Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tripping the LIVE! Fantastic

Greg Manchess

Just returned from the fourth Spectrum Fantastic Art LIVE! held in Kansas City.

This year was one of the best yet with so many attendees, and packed with artists. But the real difference this time was the quality of art. Especially the level of skills presented in all of the portfolios I looked through over the weekend. Good. Really good.

Amazingly good.

Took a quick shot of one of Spectrum's masterminds, and Muddy's own Arnie Fenner (Cathy was there, too!) on the Iron Throne.

I usually give portfolio reviews throughout the event not only because I make myself available, but because I want to see what upcoming artists are thinking about. There was a marked advance in skill and insight evident across the range of books.

I felt that last year showed a bump in progress in the samples. Handling of practical skills like value, color, composition, and concept advanced away from the typical feeling of a young professional’s post-graduate offerings. Far less figure studies for example. An art director needs to see much more than just the capability of handling a figure. They need to know that an artist can manipulate figures into scenes and concepts.

Reviewing Sasha R. Jones' portfolio together...

I don’t know what happened between last year and this, but there’s definitely a disturbance in The Force. Maybe it was Spectrum 21 coming out and being so incredibly good. Maybe it’s that far more genre artists are really paying focused attention to their progress and taking bigger risks. It just seemed that the level of understanding of how to engage the viewer had risen to a place where talking with young artists felt more like guiding them toward their goals than pointing out problems and explaining how to fix them.

Besides doing portfolio reviews at my booth and around the hall, I gave a painting demo on the main stage. I had sixty precious minutes to knock out a portrait demonstrating the way I go about structuring a head. This year: Furiosa, from Mad Max (because Irene Gallo made me).

Saturday evening’s gala awards event was as dramatic and encouraging as ever. The Folly Theater sparkled with an aire of old show biz, with energy rivaling the Academy Awards. Nowhere in this industry is there an event anything like it.

Bill Carman, above, and the front row reserved seating for nominees...things were a little EXCITING....

Everyone on stage, from introductions to eventual winners, spoke with such a relaxed confidence in front of an audience made invisible by bright lights that it seemed the whole genre world was watching with loving support for each and every one of them. We all laughed, some came to tears, but all were cheered to happiness. And then Gary Giani gave the most theatrical introduction for Scott Gustafson being presented the Grand Master Award it was worthy of an Oscar itself.

Pre gala, l to r: Irene Gallo, Zoe Robinson, and Cynthia Shepard

There’s never enough time to get around to see all the booths or hang with all the folks I want to chat art with. From seeing old friends to making new ones, meeting bright-eyed graduates, or seasoned pros, it’s nonstop. Then it’s back to the hotel for a relaxed evening of shop talk.

Hangin' with Bill Carman and Arnie Fenner at the Marriott....

WiFi (Women in Fantasy illustration) gathering for a shot at the Alamo Draft House!

All the artists gathered for a group shot to wish good health for our close pal, artist Allen Williams, who couldn't attend.

The art field expands and yet, The Genre Family gets tighter every time. I wonder what’s in store for this coming year. I bet the whole industry is on its way to phenomenal new visions.


  1. I cannot even begin to explain how absolutely brilliant the entire experience was for me. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

  2. I'll second what Elizabeth said. This weekend provided an extreme boost in confidence, inspiration and overall drive for me, aided in large part by your detailed and insightful critique of my portfolio (not to mention the others I got when Iain, Cynthia, Goni and the rest all showed up at once!). Thanks again so much for your time Greg, it's insanely appreciated. For anyone on the fence about going to Spectrum, DO IT.

  3. Considering how much they charge for you to submit art for consideration in the Spectrum book, it would be nice if they would at least send you and email saying your work was not chosen!
    Sorry this was not about the big party. Just needed to maybe get this out where someone who has some connection with Spectrum might see and consider informing those artists who spent money to try and get art in the book that their art was not good enough!

    1. Early on we sent out both "you got in" and "you didn't get in" notices. NO other art competition--not one--did that and we quickly discovered why: the "you didn't get in" notices were treated by a number of recipients as rejections and they generated a number of angry responses, including lots of profanity-strewn, entirely false accusations and even a few threats. A few bad apples ruin it for everyone, as the saying goes. So Spectrum (now under John Fleskes' guidance) follows the standard ALL competitions use and only notifies those with work selected: even then notices can go unread or wind up in spam filters and the artists have to be notified more than once to get their repro files in on time. There are only so many hours in the day. The names are posted on the website and it is incredibly easy to go down the list and either find out if you're on it or you aren't.

