Most of you have heard of Comic-Con, PAX, and Gen Con. These massive conventions are well-known throughout the gaming community. Gaming companies tend to release information about future games at these conventions. Large tournaments are held in conjunction with the rest of the conventions. Thousands of people show up each year to be part of these conventions.
In the last couple of years, I've had a chance to attend a few of these massive events, and they are amazing. There is so much to see and do that there is no way you can do it all over the extended weekend you have in which to do it.
Illuxcon (IX) is something different. Illuxcon is a convention for sci-fi and fantasy art. While the appropriate term is "Imaginative Realism," I prefer "Nerd Art." Star Wars art, Game of Thrones art, and Magic art all fit under this banner.
This is my second year at Illuxcon. In both years, IX has been the tale of two cons. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday make up the quiet, high-end part of Illuxcon. During these days, only the Main Show artists are available. You can only attend IX on these days if you bought the week-long ticket. Fewer people do, preferring to come on just one day during the weekend and try to see everything. Generally, the people who buy a ticket for the entire event are people who buy original art. My friend Pat has a large collection of Game of Thrones art. He has the original art from several editions of Game of Thrones, along with several other commissioned pieces. He introduced me to Illuxcon last year, and I went with him again this year. It is Pat and collectors like him who pick up the multi-day passes.
Those early days are amazing opportunities to talk with the artists. With over 50 artists in the Main Show and barely 100 paid guests, the artists are happy to talk with you at length about their art, inspiration, and everything else!
Friday evening through the end of the con is when things ramp up. The Showcase is an opportunity for many newer artists (and some more recognized) to display what they are doing. The Showcase, free to the public, was at a local hotel. They pack in almost a hundred artists, many of whom are spectacular. My personal favorites this year were Drew Tucker, Aaron Miller, and Zack Stella. I had a chance to talk to Zack last year, and he has become one of my favorite artists. He is a friendly, approachable guy who is excited about Magic and the next project coming his way. He was good enough to provide me with a close-up of Daghatar's mace!
The Weekend Salon has another 25 artists showing their wares. I believe there were over 30 Magic artists total! With the single-day tickets, the crowds are definitely bigger, but still not so much that you can't chat with one of the Magic artists there for a long while. The line outside the museum wasn't too bad half an hour before opening.
I was even able to get in a couple games of Magic! GatheringMagic.com writer James Arnold and I chatted throughout IX and agreed that we had to get some games in. When Magic art collector Andrew Pope, James, and I set up in the lobby of the hotel, it didn't take long for a crowd to form. Illuxcon was in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the only hotel anywhere near the museum that hosted the event was a Holiday Inn about four or five blocks down the street. Practically everyone attending was staying at that hotel, so the foot traffic coming in hours before the Showcase all walked through the lobby and right past our game. Many of the artists play, and a few were interested to see if we were playing with their art. Others in the crowd disappeared to their hotel rooms and returned with decks, ready to game.
My personal favorite deck of the weekend? That would be James's Ashling the Pilgrim deck.
While the deck isn't particularly good, it was very appropriate for Illuxcon. Every Mountain in the deck had different art on it! Featuring so many artists seemed very appropriate for the convention.
We played two games, and my Marchesa, the Black Rose deck (now signed by Matt Stewart) managed to win both. My apologies to everyone who was hoping to get in another game later. Hopefully I'll see you next year!
While talking with Mark Poole, he explained how he saw Illuxcon as a symbiotic relationship. The draw of the convention really is about the relationship between those attending and the artists in a way that you don't see at other conventions. Bigger conventions often seem to be all about signing cards and selling proofs, while IX is a chance to meet and share yourself with patrons in a way that goes beyond a monetary transaction or a quick signature.
James Arnold did a series of articles last year about some of the Magic artists at IX. Keep your eye on GatheringMagic to see what he will do this year. I thought I wanted to spend some time talking with the other side of the symbiotic coin: the Magic player who was attending Illuxcon. I spoke with a couple of players about their experiences at Illuxcon.
