Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Travel Journal: Spectrum Live 2013

All Photos by Kaitlin
This week's entry is kind of long so I feel bad adding more text up here before I even get to the main article. However, because most of my readership has no idea what Spectrum Live is this seems an important topic to broach. Because he does such a great job and because I don't want to reinvent the wheel I'm going to basically plagiarize a section from Mr. Mike Linnemann's review of Spectrum Live 2.

What is Spectrum?
"Spectrum, in case you don’t know, is an annual book—a volume rather—that showcases the best in the field of fantasy and science fiction art. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the volumes. They’re called individually “Spectrum X: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.” The X is replaced by the number..." [-Mike Linnemann] This year is Spectrum 20. Spectrum is pretty awesome because you can see a broad diversity of fantasy art just by flipping the page. It also has the names of all the artists with their website, which generally has their contact information. As an artist you can follow people who have a similar style, learn some cool techniques you maybe didn't know, and make friends within the artist community. As an employer/project designer you can find an awesome artist who can breathe life into your ideas/works. As a human being who appreciates art (or a collector) you can marvel at the ease of access to countless masterfully crafted pieces of work. The best part? There's always new artists featured each year and all of the images have to survive a gauntlet-style panel before they're accepted into Spectrum so you're only looking at the best of the best.

What is Spectrum: Live?
"The convention is a gathering of artists, art directors, collectors, and fans in the middle of America. The convention celebrates the annual book and the art field." [-Mike Linnemann] This is basically the best place to meet the artists featured in Spectrum and is a super-gathering of really high talent individuals I'd otherwise find myself driving to Arizona to meet individually.

Last note: This is my personal Spectrum: Live 2 Report. I'll be writing up a more professional event review for MF shortly, in addition to a half-dozen interviews that will likely take a few weeks to put together.
------- End of Notes -------

Batman and The Open Road
Day 1 - Tuesday May 14th, 2013
It was after a full day's work that we started packing for Spectrum Live. I seemed to have let the days slip by and despite counting down the hours until my departure, packing somehow fell by the wayside. We packed everything we expected to need in just under an hour and observed an ancient Russian tradition I picked up from Wikipedia that consisted of stopping at the entrance of the house, waiting though a few moments of silence, and stepping on each other's feet. This is done partly to help remember things you might have forgotten to pack and partly because it's amusing. It worked, and I went back for an Elric of Melnibone' poster and my official MF Press pass. This week I'd be representing the Russian magazine Mir Fantastiki

Batman and the Tampa roads
Kaitlin (my partner in crime) and I departed at around 6pm, somehow avoiding the usual traffic, and passed hundreds of acres of blooming purple, red, and white flowers that seemed to line the highway. We passed I-4, my normal routine, then Tampa.

So many flowers!
Now further north than anywhere I typically drive the scenery changed and became oddly western. We saw dozens of horses, hundreds of cows, some boar, and even a few deer. We passed antique malls, Florida's mini bible-belt, and dozens of sun-bleached signs for Cafe Risque while listening to Brom's The Child Thief (read by the remarkably talented Kirby Heyborne). Around sunset, 8:20pm, we stopped at a Subway and caught a bite to eat. Around 11pm, somewhere in the panhandle, we pulled over and puked our guts out. Passers by commented in broken English, Rastafarian, and Spanish, telling us to drink plenty of water. Between bouts of sickness, I took a picture of an interesting sign that showed the distances to various places of interest, including my friends in Orlando.

Not in Kansas City anymore...
By the second 11pm (we passed into the Central Timezone) the roads became straight, dull, and hypnotizing. Kaitlin had long since passed out so I couldn't play my usual loud and jarring music. Slowly the tunes from Diablo 2, Arcanum, Demon's Souls, and the Symphonic Suite to Actraiser began to tug at my consciousness and I found myself right in the middle of a nightmare I frequently have... The one where I'm driving and falling asleep at the wheel. It's a strange nightmare to have for sure but I fought through it and passed the state line to Alabama. We ended the drive at around 1AM CT at the house of family.

