ICON 10 Report

Yesterday, I returned home from ICON10, the Illustrators' Conference, held this year in Detroit, MI.  That means I got to go to Detroit, and I got to eat hot dogs and beer and burgers, and look at cars, and visit their art museum, because that's what's in Detroit.  I did not go to a Tigers game.  They're also in Detroit, but I don't think they, or the Red Wings, were playing at the time.  So, no hockey, no baseball.  Just food, and adult beverages, and soft pretzels, and art, and illustration.

I really love going to the ICON conferences.  They're held every two years, every time in a different city.  The first one I went to was in Portland, Oregon, which was lovely.  They have donuts and pinball arcades there.  The second one was in Austin, which has barbecue and 104 degree weather, and bats.  Austin was less lovely, but the conference is always good.  There's always a decent spread of snacks and coffee and a free full breakfast buffet, and cocktail hours, and usually some nice giveaways, and oh yeah, IT'S FULL OF ILLUSTRATORS, who, along with my wife, and most Nobel Prize winners, are the best people on the planet.

And I don't get to see enough of them.

For most of my adult life, I've lived in either Washington, DC, or Charlottesville, Virginia, which have thriving art communities and minute illustration communities.  There are very few people I can meet for coffee and talk shop with, compare fees, bitch about assignments (although all of my assignments recently have been cool) and grow my presence.  Which is what ICON provides.  For 4-ish days, I hobnob among my people.  EVERYONE comes to these things.  You have old pros who have been working since the 60s, young hotshots who win awards every year, students, art directors, designers, agents, people who illustrate children's books, people who illustrate the New Yorker, cartoonists, poster artists, muralists, writers, and every single one of them is delightful to a tee.  I've met so many friends there just by following up on the business cards I collect. 

This year I forgot my satchel of business cards at the hostel when I flew back, but the hostel staff found it, and they're mailing it back to me, which is nice, but they're making me pay for it and I only forgot it because I lost it when they forced me to switch rooms, which is less so, so in all, I'd give the Hostel Detroit something between 0 and the most stars, because they deserve both.

Most of the Conference is taken up with talks and workshops where people with experience or knowledge to share, share that knowledge, and then run away very fast before everyone deluges them with contact information.  And I've found most of it to be very useful.  Last year, I had lunch with an art director who vehemently insisted that being in New York was very important to my career.  That's part of the reason I moved to DC.  Manhattan is just a quick train ride away.  This year I heard an educator talk about how to best shape my portfolio to attract new clients.  I'll take his advice too.  And I always meet a lot of people, many of whom continue to inspire me, out of the sheer beauty of their work, or their work ethic, or my jealousy at their ability to manage both at the same time.

Now that I'm back, I desperately need to catch up on sleep while I wait for my business cards to arrive in the mail.  Then I will get right on that.  I'm an illustrator and I want to be a better one, and I REALLY hope the next ICON is held somewhere I don't have to fly to.

I recommend Northwest Washington, DC.

I never have pictures in my blog because I never see the need to post anything on the internet twice, but my Instagram account to the right has most of the sketches and photos I took, and my Twitter has most of the same, but with better captions.

Do you know a good Doctor?

I'll start this post off with a solid explanatory lead: My wife likes Doctor Who now.

To those who don't know who Doctor Who is, the question is not so much one of who, but of what, where, and when.  Doctor Who is a BBC program that has been running on the BBC on and off since 1965.  It's about an alien from the planet Gallifrey who travels around the universe in a time (and space) machine called the TARDIS.  Each episode, he gets out in a different location and either has an adventure or stops evil aliens from taking over the universe.  Often times, he comes in contact with historical figures like Mme. Pompadour or William Shakespeare and helps them have an adventure or stop evil aliens from taking over the universe.  The Doctor (just "The Doctor") usually has a female companion on these journeys, with whom he shares a lot of unresolved sexual tension.  They've kept it running by making it canon that whenever the Doctor is dealt a fatal wound, he transforms into a different actor.    The modern era of the show starts in the mid-2000s.  I started watching on season 5, when the new Doctor Matt Smith debuted.