    2. I'm sorry you and whoever else was responsible for those letters had to tolerate fury and threats.

      This SFAL was one of the best weekends of my life. The sense of community Spectrum creates is invaluable.

    3. Thank You for explaining why they don't do it. I am also sorry that some reacted badly to not being chosen. Angry, nasty letters were uncalled for. Still wish there was a way to let people know other than looking at a list, but at least now I know why. Doubt it will be an issue for me next time since I most likely will never submit art again, but I do appreciate your response!

    4. Curious why you won't submit again....?

    5. Gregory, I won't submit again because I can't afford to throw away the money when in all likelihood they will never pic my art.

    6. I couldn't be a better example of someone who has spent years submitting to competitions and never getting in (Not just Spectrum but nearly every illustration competition). I never really took it to heart that my pieces weren't selected, I took it as initiative to better my skill sets and focus on what it is that I can provide to the community that no one else can. The combination of passion, drive, and patience has literally turned into a Gold Medal at the SFAL4 ceremony, something I never thought would happen. Especially when I was just looking to get my name in front of art directors and established artists. I'll never look at submitting to these non profit organizations as "throwing away money" regardless of whether or not I get accepted into an annual, its going benefit someone out there who's still trying to get a foot in the door. Which will make the competition that much harder, making me work that much harder, and the community that much stronger. This was my first time attending such a convention, much less flying out from California, and the experience and people that you meet are worth every penny.

    7. Taylor, I am 58, I have been painting all my life and people seem to like my work but the "right people" apparently don't or have not seen it. That being said, I do get discouraged when I don't get in when I submit art. Getting NO feedback does not help (I understand why they can't/don't for Spectrum) having no clue WHY your work was not selected can be very bad. Glad things changed for you but with my limited income, my failing health and no "professional" feedback, to me spending money to send art that most likely will be rejected is NOT worth it. And you say it goes to a good cause to help other artists...EVERY artists I have seen in a Spectrum is known! Has book covers or other media visibility and can afford to spend the money! I have never seen someone who does not have a "name" of some sort in Spectrum. Big names are the vast majority, new artists are rare to non existent in all the Spectrums I have (and that is most of not all of them)!

    8. Tristan, you either obviously have not looked very closely at Spectrum or you're allowing your disappointment to distort the truth. There are new and otherwise "unknown" artists in EVERY single book--often mostly in the Unpublished category, but in other categories as well. They are there and ALWAYS have been--and their numbers are growing. If you're claiming to know the names and work history of every artist in Spectrum, you must know a lot more than I do (and I've been a professional artist for 40 years). I have discovered new and emerging talent in Spectrum from the very beginning: I know that will continue.

      Jon Foster has said that appearing in Spectrum helped kickstart his career; others have said similar things (which we've always found gratifying). In fact, Audrey Benjaminsen just won two awards for her work in Spectrum 22 last weekend and she graduated from college only days before the ceremony. It doesn't get much "newer" or professionally "unknown" than that.

      When it comes to competitions (of any sort) there are never any guarantees: that's why they're called competitions. Being selected is not an entitlement. Certainly, if participating is a financial strain or the idea of not getting in is upsetting, you shouldn't: taking part is supposed to be enjoyable, not a source of anger or resentment.

  4. It was a pleasure to have you at the show again this year, Greg. Great to read about your experience, it brings the many wonderful memories of this past weekend flooding back. It is an unforgettable experience to feel the sense of community that arises at SFAL. This year was indeed the best yet.

  5. Hey Tristan...this is indeed a good place to get attention for your thoughts about the process for entering. I feel your pain, my friend. I've spent many years getting those so-called ‘rejection’ letters. From nearly every show that’s out there. And now all I get is silence when I don't get in. I missed out on a couple shows this year.

    What--you're surprised? Don't be.

    Every year the industry shifts and changes and things go in and out of favor and style. I fight just as hard today as I ever did to get into shows. I have to really focus on which image to send in, and which ones to leave out. I usually send in about 10. If you're only sending about 1 in a year, then consider painting more so that you have a broader selection to choose from with your art.

