Whew. I'm just starting to recover from the incredible whirlwind that is Arisia - with luck, today, I'll be able to keep my eyes open all day.
For those of you who might've missed the invite in my last blog post, Arisia is a large sci-fi fantasy convention that is fan run. There is practically something for everyone at every age and interest. You won't see celebs hawking autographs here though - instead, you'll find a passionate fanbase who present all kinds of panels on movies, art, making, cosplay, books, science, and life stuff. There are events to watch, cosplayer events, games to play from the LARP, video and board game variety, dancing and little room parties in the off-hours.
Tips for friends with disabilities (PWD = person/people with disabilities):
Arisia (held at the Westin Boston Waterfront at least for the next few years) is a very disability friendly event (as compared to other events I've experienced so far). Side note: annually in February, Boskone is the longest-running sci-fi/fantasy event, held at the Westin as well; as I understand it, they came first, and they have similar activities/events/art show. Many local folks attend both events.
I've tried traveling into South Boston by plane and by train (Amtrak). Both are very close to Arisia at the Westin.
Although Amtrak takes longer, I find the ride itself to be easier to bear, assuming you request Red Cap assistance in advance. In New York, Penn Station is a disorienting nightmare for me. To boot, while Access-A-Ride (AAR) does have official Penn Station stops, they are not where the Amtrak accessible entrance & taxi stop on West 31st Street between 7th and 8th Avenue - they're on 33rd. I recommend getting a taxi authorization to the Amtrak entrance. Technically, a Red Cap can meet you out there when you call...but it was freezing cold, and at Penn station, all help takes its sweeeeeet time - like molasses sweet. Thankfully, I made it indoors and a good samaritan helped me to the Red Cap area inside.
With the train, you don't have to worry about trying to pop off your shoes or being crammed like a sardine into a seat. In fact, I could alternate between sitting, nearly laying down, and walking a little to keep my pain down and my POTS from going haywire.
As to Arisia itself: make sure you reach out for accommodations that you need in advance. In my experience, they work hard to be mindful of everything from standing time, to allergies, and immune system disorders. Of course, it's important to do your own particular prep and self-care. A good chunk of my bag was just the medication and food I needed, and to prevent "con crud", I actually did get a flu shot. Most importantly though, I have sweet friends up there who "get me", who understand I could be fine one moment and not the next; they shared safe eats as well as a room, so that I could afford to go - both monetarily and energetically. I was able to go to the room as often as I needed in between the activities so that I could lay down, recover, and physically/emotionally decompress.
Arisia as an Artist:
It is always a tough call as to what panels & activities to enjoy, but this year I was lucky enough that things timed in such as way that the weekend practically became an artist's retreat and a friend reunion in the in-between moments.
I took oodles of notes during my weekend at Arisia pertaining to arts, panels, networking. I also joined in on short classes - theremin playing, rubber block stamp making, semi-upcycled mini fascinator hats, and cosplay figure sketching. I actually didn't think I was going to attend the latter, but fate stepped in with a teacher ready with paper and boards, as I'd left my art pad at home. More to say on this last class, but on the whole, I think doing all these classes gave me a chance to just play with various mediums - for every artist, not just "dabblers" - this can really help keep your creativity up.
Extra artist takeaways I'd like to share:
• Photographing cosplayers/reenactors: a lot of photographers get verbal consent (please don't do drive-by photos; please let cosplayers go if they're running to a panel or have held their bodies in a pose for a long time), but as an artist as well as someone who has worn costumes/garb, I rarely see anyone giving a model release form. A good rule of thumb is if it might make money (ex. you may publish it in a book of your photos, make art based on it etc.), get a model release in print. If you can, give the model your card, and show model the photo you like and plan to share before doing anything with it!
• The real bread and butter for an artist though comes from teaching others art or some other kind of a day job - even for those considered successful. The vast, vast majority of the artists I met across the weekend said little to nothing sells, but if they're lucky, they make enough off the art to cover the cost of their panel/table. The consensus is that can take several years to establish clientele at any art/craft show you attend. So, why do it? The answers varied, but it boiled down to - because as artists, we love making art; we love getting positive feedback and sharing our process; because it is therapeutic; it is a time to network and get encouragement from other artists; and if you're lucky, someone might commission you to do a special work for them (I am open to commissions myself).
• Tip from the framing panel (and I believe this suggestion came from Anne Nydam): If you're an artist with limited space/budget: Frame most of your works simply for visual consistency - and so you can swap out the art for shows so you don't have to have a frame for every work. Retire or repaint frames as they age. Many buyers like to reframe to their taste anyway. Genius!
And...how did the art show itself go for me? It depends on your point of view.
I didn't sell anything at this art show. Yes, I want to emphasize to my aspiring artists that if there was one thing I learned is that this happens quite a lot. I have to admit still my heart broke getting my entire box of stuff back - I had spent months painting, preparing, learning how to frame, wire, mat & bag. Maybe people prefer objects to buy (ex. bookmarks, pendants, pins?) - maybe people just want exact likenesses of known characters Star Wars/Trek, Harry Potter, and the like (which I love but selling fan art that has direct likenesses is a wickedly grey area so I don't want to get into that - I prefer to tell the visual stories of the fan-artists who cosplay out of love instead). I'd love to hear from folks who attend conventions and find out: if you buy art - what kinds do you gravitate toward?
In any case, I consider the event a success still: beyond painting about the empowering nature of cosplay, I learned a lot from the whole experience and the weekend itself. • The reception was super challenging for me mentally (perhaps a blog for another time), but the time I got to meet up with two of the models in my paintings and see them smile, as well as all the moments outside the reception, where people took my cards saying something like 'oh, YOU'RE the person that did those paintings? They're amazing!' gave my heart a lift and encouragement to keep going. This alone made the trip worthwhile!
Remember that cosplay quick sketch class I mentioned before? To my surprise and totally unprompted, the class was encouraged by the instructor (who didn't know me) to see a painting in the art show of one of the models (Sarah Morrison, the lady in turquoise in my painting Hugs Are Awesome-O). When I raised my hand a little to let folks know I made that painting, the "ooohs" and smiles were positively flooring to me. When I told them that there's a chance I might paint a cosplayer in that room- I wish I could have bottled that sound. For a moment, I felt like my work really meant something to the cosplayers. And of course, in turn, there was LOTS of inspiration to be had from these talented and generous models. I valued the time and love they put into their gear, whether totally hand made, or totally cobbled together.
So, I have plenty of ladies to paint in my free time to build my cosplay portrait portfolio (hey cosplayer/performer fellas and cosplayers of color - I'm looking for you too!), and perhaps, from all the conversations and cards taken across the weekend, I'll get a painting commission in between down the road. Crossing flexy fingers and toes.