My wife, having heard about the show from nerd friends of hers, started on season 1, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billy Piper as the companion.  These were the episodes I'd never seen, as the group I'd hung out with in college when they were first airing was more into Japanese pop culture than British stuff.

Boy I wished I'd switched friends.  Doctor Who has always operated on a tiny special effects budget, which necessitated the main baddies looking like giant vacuum cleaners with toilet plungers stuck to their sides.  As a result, the writing as always been incredibly sincere, to make the folks at home believe that angry vacuum cleaners were really a threat to all life in the universe.  I like that sort of narrative sincerity.  These days, a lot of the most popular media is made by people who have encyclopedic knowledge of other popular media, and somehow, it always feels like they're winking at the members of the audience who also have encyclopedic pop culture knowledge.  Doctor Who operates under the philosophy that everything and everyone is important, and should be respected as such, no matter how goofy or rushed.  Indeed, half the time the Doctor himself only solves the main problem by roping together a bunch of garbage into a science fiction machine that's never been built before, plugging it into a wall, and hoping that it'll work in a way that saves everyone's life.

Craig Fergusen, the former host of The Late Late Show, is a Scottsman and a Doctor Who fan, and summarized the show better than anyone else I've ever met when he sung (yes, sung): "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism!"  And, because everything ties back into politics these days, I feel like brute force and cynicism are the dominant philosophies running the world right now.  Everything is terrible and the only way to make it better is for good people to punch the bad people in the face.

Well I don't cotton to that.  And only partially because that doesn't work.  You can't out-cynicize the cynics, and you can't punch evil into submission without becoming a cynical brute yourself.  Trust in the sincerity of good intentions, in intellectuals and romantics, and tomorrow will be a time worth living for, even if you don't get to see it yourself because you've sacrificed all your blood to a space vampire to mark her with your alien DNA so the rhinoceros-alien-cops who have come to arrest her will teleport the hospital you're in out of quarantine on the moon and back to Earth so all the people inside won't suffocate to death inside the forcefield.

That's why I'm glad I get to watch all the back episodes of Doctor Who now with my wife.


A day I've been waiting for for a long time finally came last week, when Paddington 2 came out on DVD and I could pick it up at the Redbox.  Cameron and I love the Paddington movies, for a number of reasons.

  1. It's dang funny.  Though it's a kid's movie, the director rarely strays into easy humor of people farting, or the CGI talking animal humiliating a grumpy human for schadenfreude giggles.  The laughs come long and strong, and say a lot about how Britain sees itself.  One of my favorite moments in the first Paddington movie is when Paddington, alone on the streets, takes refuge in the sentry hut of one of the guards at Buckingham Palace.  While completely maintaining his posture and duty, he serves Paddington some tea and biscuits and finger sandwiched, all of which he stored inside his giant hat.  If you ever wanted to know what Buckingham Palace guards kept inside their hat, it's proper snacks.
  2. It's truly sincere. One of my least favorite things about 2018 is how cynical everyone is, myself included.  It's generally assumed that everything good will become bad, everything bad will get worse, and given a choice, everyone will go for the easy money and cheap fame, and the only people who won't will make a lot of noise but accomplish nothing.  Paddington, the character, is the opposite of that.  He believes in the good of everyone, helps each person he meets, and generally makes the world a better place through sheer politeness and the simple assumption that people will do good if that's what's expected of them.  Frankly, in a political climate where even the people I agree with often come across in print as sarcastic, vicious jerks, we could all learn a little from Paddington.
  3. This one gets a little deep, but Paddington doesn't make sense.  He's the only talking bear in London, but is all but ignored when he steps off the boat.  His aunt lives in the "Old Bears' Home" which is located in darkest Peru.  Buckingham Palace guards keep teapots under their hats, and a mystical carny is somehow able to scratch clues into the location of a secret treasure all across London's most famous landmarks.  No one bats an eye at any of this.  They may have opinions (Paddington's neighbor doesn't like bears on account of their loud picnics) but one could assume an alien spaceship could drop out of the sky and throw ice cream at everyone, and they would simply thank it for the snack and get on their way.  In a world that nowadays seems too complex and nonsensical for anyone with a normal brain to grasp, this sort of zen approach to the weirdness of modern life appeals to me.
  4. Simon Farnaby plays a security guard in both films, and he's completely hilarious both times.  Regarding villainous Hugh Grant in disguise: "An unusually attractive nun is causing mayhem in the cathedral dome! Stop that stunning sister!"


