LightBox Expo

LightBox Expo 2019

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend LightBox Expo 2019 with my sister (huge shoutout to her for letting me tag along with her super artsy + talented friends who were all so super sweet. Plus, introducing the Australian folks to In-and-Out burgers + animal fries was fun). Not going to lie: I was seriously impressed with how well organized the event was, considering 2019 was its inaugural year. And while I don’t necessarily consider myself an artist (the title belongs to my sister), I do appreciate art and enjoy hobby sketching during my free time. I’m much better suited to writing, to be honest.

But as I was perusing through the panels/talks and trying to decide which ones to attend, I noticed art and writing–no, storytelling–is very closely entwined. Sure, there were panels about color compositions, figure drawing, costume design, life drawing sessions, and such, but there was also panels about “How to Tell Stories through Illustrations” and “Deconstructing Art Direction with Irene Gallo” (which is just a long title for “how does art get chosen for book covers”). Although I ended up attending 4-5 panels, the two aforementioned ones really stuck out to me.

Deconstructing Art Direction with Irene Gallo

Anything that’s related to writing/publishing interests me, so when I saw the chance to listen to Irene talk about the behind-the-scene stuff happening at Tor, I knew I had to attend. Irene Gallo is the art director at Tor, for context. The talk was definitely geared toward artists in the audience that had interest with getting commissions from publishers, but I still took notes like a madwoman (can’t help it–if it’s interesting, I’m writing it down!)

  • All the pictures paired with the short stories on Tor’s website are commissioned; this is done specifically to allow for tailoring the art pieces to the stories
  • Author + artist collabs are happening more and more frequently over social media, which has led to the popularity of cover reveal events. One of Tor’s most successful examples of this would be Gideon the 9th
  • The art/cover department works seasonally–they receive a list of upcoming books broken down into their release seasons. From there, they talk to the editors of each respective book to get a general “feel” of the story then start reaching out to artists who might be a good match
  • Many artists are discovered through annuals like Spectrum 19, though mailers, emails, bookstores, networking and social media (Instagram and Twitter being the big players)
  • The artists don’t have to read the book; instead, they’re ask to create a “feel” instead of being told what the composition should look like
  • Artists submitting the ideal portfolio should have: 10-15 polished pieces that are consistent in style and quality, and representative of what type of work a client would receive. Furthermore, a couple pieces of good of figure work is important; having multi-figure action compositions is also a bonus. Most importantly though, the work should answer the client’s problem. If the client is seeking epic fantasy, then the work should response by creating that “epic, adventurous atmosphere” . . . which leads into the next point
  • Tailor portfolios to clients
  • Update websites and make them quick and easy to navigate
  • The average cover artwork takes 2-3 months to produce, from inception to finalization
  • Random fact: creating the cover for The Collapsing Empire was a challenge. After many attempts, the artist figured out the trick make a cover have a big, epic scope, is to make everything look small (It was interesting to see all the previous mockups, where the spaceship is much bigger than as depicted in the final cover)

How to Tell Stories Through Illustrations

Listening to Djamila Knopf talk was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. With a non-conventional powerpoint filled with gorgeous art and memes, she not only shared her story-telling-via-art process in a thoughtful manner, but also engaged the audience with many activities and exercises, which I loved.

(artwork by Djamila Knopf)

Telling a story through art makes the piece of art much more memorable. People remember stories because they evoke emotions and memories. Visual storytelling is all about making connections: person-to-person, person-to-nature, person-to-object, person-to-animal, person-to-viewer, etc. At the end of the day, emotional resonance is what the art should strive for.

To understand whether or not an image actually tells a story or simply looks good, it’s important to understand what is ineffective storytelling. Key signs of ineffective story telling include:

  • posed figures
  • awkward atmosphere
  • overly staged composition
  • unnatural

What is effective storytelling:

  • feels natural
  • self contained (the characters in the image are minding their own business, unaware there is an audience–aka the art viewer–watching them)
  • should feel like a “snapshot” and hints to viewers there is a bigger world out there that the picture doesn’t reveal

Questions to ask yourself while creating a storytelling piece:

  • How you’re showing something vs What you’re showing
  • Who is in the scene? Location? Mood? Clothing style? Activity? Season? Era? Lighting?
  • Who is doing What and Where?
  • Once you figure out ^ that question, it’s just a matter of building a mini story around that and working in the nuances and details into the art

One last quote from Djamila which left a lasting impression on me was:

“Art is not about being clever or cool, but being honest.”

In Conclusion

LightBox Expo was an amazing event that I hope to attend again in the future! Filled with amazing artists (such as creators of the Lion King animation characters, animators of The Incredibles, or the art directors from Marvel Studios) both local and from overseas, the showfloor was popping. Also, there were many demo iPads where anyone can play around with the Procreate App–which I definitely took the advantage of 🙂

Turns out I absolutely love Procreate. I’ve been seeking a way to digitalize my sketches and just can’t get used to drawing on a tablet, but Procreate seems to be the solution. I even ended up downloading the pocket version on my phone and have been super impressed by it so far. In short: If you’re on the fence about getting Procreate, just grab the pocket version for $4.99 and give it a whirl!

Well, that’s it for now~

Tina out.

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