    I do paint better now than I did years ago, but the situation is still as tenuous as ever. Judges are people, too. They have a range of interests and also, popular things rule for a time and then fall out of favor. This isn't hard to understand.

    Here's a post I wrote about the process of entering shows that may help:

    But you ALWAYS stings. I’ve learned that it’s just not as much a ‘rejection’ as it is disinterest. Or even just that a judge or judges may have several pieces they are deciding on, and mine just didn’t make the cut. All-in-all, it’s hard not to take it personally. But....keep going anyway. That’s what I had to do.

    Y’know what REALLY hurts? Finding out later from a friend that a painting of mine in some show was considered for a medal....but was eventually ruled out. ARG.

    I’m sorry that you didn’t get a notice, too, but I do think that Arnie answered that accurately. You wouldn’t believe how rude artists can be. Especially the men.

    Anyway.....stay after it.

    1. One *very slight* disagreement with a comment by my Grandfather Greg (he is SO much older than I, after all) in this answer that I otherwise entirely agree with and that is: "I’ve learned that it’s just not as much a ‘rejection’ as it is disinterest." There are always good judges and not-so-good judges on any jury, but I don't think any of them could be described as "disinterested." I don't think any of them would agree to sit on a jury if that were the case (and while Cathy and I were organizing juries there were MANY prospective judges who turned us down). I know from the times you were a judge for Spectrum, your focus was intense and each vote cast was deeply considered. The vast majority of Spectrum jurors have been equally serious in doing their job--which doesn't make being not being selected for the annual any less disappointing, but should hopefully provide a level of consolation that no decisions were reached--no votes were cast, no awards presented--without thought and consideration.

    2. Absolutely dead on, you whipper-snapper, Arnie. I definitely misspoke. "Disinterest" was not the word. I leave what you said as gospel.

      Amen and all that.

    3. And to include everyone in on the joke, Greg is a whole 6 weeks older than me. Which makes him positively ANCIENT when compared to my youthful self. :-)

    4. I am very prolific, I do a lot of art in a year and I do many styles. I could never afford to send 10 pictures in at $20 a pop! and They limit you to how many you can send anyway. Thanks anyway. in case you want to see some idea of what I have done lately.

    5. Again, Tristan, while you're entitled to you opinion and I understand your disappointment at not being selected for inclusion in Spectrum 22, please keep the facts straight: there is NO limit on how many pieces an artist may enter. 1 is just as acceptable as 100 (though with entry fees it's always wise to self-edit and enter only the work an artist considers their "best"). Also there is a price break on "series" entries (works related either by a project or thematic content): 5 related pieces per "series" for $40.

      And what are the entry fees used for? To pay the expenses of convening a jury (Spectrum is the only competition for fantastic art in which the jurors are all together to cast their votes--no other genre art competition does what Spectrum does or has the same overhead expenses), to defray the cost of the call for entries poster and postage (even in this digital age, there is value in physical objects and symbols), to help offset the cost of the awards, to help subsidize museum (3 so far and counting) and gallery exhibitions of fantastic art, and in general help promote and grow the market and appreciation for fantastic art and artists everywhere, whether they have work selected for Spectrum or not. Everything goes back into helping, promoting, and otherwise benefitting the community.

    6. Tristan...please read that link I sent.

      $20 'a pop' is minimal in this business. Some shows ask for $50 per. Also, entering and getting into a show like Spectrum is ADVERTISING YOU COULD NEVER PAY FOR.
      Two hundred dollars is rock bottom advertising costs for a freelancer per year.

      I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on promotion, advertising, entry fees, and hanging fees over the course of my career. I always bit the bullet, but realized it was the only way to get the work out there and seen. Don't wait for the world to knock on your door. It won't. It cares less. You alone must take and make the effort to show your work.

      Attention takes time. Sometimes people may call you an overnight success, but when you look into it, you find that it's taken a long time to develop.

      Anyway, I'm not trying to convince you about entering Spectrum. I'm trying to get the idea across that you must take risks with your work, your advertising, and your promotion.