The Stuff of Nightmares

Day 2 - Wednesday May 15th, 2013

The Road to Enterprise, AL
Today was a fairly quick day. I woke up fairly late and did some work on my laptop while having breakfast. When we departed around noon found ourselves in a traditional Alabama neighborhood. We passed a few local landmarks, a giant mural of The Boll Weevil Monument, a water tower, a few fighter jets (inactive), a rocket that's been to space, and countless fields of yellow and purple flowers. We also passed something that resembled a wombat standing proudly on top of a rock, various armadillo, vultures, chipmunks, countless cows, and wild onions.

To The Moon?
We stopped briefly at around 3pm for a picnic at a rest stop. Some of our provisions had gone bad so we tossed them to some birds who didn't seem to mind that the food was bad for human consumption. We kept driving until around 7:30pm, stopping at a clean hotel in Clarkesville, Tennessee.

Picture Unrelated: The Pirate Festival from the weekend before... Kind of like the Child Thief?

Day 3 - Thursday May 16th, 2013

Our Friend in IL had fun glasses...
Not much to talk about. Drove pretty much all day. The day started with a complementary breakfast at the hotel, we coasted to O'Fallon, IL, and stayed at a friend's home. Did you know that you can advertise on any number of the dozens of empty billboards between Alabama and Illinois? We sure do after this drive. Highlights of the day included seeing the new Star Trek film and a particularly poor game of Scrabble. I don't think we collectively broke 100 but there might have been drinking involved... Then again I could be lying to cover up how bad I am at scrabble.

Pretty much the coolest glasses ever...

Day 4 - Friday May 17th, 2013: The First Day of Spectrum

Sunrise in O'Fallon, IL
We woke up to a pretty sunrise, got in the car, and drove the last leg of the journey to Kansas City, MO. Surprisingly, the last few hours of driving were accented by some rather interesting buildings between stretches of farmland. I've driven through America a few times and it only just struck me how much of the country seems to be covered in farmland. I expected more trees.

Just like a scene from Dishonored
I think we took the wrong exit for Kansas City because we found ourselves in a very bleak neighborhood with overgrown lawns that were taller than most children. Between the two and a half lane road (seriously, what's with having a lane that a compact car can't fit on that's clearly for cars?!), the barred windows on every home, and the neon Budweiser lights clearly active before noon on a Friday, it was clear that we probably shouldn't stop to let the homeless man wash our car.

This place is pretty awesome
A few miles later, now in Kansas City, we found ourselves at a nice Vegan diner called Cafe Gratitude and caught an early lunch. The place was fairly packed but there was room at their bar, which we were told gave out free samples. I'm not Vegan or in any way "wholistic" but the food was good and the service staff was both timely and friendly. I honestly regret not living closer to this place. So it was with full stomachs that we arrived at the hotel, checked in, and walked across the street to Spectrum!... Only we couldn't find it...
In a moment of genius I'd neglected to write down the address provided in the Spectrum: Live emails I'd gotten almost every week the month before because i'd assumed that it would be impossible to miss. Much to my dismay we were having a rather difficult time locating the correct part of the massive convention center where Spectrum was happening and it wasn't until we bumped into a friendly woman who identified herself as an art collector that we were pushed in the right direction. The collector (who was dressed very sharply and had a distinctly East-Coast US big city look, despite having no accent) had apparently come from Virginia for the sole purpose of purchasing as much original art as suited her interests. Her intent was mostly to support a few of her favorite artists but she also intended to see if anyone new caught her eye. They do exist! 

A Seemingly Friendly Photo Opportunity
The collector helped us find our way to Spectrum: Live and after checking in we moved towards the opening ceremonies. On our way to opening ceremonies we saw what I thought was a good photo opportunity and briefly stepped outside to take a picture of the above building... Only we suddenly found ourselves locked outside the convention center. A few minutes of knocking on a door someone let us back inside and we returned to the main room just in time for the opening ceremonies.

