Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The 2013 ISCA Convention, St. Pete's, Florida

What do you get when you combine a class reunion, a fetish ball, art school, clown college, a tech trade show, a drinking club, an international relations summit, and a sleep-deprivation marathon? You get the annual International Society of Caricature Artists convention. Bringing together 167 competing artists from 12 different countries, the con just wrapped up in St. Pete's Beach, Florida, and I was lucky enough to attend most of it. (This year, due to prior gigs and bad planning, I had to bail out early and miss the awards banquet--but really the exciting part for me is the frenetic lead-up to final artwork and voting!)
Figuring out which likeness to vote for is a daunting task.

Over the decades, the ISCA con has evolved into a well-planned series of seminars, competitions, and social networking opportunities that one cannot experience anywhere else or any other time. I'm still recuperating from it, so bear with me as I type out a stream-of-consciousness rundown of events.

See my last post for Sunday night's icebreaker and ARTFIGHTS (hosted by Matt Zitman and Nolan Harris). After that, and a couple of morning seminars on facial geometry basics and marketing tips, there was the LIKENESS COMPETITION. This is a highly-attended contest in which artists draw from slides projected onto a large screen. We get a few practice faces and then three that count, and we are given ten minutes to draw each subject. "Pencils down!" always seems to be yelled out before you're ready. All drawings are then placed on the wall, surrounding a printout of the photo, and the participants vote. It is humbling, every time, to see your perfect little creation sink into oblivion on the wall of a hundred or so entries. And such a variety of ways to capture the same person. Sure, they have varying degrees of success, but often you see two diametrically opposed stretches somehow both work at capturing the same person. Deciding who to vote for is insanely hard. Winners aren't announced until the banquet on Friday, so after voting everyone heads back to the shenanigans in the main drawing pavilion.

The fruits of my efforts in the
30-minute gig competition.
Then later that same night the GIG ARTIST COMPETITION was held. I went ahead and participated in this, a first time for me. Other artists serve as volunteers and we draw for 30 minutes, creating as many gig-worthy drawings as we can, which are then judged based on quality AND quantity. I cranked out 10 faces in that half-hour, way over my typical gig speed estimate (due to adrenaline maybe?), and I was certainly not among the top few artists in this category. The really fun thing about this contest was seeing the other artist-models do their impersonations of party guests. Crowding the artist, demanding you draw "just one more," and asking if you have a real job too. It went on and on. But--unlike your typical party gig--we could counter this heckling with no punches pulled. Everyone channeled their inner insult comic and uncensored verbal barbs were flying all over the place; things came out of my mouth that I'd never DREAM of uttering to a Bar Mitzvah mom or a bride's father. It was cathartic to say the least!

By the time the gig competition ended, it was nearly 11pm . . . but that's about the time things start rockin' and rollin' in the drawing pavilion. This room stays open all day and all night, and it's always filled with folks socializing, drinking, and working on their pieces. Caricaturists had staked out territory and little groups had formed. The atmosphere is far too inclusive and egalitarian for me to call them "cliques," but little work groups form based on geography, interests, and friendship. I sat near Pennsylvania artist Emily Anthony (also my roomie & fellow carny at the Texas State Fair), the delightful mistress of paper cutting Beejay Hawn, and Blind Ferret webcomic artist (and owner of a celebrated beard) Lar deSouza. Here and there were tables occupied by Korean artists, Japanese artists, European artists, and American artists who had worked together at Kaman's Art Shoppe or Fasen Arts or on the fair & festival circuit. Dutch licorice, Belgian chocolate, and Canadian maple cookies were passed out by those who resided in such faraway locales. Newbies to the con (wearing a bright green dot on their convention badge) were taken around and introduced here and there by mutual acquaintances.
Controlled chaos in the drawing pavilion. 

The work was just starting. People zipped around taking photos and video of other artists they wanted to draw (or sculpt, or paint, or otherwise render). The weird-looking artists were highly sought after. Easels were pulled around the room, electrical outlets were found, secured, and defended like watering holes on the Serengeti (okay, it wasn't quite so cut-throat, but with SO many digital artists electricity was in demand!).

Rounding out the international credentials of this con was our guest speaker, Venezuelan painter and caricaturist extraordinaire Jota Leal. He gave a talk and showcased his work, apologizing that he was new to public speaking, a "virgin" as he put it, and added "like it is with virgins, this will probably be bad and over quickly." For someone who did not speak English as a native tongue, Jota was quick-witted and very good at making himself understood. Later he gave a special presentation for the "gold members" of ISCA (those who pay a slightly higher fee in exchange for a few perks). Surrounded by a few dozen eager apprentices, Jota fielded questions as he painted a quick black-and-white acrylic study of Leonard Cohen. In just under two hours (and a couple glasses of wine) the painting took shape before our eyes; Jota kindly donated the piece for the ISCA fundraising auction to be held at the awards banquet.

