Inspiring Your Budding Artist at Dragon Con

Conventions Entertainment Featured

If you’ve got a young artist thinking about career options, put Dragon Con on next fall’s calendar. You probably think of it as a place to see folks talk about their work and artists in their booths—and of course, it is! But the opportunities for future artists to explore their options are much bigger.

First, there’s that Comic & Pop Artist Alley, which probably first comes to mind when you think of how your future inker-animator-designer might find some inspiration. It’s that area in the con where all of the artists have their booths set up, and you can chat with them, buy pieces, and request commissions. Over the years, this space at Dragon Con has really evolved into one of the best show floors there, especially compared to the crowded (and yet freezing cold), concrete-floored dealer’s room. (Don’t get me wrong; I have spent many, many hours in that dealer’s room! But a delightful sensory experience it often is not.) The Comic & Pop Artist Alley is well-organized, well-spaced, and really inviting to spend time in.

The one downside in the past has been that it’s a bit of a challenge to get to, especially if you were headed toward their programming rooms. The problem is that for the last few years, the dealer’s room and the artist alley have been housed in the AmericasMart, and at times, there have been some rather long waits in lines wrapped around the block to get in. At worst, the wait could be several hours, which means you would definitely miss the panel you were trying to see unless you got in line at just the right time and wanted to see that one panel badly enough to spend a large chunk of your day waiting for it. This year, the track solved this programming problem with a great solution called the Comics Programming Fast Track, which allowed you to receive a limited number of quick entries into the building 30 minutes before a panel or session began. You would register on the track’s website and receive a QR code that you presented to skip the regular line and head straight to the panel.

And those panels are the next don’t-miss I’d recommend for your young artist. It can be intimidating to walk straight up to your favorite creator’s table and start asking questions. Or worse, get there to find out they’ve left for the afternoon! However, if you do get to meet them, don’t hesitate to ask those questions. Most artists are thrilled to talk about their career paths and give advice. They often were once themselves the nervous teenagers admiring the work of those who came before them—they definitely understand and want to help the next generation coming up in the industry. But back to the panel option! There are the panels you expect to see, where you can hear an artist talk about specific work on a specific comic or get industry advice on things like self-publishing. But for an aspiring artist, there were a few fantastic sessions this year that I hope to see repeated in the future and would recommend for an artist of any age.

In “Math & Marvels: A Drawing Demonstration with Jerry E. DeCaire,” this Marvel artist broke down the fundamental shapes of art that many of us have learned if we took an art class—the fact that basically everything is made of cubes and cylinders. “Surely there’s more to a superhero?” DeCaire posed, “What about muscles?” And then he demonstrated exactly that transformation from basic shapes to superheroes framed around the 3 Ps: perspective, proportion, and position. “How can you be a more reliable artist for the comic book industry? Math and science,” he said. (Put that one away for the next time “we’ll never use this” comes out of your teen’s mouth.) He went on to cover a good bit of territory on perspective and proportions, cramming a ton into the allotted time and then giving away the examples he had been drawing at the end.

In “Learn to Draw ANYTHING,” Adam Withers of Comfort and Adam took requests, demonstrating how to draw absolutely anything you might want to draw but are struggling with. (He notes this panel has a 100% success rate of having a question about hands, sooner or later.) Need advice? Just call out what you want to see drawn! My favorite was a walkthrough of how to draw someone lying down, which feels strangely difficult—aren’t they just standing up but sideways? Adam broke it down into a manageable process thinking through things like how blankets drape and body parts squish into mattresses.

These sessions are very accessible to and enjoyable for a variety of skill levels, including the absolute beginner (or “vaguely interested and supportive parent with no art skills at all”). And for those with more advanced skills (in any art), I always recommend taking a beginner class or workshop from time to time. You never know what new perspective you might find on something you’ve done a thousand times, or what piece of “beginner” information you somehow never learned! 

I was disappointed to discover I missed a panel Saturday evening on “Defining Your Style as an Artist.” It is not humanly possible to see everything you would like to see at Dragon Con. Fortunately, I can access some of the talks I missed courtesy of a DragonConTV streaming membership. Even if you didn’t attend the con, you can still pick up a streaming membership for only $10, which is a killer deal. The available videos are nowhere near all of the panels and sessions that happen at the con (alas, that style talk is not available), and admittedly the comics and art content is somewhat lacking, but you can access several years’ worth of videos with the same subscription, which means you can still watch panels from the virtual year, like “The Legal Side of Digital Media.” (And aside from launching an art career, there’s a lot of other great stuff in there. I’ve been a DCTV fan from the beginning and will always recommend spending that $10!)

Finally, if your future artist is looking at college in the near future, this year I discovered booths for both the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and the Kennesaw State University School of Art and Design, each with students on hand to talk about their experiences and displays of student work. I chatted for a while with a staff member from SCAD about the program and how much she enjoyed being there. 

In summation, in just a few hours on one floor of the AmericasMart in Atlanta for the price of a DragonCon membership, your kid could find a college, learn tips firsthand from pros while watching them work live, and ask their favorite artist about their career path. That’s better than any college fair I’ve been to, hands down!

But keep in mind, Dragon Con is not an event you start planning for the weekend before, and now is the time to think about 2024. It is always Labor Day weekend, always in Atlanta. The 2024 Dragon Con memberships are on sale right now in the Dragon Con store. A 5-day membership is $115. Prices will go up as the year goes by. In 2023, one-day memberships went on sale on August 1, but these are limited and did sell out. So start planning now for next year’s success!

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