Spectrum Live 2 Entrance Hall
At the opening ceremonies Cathy and Arnie Fenner made a few announcements, the largest of which that they'd be stepping down as Spectrum's editors to usher in the next generation. They've seen us through 20 Spectrum volumes [books] over 20 years and were solely responsible for every person's attendance at Spectrum Live so this is really big news. For those without a point of comparison it's something akin to George Lucas saying that he's stepping down from Star Wars... After the release of Episode VI. Or Steve Jobs perhaps.

The Main Room
After opening ceremonies Kaitlin and I made use of our press-badges to walk around a bit and set up times to interview the various people on our list. At one point we probably looked exceedingly lost, holding the event map (perhaps upside down?), pointing at it and speaking in hushed German, when Cathy Fenner walked over to us and asked if she could help us find what we were looking for. For reference to non-convention/festival goers, it's insanely rare that an event is running so well that the person in charge of it has time to talk to its attendees or move at any pace slower than a jog while putting out multiple proverbial fires simultaneously. Spectrum: Live 2 was one such well-run event and this interaction was only the beginning of the overwhelming kindness and exceedingly friendly attitudes we experienced that weekend.

Tom Babbey creates fantasy wildlife portraits and concepts
While walking the aisles we met countless artists. We met a talented digital artist named Steve Argyle, an illustrator who creates magnificent scenes of nature named Cory Godbey, a cross medium artist whose works I immediately recognized with admiration with named John Stanko, an artist whose work I couldn't take my eyes off named Tohru Patrick Awa, and a young man who specializes in cross-hatching and pointillism (you know, the insane art of drawing millions of dots to create an image?) named Jeremy Bastian, who makes single images that tell the original story of the Cursed Pirate Girl (his creation)!

Justin Sweet and Vance Kovacs
We saw paintings so detailed it looked like they were pictures of sculpts, sculpts so real they looked ready to move, and images that looked like photos of beasts that couldn't possibly exist! We saw a Face Off finalist, a few Games Workshop artists, Magic: The Gathering artists, and people working on paintings as we walked by!

Steven Belledin
After awhile of walking we finally reached a booth I recognized all too well that contained the covers to two BADASS books, some familiar Magic (The Gathering) Cards, as well as a picture I knew all too well for my upcoming Careless Juja album. So it was that we finally met Steven Belledin (and his wife) in person. Once the booth was a little less busy I got a chance to interview Belledin in the main hall. Belledin has become something of a friend over the last few months and it was really neat to finally meet him in person. It's funny how many friends in life we only interact with online. The interview (my first official interview on behalf of MF) felt fairly natural, almost more like a casual conversation than a real interview because many of the questions from the interview were things I'd wanted to ask him without the need for a press badge. I'll be posting the interview (along with all the others) once Mir Fantastiki gives me the green light. It's worth noting that midway through the interview we were interrupted by a mysteriousloud singing over the PA system, followed by someone apologizing and saying they had no idea what just happened. Perhaps Columbia had finally returned?

Dan Dos Santos
Immediately after interviewing Belledin, we caught up with fellow Firefly enthusiast and super-talented painter Dan Dos Santos! For those not familiar with him check out his website or the regularly updated Muddy Colors Blog! The interview was just as enjoyable as Belledin's, despite my nervousness and despite having some really tough questions to ask him in a non-offensive way. Dos Santos's answers, especially to the tough questions, made me smile and I think he gave a fantastic defense to the future of physical medium art (which I'm clearly a pretty big fan of). My favorite quote from the interview, admittedly borrowed, was his definition of Fantasy as being "the place where nature ends..."

Arnie and Cathy Fenner
Later we caught up on the evening’s festivities on the 16th floor of the Aladdin Hotel. There was a live model drawing and countless artists were involved. Lacking the proper materials to take part in the drawing festivities we socialized and met with (of all people) some Ringling Graduates from Sarasota, the place we’d just left to come to Spectrum Live. We casually chatted while enjoying the free food. It was a pretty fantastic way to end a long day.

