Every year UnderConsideration announces their next Brand New Conference, I think to myself that I should probably go. And then I procrastinate, and then the tickets sell out. Not this year. No, the minute I saw it was announced on Twitter, I registered, bought my flight, and shortly thereafter, booked my Airbnb. It didn't hurt that this year's conference was in NYC, an incredible city I've had the privilege of studying and illustrating in various projects in the past year.
Although I had no reservations about signing up, I did have a moment afterward where I wondered if I was going to the right conference. After all, this was a branding conference, and I am steadily moving toward doing illustration work exclusively. But there were a three main reasons I knew the conference would be worthwhile for me.
First, I am a designer by training, and a designer at heart. Even the way I approach illustration is influenced by my design process. It's good to keep this fuel burning, to keep abreast of trends in the industry, and to glean insights and inspiration from the industry leaders.
Second, it is designers and art directors who hire me. What better way to rub shoulders with my next clients and scout out studios with whom I'd love to work? When I go to my next conference (which will obviously be ICON9 in Austin), I'll be meeting tons of my own ilk, which will be totally inspiring but probably not very fruitful in getting new work. I know of few illustrators that hire other illustrators!
Third, New York! In the past year, I have illustrated a children's sticker book called Stickyscapes: New York; I designed and illustrated an Herb Lester guide called Party of One: New York, and I had a full spread of a fantastical "Chelsea Mile" in Elephant Magazine. On top of this, pretty much on my way out the door to the airport, another client request came in from an upcoming restaurant in Manhattan. How a lone weirdo who works on a carrot field in the Fraser Valley ever became Mr. New York is somewhat a mystery to me.
Highlights of the conference? Glad you asked. My favourite speakers were those who had more making-oriented presentations (as opposed to strategy or straight-up branding themes). Top of my list was Ty Mattson of Mattson Creative, a self-proclaimed commercial artist, a job description that I myself have embraced. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the after party, and it was refreshing to hear from a respected industry leader that commercial art is an under-valued term. It might have been my utter lack of sleep (the result of jet lag and very late nights), but Mattson almost had me in tears as he exhorted the crowd to stay in touch with our childhood selves. He illustrated his point with a scene from the film Amélie, where she returns to an old man a lost treasure from his childhood. It takes him back to a sweeter time and brings him to tears. I'll be porting some of my long-forgotten time machines to my studio for more frequent trips to my distant past.
Other speaker highlights were Paula Scher (a perennial favourite of mine), Emily Oberman (who seems to have a bottomless supply of hard work ethic, not to mention a star studded client list), and the legendary design trio Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, two thirds of whom proved to me you can still be practicing and relevant well into your golden years.
Now one thing I really enjoyed were the moments between the presentations, both at the conference and offsite. The presentations were of course the main attraction, but I enjoyed and benefitted greatly from being able to hobnob with fellow creatives and leaders in the field who happened to be in attendance. An interesting phenomenon of this digital age is that we make friends we never expect to meet in person. A top quality conference like Brand New attracts some of the finest, most talented people in the business, including many I have befriended and followed online. If anything, it was nice to have lots to talk about right off the bat, without too much of an intro needed. It was nice to also be recognized by others who know me from their social media rosters. It warmed my heart, for instance, to be greeted by fellow Canadian Steve St. Pierre almost the second I arrived on the scene at registration. There were many others I enjoyed meeting, of course, too many to mention in fact! Oh, and it was also particularly awesome to hand-deliver some of my letterpress printed goods to the man behind Studio on Fire and the Beast Pieces blog, Ben Levitz.
So what business does an illustrator have at a design and branding conference? Evidently, all kinds. Thanks to Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit for putting on such an amazing and well-attended event. Brand New proves that conferences can be way more than sponsored snoozefests with dorky lanyards, corporate swag, and free coffee.