improving my technique and abilities. Attending the Illustration Master Class, which was monumental enough to almost be difficult to describe-- I felt things shifting around me as I was there. The entire week there is a tangible sense of something which seems to infuse every conversation and interaction. Each and every instructor was willing to dredge up whole chunks of their heart, to share the less seen parts of themselves-- their fears, their struggles, their ongoing anxieties. I have Rebecca Leveille Guay and Winona Nelson in particular to thank, for leading me to the door of my own fears when I asked, and for providing encouragement and enthusiasm when I was ready to talk about those fears of wanting to explore trans themes in my art.
Later that summer, I mentored with Peter Mohrbacher, which opened up the way I think about intent in art, and helped me to both narrow my focus with my work and to widen my perceptions of what is possible to do with it. It was through this that I finally overcame the fears I had started thinking about during IMC, and created Holding Back Birds, the first painting in the series I'll be focusing on in the year to come.
So, when I returned to Illuxcon this past year (and to the One Fantastic Week Workshop a week later), it was a period of reflection on the edge before looking forward. I did a lot of art in 2015, and made some great strides-- but I feel that I have the human connections to thank for that more than anything. I can only hope that going forward, I will be able to help others in the same way.
The success of the Holding Back Birds Kickstarter was the perfect end note to this year and some months of change. I've been spending most of December and January finishing up work I still had on my plate, but am starting to shift gears to get going on a lot of new art very soon. This spring will be focused largely on moving forward with the body of work Holding Back Birds began and I can't wait to see where that takes me!