Joel drove the seven hours from Waterville, Maine, to be a part of Illuxcon. Joel originally got into Magic because of the art. With many thousands of pieces of art, it is hardly surprising that Magic drew him in. An issue that comes up a lot at Illuxcon is original art or prints. For Joel, it is prints. With a wife and two children, the money to buy original art just isn't there. Joel prefers to buy prints and put them into nice frames. Several pieces of art on the wall is better to Joel than a single original painting.
Joel's entire life is consumed by Magic and the art. Joel owns his local game store, Spellbound, and is a judge as well. Between the store and judging tournaments every weekend, Joel doesn't get much time to play, but art permeates his life. His wife is an artist, and he counts Lars Grant-West (who illustrated Doomed Traveler and more than 70 other cards) among his friends.
He also showed off his Bottle Gnomes tattoo!
The Bottle Gnomes made sense, as his wife and two children are the three people who make his life worthwhile ("Gain 3 life!"). When he saw this version of Bottle Gnomes initially, it just spoke to him, and he knew he wanted the tattoo. He struck up an online conversation with Bottle Gnomes artist Ben Thompson, who provided a larger image.
Fred drove up from Alexandria, Virginia, for Illuxcon. Fred recognized me as we were walking between artist displays, and said hello. Fred is an artist and Magic player who was into the art of Magic before actually playing the game. He started playing in Ice Age and has never really looked back. Fred appreciates the current direction of Magic art, but also loves the individual artists' styles from the past. Many of the artists at Illuxcon are part of the "Weekend Salon." These artists are not in the Main Show but instead are only available over the weekend. They group these artists in a separate room of the museum at the end of a hall. The first thing you see when you walk into the room is the distinctive art of Rebecca Guay. Fred didn't need to look for a sign to see who the artist was—he could tell by the art on the wall.
I asked Fred about his favorites, and he really couldn't point to one piece or even one artist. He was impressed by the number of sculptures at this year's Illuxcon. These weren't Magic pieces, but the care and attention shown to them was stunning. Thomas Kuebler's Elephant Man looked as though it might stand up and walk away at any time.
Rather than put Magic art on his walls, Fred prefers to keep it in his decks, so he buys artist proofs. Magic artists are given several copies of the card they do the art for, but all of them have white backs instead of the Magic logo. These cards are not, however, permitted for tournament use. Fred and I both picked up several proofs throughout the weekend. Fred was lucky enough to get cards (along with a sketch on the back!) from Lindsey Look and Dave Palumbo. Dave also provided me with an "after" sketch of a card I previewed, Pyxis of Pandemonium:
Fred was kind enough to email after Illuxcon as well:
First of all, it was wonderful to meet you at Illuxcon this weekend. I have been reading your articles for a while now and it was great to be able to shake your hand. It only added to my experience over all.
Second, I wanted to tell you about my interactions at the end of the night on Saturday. I was sitting near Drew Tucker's table and taking some time to sketch in my sketch book. Later, when I went to buy some artist proofs from his table, he took an interest in my art and wanted to see my sketch book. This turned into an hour-long conversation about art, Magic, education, and entertainment. Drew was very encouraging and gave me some helpful tips to improve my work. The artists at Illuxcon like Drew Tucker are what make this game worth coming back to. Like a fan getting to meet their favorite sports star, I too felt that excitement from first entering Illuxcon, to having Rebecca Guay's wonderful full-size art in my face, to the end of the night with Drew Tucker's sincere love of art and his fans. Illuxcon was a wonderful experience both as an artist and as a long-time Magic player. I am already making plans to go back next year. Hope to see you there!
This isn't the singular experience of one person at Illuxcon. Illuxcon offers opportunities to talk with artists over extended periods of time. A Grand Prix is a wonderful place to thank an artist for their work, but Illuxcon gives you a chance to find out how they got started and what inspires them.
I had long conversations with Mark Poole, Eric Velhagen, and Zack Stella that went beyond the art on the walls. It is this personal experience that brought me back to Illuxcon this year, and will keep me coming back again and again.
 A surefire way to make my day is to recognize me in the wild. It is an ego boost, and who doesn't love that?