The drawing pavilion was quickly filling up with every kind of caricature one can imagine--and a few kinds that defy imagination. And artists get downright silly as the week wears on and the wee hours of the morning creep in. 
"You really should have shaded her nose in more,"
complained the scantily clad art critics

Alcohol was in good supply, and various strands of music were leaking from phones here and there. At around one in the morning, Sarasota artist Michael White cranked Haddaway's "What Is Love/Baby Don't Hurt Me" and shouted "DANCE BREAK EVERYBODY!" He was joined by Englishman Steve Hearn and the two of them boogied furiously for the next five minutes before settling back into their chairs. But that little interlude paled in comparison with what walked in at 3 a.m. on the night before judging. Kirby Rudolph and Cory Lally showed up baring almost all, and strutted their stuff in green and orange bikinis, making fellow artists squeal and squirm. Their little escapade inspired a few pieces of art, of course. Maybe that's why they waited until 3 a.m. the day before judging to stroll around like that--just to inflict more insomnia on the already slap-happy caricature artists who cannot resist drawing something to memorialize a scene like that.

If you show up like that, it will get drawn.
I went with a graphic (in more ways than one) depiction of the two beach bunnies--but I replaced Kirby and Cory with body doubles in the shape of ISCA board members Wade Collins and Chris Galvin. Jared Stokes drew a delightful retro-looking image of a beachside Cory being stripped by a Kirby pup, a la those old classic tanning lotion advertisements that featured a much cuter, feminine model. 
Taka Wanatabe's version of Jeff, left, won best Master Caricature
 of the Year. I still don't know who did the one on the right!

Despite all these distractions, the variety of art that sprung up on the pavilion walls was truly jaw-dropping (as has come to be expected at these cons). An array of techniques that spanned all mediums and approaches: basic geometric shapes to incredibly highly rendered painterly work to sculpture with mixed media to digital art. And one of the remarkable things about caricature is that there is no one right stretch for any face. One artist might choose one direction, and another might go a completely different way, but if they are successful caricatures, then the identity of the subject will be obvious in both. Look at San Antonio artist Jeff Pecina, on the left here. The highly rendered acrylic by golden nosey holder Taka Wanatabe and the goofy cut-out both capture him but in such different ways! And same goes for longtime ISCA member and The-Nose.com operator Tad Barney, whose nostrils have become the stuff of legends.
Tad's mug captured by the delightfully twisted Eric Goodwin (l)
and cut out of wood and printed by Chris Neuenschwander (r).

The SPEED COMPETITION was held toward the middle of the con, with artists competing in separate heats to determine finalists and then a winner for "World's Fastest Caricaturist." The emphasis here is on speed speed speed, though a small group of judges does peruse the completed drawings and toss ones that are incomplete or have no likeness at all. (As a former board member, I was one of the judges for the speed competition a few years back. There is also sometimes a bump-up for quality; any artist showing exceptional likeness quality will get an extra point or something. but I have no idea how the judging equation has changed since then). Each heat is five minutes long, and competitors generate 15, 20, sometimes 25 drawings in that short stretch of time! I cranked out just 10, a far cry from the winner, Steve Dorris, who produced 26 drawings to grab the title this year.
Some of the drawings that were produced of me during the
speed competition. The one in the middle captures me, no?
The speed competition is really an exercise in freeing up your mind from worrisome constraints that you'd feel at a gig or a retail environment--granted, you replace them with a singular, overriding worrisome constraint, as your brain screams GO GO GO DRAW FASTER and you try to economize every line you put to paper. The results are spare and resemble gestural contour drawings. The music fills the room and the nimble-footed models (other artists not competing in your heat) jump directly into your chair when you shout "Next!" . . . No one heckles or acts snarky as they do in the gig competition. Everyone is focused like a caricature laser. I feel a spike of adrenaline during this surreal five minutes, and what my brain learns here really does seem to benefit me at every rushed gig I work for the next year.
Some of the artists drew from media and pop culture to get inspiration: My Little Manny
Pony (by Brian Oakes), the ISCA officers ready to transport down to a planet's surface
 (by Emily Anthony), and Nolan Harris getting the serial killer treatment from his friend Dexter
 Rothchild (by Rob Dumuhosky) and showing off his super alter ego (by Kosuke Miyagi).

