Monday, May 25, 2015

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2015

Before I talk at length about this year's Spectrum Fantastic Art Live (SFAL), let’s go back and play catch up to put some things into perspective. 2015 has already been a huge year for me, and I've been so busy living in it that I haven't had much time to talk about it.

A while ago I had publicly talked about moving from Virginia to the great pacific northwest, but I was intentionally vague about why. Most people assumed I was coming out here to work on concept art for Wizards of the Coast, which was actually true, I did come out for a concept push. But after the concept push ended I rolled into a new contract as a full-time art director for Magic: The Gathering. It was a big decision that was in the works since last summer. I wanted some time to settle into the job before making a formal announcement, to learn the ropes and make sure art direction was a good fit for me. So far so good; It's a challenging job but very rewarding so far. And it turned this trip into a more-or-less-covert scouting mission as well as the usual business and pleasure.

Ok, now back to the event:

The beginnings of a great event
This past weekend started with a plane ride from Seattle to Kansas City, MO, where I shared an Alaskan Airlines flight and shuttle with artists Tyler Jacobson, Brom, Laurie Lee Brom, and Iain McCaig. Getting to know these folks better has been really special. Every convention has its personal highlights, and one of the big ones this year was a short chat with Iain at Starbucks about what stories I want to tell with my future personal work, which is still something I'm figuring out, and got me thinking hard on the subject.

I also got to sneak in a quick sketch of this engrossed reader on the plane...

After arriving in the late afternoon, there was a lot of meeting and greeting (any time there's a gathering of the art family the hugs don't stop for a while). Friday evening capped off with an Art Director Icebreaker at the Marriott bar- an event where if you wore a lay around your neck it meant you were available for portfolio reviews. Fun! I participated in that for most of the evening, and had some great conversations with artists about their work, including doing a string of portfolio reviews on top of a grand piano... how cool is that?

More big news...
I finally got a decent chance to wander the show floor Saturday morning, though for the first time I think I looked at more art in peoples' portfolios than the wall displays. At noon I attended the Flesk panel about the logistics of Spectrum and what's to come in the future. The panel consisted of people who had been involved in Spectrum 22- creators of the award Christine & Colin Poole, jury members Justin & Annie Stegg Gerard, Iain and Brom who are members of the advisory board, and John Fleskes who took over the publication from the Fenners with Spectrum 21. Each took their turn talking about their part in bringing the annual to life.

Hearing about the judging process was especially helpful because I'm going to be a member of the Spectrum 23 jury next year. It's a huge honor to be chosen and a task I take very seriously. Justin mentioned the feeling of holding peoples' dreams in his hands, having been both accepted and rejected from the book in the past (same here, man!). John also spoke about his philosophy of bringing together judges from diverse backgrounds for a well-rounded representation of the industry. I already know that I'll have the pleasure of judging alongside Terryl Whitlatch, and I can't wait to hear who the remaining jury members will be...

The Spectrum 22 Awards Ceremony
Saturday evening. The Fenners and John Fleskes put on a hell of a ceremony- dancing and aerialist performances punctuated the award announcements, with industry giants presenting the awards for each of the 8 categories.


And my piece, "Momentum" won the gold award in the Unpublished category!!

That was the climax of my art career to date. Greg Manchess presented the award, and I'm glad he's strong, because the hug I gave him might have broken a weaker person.

I didn't give a scripted acceptance speech, so I don't remember exactly what I blurted out, but to recap: I dedicated this award to my grandfather, who bought me a copy of Spectrum 4 for my 14th birthday. I'd always wanted to be an artist, but that was the initial turning point that gave me a direction. Granddad wasn't an artist himself -he used to joke that he couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler- but he was a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy (especially dragons), and encouraged my interests in Dungeons & Dragons and all that "weird stuff." And the last thing I got to tell him was that I'd finally made it into the book- I'd just gotten my acceptance letter to Spectrum 15 a few days before he passed away. I've entered every year since, and I think he would be proud of me for keeping it up and getting this far.

Some might argue that awards aren't that important, but industry recognition means a ton to me. It's an indicator that I've been successful in my work so far, and I'm very grateful to have the support of my peers.

Congratulations to ALL - the full list of nominees and winners, including art, is up on the Flesk blog.

A special thank you to Arnie & Cathy Fenner for beginning and keeping this wonderful tradition, John Fleskes, Shena Wolf for her tireless work behind the scenes, and the panel of judges who saw something special in my work: Justin and Annie Stegg Gerard, Dice Tsutsumi, Greg Ruth, and Virginie Ropars.

Me & Dan Dos Santos after the ceremony- congrats to Dan, who won the gold award in the Book category!

The Artist's Muse
I also wanted to take a minute to admire the breathtaking new award design that John Fleskes commissioned, created by sculptors Kristine and Colin Poole. Each award was cast in bronze and embellished with silver or gold. Their concept was to create a muse for the artist, since one didn't previously exist. Artists historically were thought to be craftspeople who simply imitated nature, but we celebrate a tradition of realizing the unreal, and now we have a muse of our own.

(Update: read more about the awards on the Flesk blog)

Spectrum 22 Awards, created by Kristine and Colin Poole

The Women of Wonder
On Sunday I didn't have as much time to say goodbye as I wanted since I had to leave in the early afternoon to fly home, but I did get to pick up a copy of Women of Wonder, the book created by Cathy Fenner to celebrate past and present women in the imaginative arts. The printing and art selections are gorgeous. I'm proud to be included in this book, and I hope it serves as a positive example for all artists, men and women alike.

Women of Wonder | Edited by Cathy Fenner, Introduction by Lauren Panepinto

The book is now available on if you want to pick up a copy (and you should)!

Life after SFAL
My first order of business (besides sleeping in late) after SFAL was to go through my stacks of business cards and codify my notes from portfolio reviews. I was pleased so many people wanted to share their work with me, considering how new my AD position is. There were a handful of up-and-comers in attendance I'll be keeping a close eye on, for sure.

Now that I've typed up this huge post, I'm going to get back to work, because that's what we've gotta do. The show left me feeling so inspired, and kicking around all kinds of ideas. Winning awards is wonderful, but it doesn't mean I can put up my feet and rest on my laurels- in fact, I need to work even harder!

Til next time, happy painting.


  1. Really inspiring post Cynthia, The more you read about spectrum the more you want to be there!
    the community you describe looks really warm and welcoming and the global positiveness of your writing makes it looks even more shiny.

    You really deserved this award as your piece was fantastic, i am impatient to see your next artworks and i wish you the very best for your incoming projects!

    Thank you for this post that does makes want to paint ;).

    1. Thank you, Johan! It is a very warm and welcoming community to those are passionate about the work- glad to see you are inspired!

  2. So great meeting you Cynthia. The awards show was a great evening and your award so deserving. A whirlwind weekend that always takes time to digest.

  3. Yep, the win was MUCH deserved. It was a glorious weekend, and I'm glad we got a second to talk over at Greg's booth. Thanks for skimming through my work and hooking me up on some feedback!

    1. Thank you too, for sharing your portfolio with me. I'm glad you had a great time!

  4. Congratulations! Momentum is a wonderful and inspirational piece, you deserved this award. Greetings from Spain.