norwescon 41, day 2

Art Show

Well, I got a lovely surprise this morning when I woke up – someone dropped out of the art show at Norwescon.   Well, okay, that’s not lovely news, now is it?  Bad Ward! But it did mean that as I was on the waitlist, the show coordinator reached out and asked if I’d like to participate.  Huh?  Of course I would!

Granted, I did not have the frames ready for hanging, but when has a little bit of last minute rush hurt anyone?  After a quick detour to Michaels for hanging tackle, and Home Depot for some tools … I was off to the art show to hang my stuff.  It took me more time that I hoped, and some stuff got messier than I would have liked due to the hanging wire making my hands messy.  Note to self: white frames not a good idea going forward.   But some 90 minutes later, I got everything hung and labels printed.   I’m not really expecting anyone to buy my work, but its nice to have finally made it to the Norwescon Art Show – largely since it was Norwescon two (or three?) years ago that got me to really think about getting back into pursuing art as a hobby after a nearly 25-year hiatus.  And secretly hoping that I may someday be able to afford it as my second career.  But I’m not there yet – both skill-wise and financially for that kind of transition.

I did have one treat before leaving my exhibit: a young girl saw one of my pieces hanging, and immediately dragged her mother over to see while exclaiming “oh my gosh! oh my gosh! oh my gosh!” so I may have at least one more fan after this show. 🙂

Post Note: If you are curious what piece the little girl liked, keep on reading below.  It is the one piece none of the panelists liked.  Which is a good note to self on know why audience.

Artist Workshop

Then at 3pm today I also participated in the artist workshop where you can have your work critiqued.  Julie Dillon happened to be on my panel, which is an extra treat since she was the artist guest of honor for the first Norwescon I attended … and as noted, it was here that got me really interested in getting back into art.  And without putting to strong a point on it, it was Julie’s presentation that year that helped me believe I too could really make the leap back into art in a serious kind of way.  So it was especially lovely to have her participate today.   I also had an art director from Paizo Publishing, along with another generalist artist and two avid art collectors.   So quite an eclectic set of folks to review my work.

If you are interested, I’ve attached below my raw notes from the session.  What follows is a more considered summary of the experience.

To give some context, I’ve historically not enjoyed hearing critique of my own work – I was frankly too immature to listen to feedback and incorporate it in my younger years.  And in the past few years – as I’ve traversed through the Dunning-Kruger effect – I grown as an artist who can really see my own weaknesses much more than I could two years ago, while simultaneously seeing in other professionals strengths that I do not yet possess.   And while I think I vastly more emotionally equipped to handle critique than some twenty-five years ago when I was in high school, I nevertheless found it a surprisingly emotional experience.  This is not to say it was not a wonderful experience; it was.  It’s just that it was subtlety and even sublimely different than what I expected going into it.

To be brutally honest, on reflection, I had secretly hoped I’d hear a bunch of people tell me how awesome I am – I am not.  And of course, the entire point of going into a critique is to find the places where either you are blind to, or re-inforce your understanding of known weaknesses.  Yes, people will generally try to frame any critique with compliments on areas that you are strong, but no one is there to blow sunshine up your arse.  And they did not.  That all said, I walked away with no new surprises, and got great triangulation through very consistent feedback on areas where I know I am weak.  So all in all, a very worthwhile hour of critique.

What is most interesting and curious to me is the difference between the pieces I like the most and they liked the least.  In particular, pieces where the narrative was strongest was the most appreciated by the panelists.  For example the three works titled Hello, Morning Reverie and Visitor stood out as being the strongest in narrative, and all were universally liked.  That does not mean there was no feedback for points on improvement with this pieces, but it seems that strong narrative will gain  you a lot of forgiveness when some parts of the piece do not work.  And therefore the corollary to this is that pieces with little or no narrative are consequently open season for very strong negative reactions.

Another surprise is that the first piece, Dragon Eye, did not read as a sleeping dragon by anyone.   Of course, since I drew it, I can see nothing by a dragon.  So that was an interesting bit of feedback I’d never received till now.  They all saw either a very abstract piece, or even a spaceship … but no one saw a dragon eye till I noted the title of the piece.  And because there was no strong narrative, I think a lot of the panelists got hung up on it.  That said, at least one panelist seemed on the fence to liking it since the subject was a bit elusive at first.