Back in the drawing pavilion, caricature magic was happening all over the place, and a few artists who sprung for vendor tables were dividing their time between transactions and producing art. Between diaper changes and playing with his three young girls, Belgian caricature  master Jan Op De Beeck was doodling people in the front pages of his new book, Sketching Is Fun. Miguel Aguilar also offered his new book of bizarre and fascinating ink drawings, Absolute Elsewhere, and the Pankeys offered their homemade jams and preserves.
The 3D submissions were varied and clever this year!

The 3-D category, which I've been a contender in for some years now, just seems to grow outward and upward each year. Elizabeth Pankey and Deb Donnelly were working away at a sewing machine, and Emi Soto Op De Beeck (wife of Jan) crocheted an adorable Matt Zitman. 
Beejay Hawn produced a gorgeous papercrafted threesome of the young Op De Beeck girls in the "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" pose. Multi-year champion Johanna Veerenhuis, from the Netherlands, created beautiful Sculpey statuettes of long-distance paramours Matt Zitman and Beejay Hawn, him holding a beer and her posed aggressively in her Artfights outfit. I worked on just one 3D piece this year, of Teague Tysseling (his adorable goatee bow-tie and watch fob were just too much to resist, I had to sculpt him).

I had to go buy a $6 clearance necklace in the hotel gift shop to make Teague's watch chain. . . . That's one of the fun challenges of 3D: you sometimes have to go on a scavenger hunt or call upon MacGyver, the patron saint of improvisational use of materials. No one ever brings EVERYTHING they will need to a con. You simply cannot anticipate where your artwork will head and what supplies you will need to get there. At one of the first cons I attended, my luggage was misplaced by the airline and left on the tarmac in pouring rain, ruining all my paper. Artists from Japan gave me drawing board and had me try out the watercolors they were using. Others gave me paper and various implements to use. Johanna has gifted me with Sugru, a special self-setting rubberized putty that hardens in minutes and is great for repairing Sculpey cracks, and I have traded clay with a few Asian artists who had completely different materials than those available in the U.S. Belgian Karel Op De Beeck (brother to Jan)  kindly supplied aluminum foil for those of us sculptors who needed it.  
A few progress shots of my Teauge sculpture and then the man himself holding the goods. 
The past few years we have been lucky enough to wrangle a local art store into setting up a temporary art shop right in the drawing pavilion, and though this year the art supply vendor only showed up for one day, I was grateful. I bought two packs of Sculpey and then borrowed acrylic paints and brushes from Nate Kapickney, who seemed to think he came out great in the bargain because I gave him a watery rum and Coke from the hotel bar.
Dutch Sculpey queen Johanna Veerenhuis
is my ISCA friemesis (friend and nemesis).

But, as commerce goes, information trading trumps materials trading--and boy did I get some amazing hands-on training from all kinds of brilliant people! You pick up a lot from the seminars, but learning doesn't end there. Two Wacom reps came and demonstrated their new Cintiq Companions and hybrid units, as well as a new pressure-sensitive stylus made for the iPad. I was all set to buy one until Orlando artists Ted Tucker and Keelan Parham warned me that the Bluetooth connection on them fails when you work next to another artist using one--and since all my digital gigs tend to be in close quarters with other artists, that's a purchase-killer for me. Ted is a natural trainer and kindly sat with me for long stretches, showing me aspects of the ArtStudio app that I had not discovered yet. The several key tips I absorbed from him will greatly help my process at my next digital gig! I was able to peek over Lar deSouza's shoulder as he drew and colored his daily strip, Least I Could Do, and he gave me some great photoshop shortcuts that will help my coloring and shading. Bob East ("Beast") was putting together his Friday seminar on animation, which I would sadly have to miss due to my early plane flight, so he said "Well sit down!" What followed was my own little mini-seminar on old-school animation techniques and a viewing of some of the hilarious work he and his colleagues did on the SNL cartoon "Ambiguously Gay Duo." I definitely picked up things I could use on my next few Vine
Jeremy Townsend (Jert) had a body that was in demand! Ali Thome (top) won first
place for "Outstanding Body Situation" for her take on Jert's inner workings, and
Emily Anthony included a flip-open mask for the oversized Gorn featured on her
Star Trek themed wall piece.
 stop-motion videos. 

