By Lauren Panepinto

It seems that all my posts this month are going to be travel posts. It’s been a crazy month, for sure, and the 3 conventions/seminars I’ve attended couldn’t be more different—yet they all had parallel themes running through them.

Calgary has a space needle too, I had no idea.

First I wrote about attending and presenting a workshop at ICON, the biannual Illustration convention, in Austin. The majority of attendees at that convention are in mainstream illustration—a lot of editorial and advertising illustrators, and some in publishing. However, between the Roadshow, where Illustrators sell merchandise and handmade items, and the many talks centered on pitching projects to editors, making self-directed projects successful, and publishing your own work, the atmosphere was heavily entrepreneurial.

Next I wrote about being an attendee (for a change), at the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. The most interesting seminar I attended was a look at the careers of two very entrepreneurial bartenders, who went on to open their own bars, publish books, and work on collaborations in art, interior design, furniture design, bar tools, etc.

This past weekend I was a guest speaker and “mentor” at Legendeer, one of the most unique art world experiences I know. Founded by Sterling Hundley, Adam Paquette, and Jeremy Collins, Legendeer is a pairing of an outdoor adventure and a weekend seminar/workshop. Last year it was in Yosemite and San Francisco. This year it was in the Canadian Rockies and Calgary. Unfortunately (or fortunately for everyone else, as I am a New York City native and we are not known for our outdoorsmanship) I couldn’t attend the 5 day expedition through Banff and Jasper, and could only fly in for the weekend seminar. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I admit I was wondering if I was walking into the artist version of the X-Games.

The artists invited to mentor and give talks were such a varied bunch I was curious how they would all fit together. Loic Zimmerman‘s wide-ranging work in illustration, photography, and filmmaking was incredibly impressive. Apolla Echino is one of the most badass women I’ve met, and her new project with her company Appollonia Productions is based on setting herself on adventures and making documentaries about her experiences. Robalu Gibson took us all out of our comfort zones with poetry and spoken word performances. Brian Thompson from Big Fish Games talked about collaboration in studio settings. Ron and Vanessa Lemen you know from this blog already, and I’ll leave them to write up their own recap, but they are amazing illustrators and some of the most giving educators in the illustration world.
Vanessa Lemen running a hands-on workshop
Marc Scheff & I were there for two purposes: first to give a bootcamp on Mindset for artists. That’s a future post in itself, once we get that bootcamp online, but (spoiler alert) it covered Confidence, Body Language, Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets, and how to network without feeling like you’re, well, networking. On Sunday we were on a panel with Sam Flegal and Peter Mohrbacher from the One Fantastic Week podcast, Apolla, and Brian about all the different ways artists can get funded in their careers. On the more traditional end of the spectrum, I represented a company that commissions illustrators and Brian represented a company that has teams of illustrators working in-house. Apolla represented the pitch model, where you pitch companies and investors for support. Pete and Sam represented the kickstarted/crowdfunded model.
A roomful of willing victims playing some of the confidence games in my bootcamp
(including good sport Sterling Hundley)
I have to admit, I felt a little out of place at first, representing the “old way” of doing things, especially at a place like Legendeer, where so many of the speakers have carved out their own paths and work on their own self-directed projects. It felt like all the trips I had taken this month all had the same thread of “entrepreneurship is the goal” running thoughout. But as I said in that panel, and I’ll reiterate here, I don’t think it’s a battle between “doing your own thing” and “doing someone else’s thing”. It’s not that black and white, and to be honest, most of the very successful artists I know work very firmly in the gray area—moving back and forth between the two poles. 
Ron Lemen at the collaborative markmaking workshop
I work with many artists who use commissions to fund their self-directed projects. I also work with artists who use commissions as a stress relief between their entrepreneurial pursuits, which can often get massively overwhelming. There are also many artists I work for who produce much better work (and are much more productive in general) when they have boundaries and feedback to bounce off of. Many of the artists who have the biggest successes as entrepreneurs owe a lot of their success to the followings they built through the commissions they did for big companies.
I think it’s easy to demonize commissions and hold self-directed work up as the end of the rainbow, but I believe the healthiest art careers are engineered with a healthy dose of both.
I think a lot of artists also look at commissions in too negative a light. At it’s most ideal form a commission is not an AD telling an artist what to do. It’s a collaboration and a team effort. Some of the proudest moments in my career have been when I pushed an artist out of their comfort zone into new territory they’ve never explored, then love the result. The best covers are a true collaboration between the AD and the artist, and even the author and editor and publisher. Yes, I know not all ADs and companies work this way. But I strive to, and a lot of other ADs do too. In SFF art, I’m happy to say that far more than half the ADs feel this way. Which is part of what makes it such a great community. I know some companies, and frequently in gaming, artists must stick to a house look, and artists don’t have the same freedom as they do in publishing. However, the true spirit of collaboration can still be there. There’s something about working within boundaries that can really push your creativity, if you approach it in the right mindset, and find it a challenge rather than a frustration.
A table wasn’t big enough to contain Brian Thompson’s work
All in all the Legendeer seminar was so valuable, both to the instructors and the attendees. I’ve never been at an art event where deep philosophical conversation was the norm, and there was so little of the usual industry complaining. Everyone seemed inspired and challenged by all the speakers, and I know the instructors were learning as much as the attendees they were instructing. Thank you to Sterling, Adam, and Jeremy for creating an event that cracks people’s shells wide open and lets their hearts get some air. By the time I got to the event I was happily surprised to see how vulnerable and open and authentic people were striving to be. I think it was a combination of being embedded in nature for a week, guided by instructors who really deeply care about people figuring out and achieving their dreams. Thank you, Legendeer, for letting me be a part of it.