Day 5 - Saturday May 18th, 2013: The Second Day of Spectrum

The next morning we had a quick breakfast and bumped into Brom, who immediately made time for an interview. Brom was much taller (in height) than expected and was extremely animated and friendly. He spoke to us with a manner of familiarity, as if we were longtime friends, kind of like those who share my condition interact with the world. I felt fairly confident in my journalistic abilities by this interview and after the formal discussions were concluded he politely signed the aforementioned Elric poster and Kaitlin's copy of The Child Thief. Strange oddity: he drew a stylistic skull in the book next to his name. Previously (but taken out before bringing it down from the hotel) the book had a paper bookmark of a skull Kaitlin had drawn some years back when she first picked up the book. If it were anyone else I'd call it coincidence...

Charles Vess
Next we interviewed Charles Vess. There was an instant familiarity with him as well and it was like I’d known him for years though I was certainly meeting him for the first time. We talked about many things in the interview (or just during the course of the weekend) and at one point he started mentioning that he was interested in some of my favorite artists and Russian folk stories like Baba Yaga, artists Ivan Bilibin, and Yoshitaka Amano. I was impressed with his knowledge of fantasy art, but it all soon made sense as shortly after the interview he gave a presentation on the evolution of Fantasy Art. It's easy to see that he breathes this stuff and even if he wasn't an artist I strongly suspect that he’d still have the same passion.

Jon Foster
The rest of the day was kicked into overdrive and before I knew it the day was done. I interviewed David Petersen, Jon Foster, and W.A.R.. Petersen is a fellow gaming/comic guy who followed his dreams and created one of my favorite worlds: Mouseguard! Foster is a friendly and soft spoken artist who has created fantastic pieces for some titanic projects (like Buffy & Star Wars)! Wayne Reynolds is quick-tongued and a fellow pen and paper gamer who more or less created the standard for the visual art of Pathfinder & the D&D 4th Edition! It was really cool to shake the hands that made the artwork for most of the books I own...

David Petersen
Kaitlin and I made our rounds through the rest of Spectrum Live, meeting John Picacio, a man who's worked on two Elric books and A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones). We passed an art panel where someone was creating an image of Mr. Spock and also met a fantastic painter named Eirich Olson who was returning to his calling after taking a few years off to become a parent.

Art Panel by Greg Manchess you can see here
After stopping by the last of the booths we changed into more formal clothes and headed to the award ceremony, which was located at the absolutely stunning Midland Theater. All questions as to why the award ceremony wasn't just held in the convention hall immediately vanished as we entered the ornate main hall. Bronze cherubs, glass murals, carved wood, and fantastic fabrics gave the immediate sense that we were truly at the exclusive award ceremony to honor the best fantasy artists in the world.

Photos were effectively impossible to take with my camera
The ceremony opened with a dance troupe that incorporated video, lights, costumes, and music to create an amazing display. My favorite part of the dance involved a single dancer moving in tandem with her "spirit", a larger than life version of herself projected via video display that was both in front of her and behind her. It's difficult to describe and if a video ever pops up online I'll link it here. After the dance was the actual award giving part of the ceremony where we watched as many of the people we interviewed or spoke with walked up, one by one, getting either a gold or silver award. The best speech without a doubt was Vess walking up, saying “Thank you” and walking off without blinking to near-deafening applause. The evening was in full attendance, half of which were in professional attire, and it was nice to see Arnie and Cathy (now the "former" Editors of Spectrum) give out awards one last time as Brom won the Grand Master award. Then, just like that, the evening was over and the final day of Spectrum had begun.

Day 6 - Sunday May 19th, 2013: The Final Day of Spectrum

Krampus by Thomas Kuebler
The last day went by far too quickly. We did our last rounds, talked to a few more artists we’d missed on the prior days, and got a last minute photo with a Krampus sculpture (made by Thomas Kuebler) before it was already time to depart and take the long road back to Sarasota. The road home went by a lot faster with the book on tape and we stopped somewhere near Alabama.

Day 7 - Monday May 20th, 2013

The Bradenton River
The ride back was quick and we somehow dodged all the bad weather in our path until we hit Florida. We finished The Child Thief and crossed the familiar landmarks back home. Spectrum: Live 2 was a fantastic experience and I sincerely hope to be back for their next event.

The Batman

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