Social connections happen too, of course, and (for better or for worse) like any other close-knit group, ISCA revolves around personal dynamics. Some complained that in this tech-reliant age we have mostly switched from life drawing to just snapping phone pics and drawing in solitary confinement from laptops. To counter this, Matt Zitman organized a "drawing circle" wherein a few dozen artists simply pulled easels or lap boards into a circle and everyone drew everyone else--live, not from photos. Ha ha, some non-participating artists have called the ISCA con a "circlejerk" and I guess in this case they'd be half right! But seriously, rubbing elbows with admired luminaries or even just the rank-and-file caricaturists of the world is an eye-opening experience. The convention puts people with a very specific skill set--and the weird sense of humor that usually accompanies those skills--all into a room together for several days. The typical artist lives in a city with just a few other artists, or some are the only caricaturist in their region. Coming to your first ISCA con, you feel like Walter from the recent Muppets movie: you've grown up a lone muppet, feeling weird and isolated with no other muppets around, and then suddenly you are surrounded by muppets of every size and shape in a chaotic but fun madhouse, all doing muppetty things and understanding muppet in-jokes and celebrating their muppetness! More than one caricature artist has expressed this joy in terms like "I have found my people!" or "I feel like I have finally rejoined the mother ship!" Romantic relationships spring up. Intimate friendships start or are renewed. 

Who's afraid of a little nudity? Not Steve Dorris (by
Hironori Motohashi) or Heather Joy (by Sakura Tangppopo)!

A close kinship exists at the con that allows for all sorts of off-color jokes, effusive hugging, naked drawings of your peers, and spontaneous displays of affection. I must have counted at least two hundred interactions that would have been branded sexual harassment by the typical HR director. I think I personally instigated at least twenty.

Congratulations, SUCKERSSSSS!!!! Uh, no, I mean thank you for taking up
the hallowed mantle of volunteering to serve ISCA and doing all that work.
Of course, in the midst of all these fun and games, the real work of an organization has to get done. I fought every natural inclination I had and dragged myself to the early-morning ISCA business meeting. (Okay, it was at 10 a.m., but that IS early after so many long nights in the drawing pavilion!) Lorin Bernsen, who I have been lucky enough to consider a good friend for many years now, has helmed ISCA as its president this past year and managed to keep the ship afloat even as he moved all the way to Seoul, Korea, and back again. He is stepping down, and the experienced Chris Galvin will take up his spot, while Wade Collins remains treasurer. Two brave young bucks offered themselves up as new blood, and so the board welcomed Nolan Harris and Matt Zitman into the fold. I can't wait to see what the new 2013-14 ISCA board members cook up for the organization in the year to come! Congratulations, Nolan and Matt! And also an everlasting thanks to Tracey Iverson, who tirelessly works as our organizational guru and people-helper, giving ISCA the illusion of a home office staffed with countless capable receptionists.

As Thursday afternoon turned toward evening, hordes of sleep-deprived artists hung their final caricatures on the walls underneath their competition numbers, culling the weaker pieces and reinforcing the rest with tape (the pavilion was actually a tent, and the "walls" swelled inward and outward with the wind, much to the chagrin of artists not lucky enough to get a spot on the black standing display partitions). I walked around in a weird state between excitement and gloom: So many wonderful new pieces were going up on display and, sadly, I had an airport shuttle to catch. I missed voting, which is always an excruciating process. I also somehow missed seeing Stacy Pierce work on the wonderful, whimsical sculpture that grabbed top honors this year for 3D (Beejay Hawn got 2nd place, and I was awarded 3rd place in absentia, I heard via text message).
Stacy Pierce's awesome award-winning
sculpt of Ali Thome and Jordan Martin.

As to the TOP top honor, the coveted Golden Nosey was awarded to Kosuke Miyagi, with Marcus Sakoda taking the silver and Brian Oakes the bronze. I wish I could have been there to partake in the banquet festivities. My hat's off to ALL the amazing, skilled, funny-pitcher makers who were able to attend this year. Next year the ISCA con will come to my home state of Nevada, to the Peppermill Resort in Reno. 

So start saving your pennies now, all you West Coast artists, that's not far from the Bay Area. I'll probably tough out the 8-hour drive so I can haul up an air compressor . . . and I want to give a seminar . . . and I wonder who Rob and I can room with . . . and . . . and . . .  I can't help it! The only cure for ISCA con withdrawal is happily planning for the NEXT convention . . . 

In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful quick video put together by Ali Thome! 

Click this because I can't seem to upload from Youtube


  1. Hi Celestia,

    Impressive writing. I was thinking of blogging about it but since you have made such an impressive writing. Can I link it to my blog?


  2. What a comprehensive, thoughtful and insightful summary of our convention. Our experiences were on two different tracks running through the same event. Both rich, some overlap but largely different. It was my 13th. There have been many changes. I am so happy you are there.

    Your blog showcases your writing and thoughts. Keep it up.

  3. RIVETING stuff! Thanks so much for the re-cap, catching me up on all the things I missed out on! Can't wait for Reno!!