Even though I least like Morning Reverie stylistically, it seemed to be one of the stronger pieces for everyone else.  And ironically, Earth & Sea – which I like more than the others, was panned universally by the panel of folks.  And it evoked the strongest negative emotions from one of the panelists in the most uncertain terms.  (And hint to the post note above, it’s this latter piece which the little girl loved.)

One of the consistent pieces of feedback was that if I were to pursue a professional career then I really need to nail a single style – or minimally have portfolios specific to each style.  Given the work I brought for review is all over the place, this did not work well if it were for a professional review.  So that is good to know – especially as a “jack of all” kinda person, this is actually quite important feedback if I ever decide to pursue this hobby seriously as a professional.  As the art director noted, when they hire an artist they want to know that person will produce work in that very specific style.  So I guess that makes a lot of sense.  Granted, I sorta feel as an artist I cannot call myself an capital A Artist until I’ve mastered a more painterly style … which is something I kept noting in the works presented.  In particular, line art and illustration come very naturally to me, and a part of my journey is to discover a more painterly style within me.  Anyway, I digress.  Back to the feedback, I gotta focus on nailing perspective and anatomy, two places where I’m sufficiently off.  Generally speaking, my use of colors, textures, and details around rendering were strong.  But where people generally tripped up were on anatomy and volume/form.

While everyone (read: me) wants to hear they are awesome – I found it far more encouraging and useful to hear some very consistent feedback and reactions from people unfamiliar with any of my work.  And it was re-assuring that the areas where I feel I am weak are also the areas where others noted I need to work on; minimally I feel more confident I am on the right track.

Onward and upward!

dragon eye

  • not immediately obvious but in a good (?) way at least for a collector.  Dr Seuss 
  • Composition interesting but opening the eyelid would increase immediate recognition.  Too abstract.   Temper between what kind of art you want to make — interesting vs selling. 
  • Riding the line between line or representational work.  
  • Possibly open up eye and change some color top and bottom

Dragon Lady

  • cool textures and color story.  
  • Shape of head and eyes that are off for a professional. 
  • Everything should be planned out in the narrative for professionally for a brief or beats.  
  • Work more on anatomy … structure of the head.  Drawing from life and facial features at muscle memory.  
  • Get back to basics
  • Woman and dragon pull against each other
  • Woman’s anatomy feels off
  • you can audit classes specifically for facial anatomy and color theory
  • Ear distance seems off for a human … use reference material but do not just copy
  • Dragon head is not sufficiently contrast … details not popping. 
  • Dragon coming down over shoulder
  • Anatomy Coloring Book
  • Texturing and rendering good
  • Anatomy needs work


  • Fun textures and shape
  • Simple rendering
  • Curiosity and mystery
  • Front left foot looks a little not far enough down … from perspective it appears off

Earth & Sea

  • hire for a specific style
  • professionally try to nail your own style and not have too many styles per portfolio
  • Roots do not translate well … are they tentacles 
  • Face works better since it is more stylized and allows for more exaggeration
  • What is the concept or narrative?  Confusing what the story is? There are scenes, but over arching story is missing. 
  • Roots do not grow that way – really does not like this piece at a deep level (my read of them, not their words)
  • Water is chasing the roots away. … but narrative is missing 

Morning Reverie 

  • Story is strong … resonated with people much more
  • Face and body language much stronger … allows for much more story to tell
  • Colors are cool
  • Lighting from background
  • Rendering strong
  • Attention details
  • Perspective and anatomy … get back to basics.  Core skills need to be built up
  • Readability is harder.  Contrast is competing, not helping viewer 


  • works for the story
  • Keep the dragon low contrast
  • Seems to work for everyone

Author: Ward

I’m the creator and operator of this little corner of the internets, writing on all things related to art and more specifically my experiences trying to figure this whole thing out. I guess I’m trying to figure out life, too, but mostly I just post about art here.

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