    7. Arnie I never said I personally knew all the artists, just that they were known! That they were not obscure talents...but either I know a lot more of the not so famous artists I have seen in Spectrum, or I have missed the new ones you mentioned.
      Gregory, I have been showing my art at SciFi conventions and any place I could for over 30 years. I can not afford to throw money away on the off chance Spectrum will pick my art I have a better chance buying lotto tickets! And it takes time sis a tired old saw that I have heard since I was 8, I have been doing art and selling art for over 40 years and I think that is enough time! And Arnie just threw that out the window anyway by telling me about the person straight out of college who just won two Spectrum awards, so didn't take them time did it? Anyway, I have and do take risks, push my self and my work but apparently I am not good enough or the "right" people have not seen my work.

    8. I'd say it's that you've missed many new artists that have appeared and appear in each Spectrum. A website or page on Deviant Art or posts on Facebook do not make you "known," but let's not get sidetracked debating definitions for "known" and "obscure." I'm sorry your career hasn't gone the way you wanted and sorry that you were disappointed at not being selected for inclusion in Spectrum 22. And I'm also sorry that you've repeatedly referred to the entry fees (that are used to benefit everyone) as money thrown away. Spectrum is sort of like a marathon; not everyone who enters is going to cross the finish line first (or even cross it at all). Everybody wants to win, but there's a certain satisfaction that is hopefully derived from participating, in taking part in the community. That's not your view, I guess, and that's perfectly fine. I wish you well and hope you're successful in the future.

  6. Can understand Tristan's stance. Why don't they just send out semi-automated notices from a mailbox that isn't monitored? A mailbox that cleans itself out, that way the good and the bad responses are not even read.

    It isn't difficult and personally would rather receive an automated confirmation ("in" or "not") than nothing at all.

    Simply stating that all other competitions don't send out notices either almost makes it sound that Spectrum doesn't want to be special, they just want to be another art-competition.

    Then again, Spectrum has probably investigated all avenues, but still understand Tristan.

  7. I too understand and agree with Nicolay on the semi-automated notices. It seems easy enough.

    Tristan, on not submitting again. For some perspective, in baseball a hitter is considered successful with a .300 batting average. That means he walks back to the dugout 7 out of ten times.
    Just keep swinging.

  8. Nicolay, David, & Tristan, while you might all be courteous and appreciate some sort of formal notice that you didn't make it in a competition, many others have shown they are not quite as polite or appreciative of the communication. Many want what they want, not necessarily what they actually receive.

    Believe me when I say that we received MANY defensive and abusive responses (including phone calls) for years before we finally decided the current course was the most positive way to handle it, for ourselves and for participants. There are those who want reasons and explanations, others who want to know if their not getting in was some sort of clerical error, others who want critiques, etc., etc., etc. No matter what is done, you can't satisfy everyone and every effort, even those that seem "easy" requires time, assets, and energy that might better be devoted to other aspects of the competition. It has always been my experience that ideas/suggestions/solutions are only "easy" for those not actually doing the work.

    Maybe John will change that in the future and do some sort of blanket notification, but for the time being an acceptance list online seems the easiest, certainly gentle and benign, and the least confrontational method to let people know. I honestly don't think getting a direct "you didn't make it" email makes anything "better"; nobody likes not making the cut (and I have had my art rejected 100 more times than I've made it). Unfortunately history has shown that it only makes the rejection seem more personal when there was absolutely nothing personal about the the judges' decisions.

  9. "...but still understand Tristan."

    I will ALWAYS understand Tristan's feelings. I have similar ones myself. As we age, it doesn't get any better. We just learn to deal with it much less defensively.

    But I will never understand why he's chosen not to enter again. Now he's done the classic response. The way around this is what David said: keep swinging.

    (don't get me started talking about Talent, you guys.)

  10. Btw, Arnie and I met over one of my complaints, 21 years ago.

    I called him to complain that the image numbers didn't match the page numbers, or something to that affect. I picked up the phone before I gave myself time to think about it. I'd been used to how the Society designed their annual.

    He was gracious and said, "Greg...the numbers ARE the page numbers. You find your image by the page, not the image."

    Well, duuuuh. I apologized immediately and mentioned something about me being a moron, and that I probably made the call because I cared that Spectrum "did it right." He laughed out loud.

    We've been close friends ever since.

  11. It was one of the best phone calls I've ever received. :-)