A few weeks ago, I decided to take a Facebook moratorium.  This conveniently coincided with the news break that Facebook is terrible for privacy and eats babies, but in honesty, that had less to do with my decision than the fact that I was helplessly addicted to it.

Although I've generally just told people I left for ethical reasons, which makes me seem like much more of an outstanding guy than I am.

I decided not to close my account, but simple to just not log on to Facebook, at all, on any of my devices.  I never had the Facebook app on my phone, but I still have the Facebook Messenger app, which I also hate, so if any of the people I know solely through Facebook want to contact me, there's still that option.

Giving up Facebook has meant much more time for art, and less time for lollygagging about in front of the computer.  It's made me realize that I only visit about 8 websites daily, and once I've absorbed the updates, I no longer actually require the internet for anything beyond research and communication.  Which is what it's supposed to be for.

Also, moving my homepage to this blog instead of the New York Times has made me much more likely to post, and since I don't enjoy posting nearly as much as scrolling through depressing headlines, it's also made me much less likely to log onto the internet at all.  I've also increased by Twitter and Instagram presences @phostetlerart.

Life is good.

Iceland is the land for me

This post is mostly about cinnamon buns. As far as I can tell, cinnamon buns ought to be the main export of Iceland, since that is what the country does best, and they do many things very well.

I was recently in Iceland on my honeymoon with my wife Cameron, who planned the entire thing from booking the flight to booking the car to booking all the hotel room, and looking up the best place to buy cinnamon buns in Reykjavik.  I think my major contribution was going to the bank and extending our credit limit so she could do all of that at the same time.  It was easy.  Iceland is very big on tourism these days, since their major export otherwise is fish and volcano debris.  IcelandAir is one of the nicest planes I've ever been on, and their in-flight entertainment choices are top notch. 

The only "city" in Iceland is Reykjavik, home of Braud, a small (like everything in Iceland) bakery franchise at which one can find the best, fluffiest, gooiest, crispiest, butteriest cinnamon buns in the world, if not the universe, as well as a healthy assortment of tasty seafood restaurants, and also a Penis Museum.  More on that later.  We spent our first and last days in Iceland in Reykjavik, and the intervening week in the countryside, exploring and photographing the most stunning landmarks and natural wonders the country had to offer.

These include Dingvellir, also pronounced "Thingvellir," because the letter in the beginning of the word is sound at the beginning of the word "the," which everyone pronounces as "duh" unless they're very careful.  Dingvellir is the spot of the first Western parliament, and also the spot where the European and American tectonic plates are splitting apart.  In real life, that looks like two cliffs with a path in the middle that has to constantly be repaired because giant sinkholes keep opening up in it.  We also saw Gullfoss (a big windy waterfall), Seljalandsfoss (a waterfall you can walk behind), Skogafoss (a waterfall with deeply magical-looking rainbows flying out of it), and Svartifoss, (a waterfall that looks like a spooky pipe organ), a glacier named Vatnajokull, Jokulsarlon and Reynisfjara, two black sand beaches, and a few proper Icelandic geysirs.

Fun fact: "geysir" is only one of about a dozen Icelandic words to make it into common English.  Others include blunder, berserk, ransack, slaughter, heathen, , because Iceland was once full of Vikings, but also words like fellow, happy, husband, and troll.  Trolls got my attention.  Iceland officially believes in elves and trolls, and has laws against developing elvish habitats.  For my part, during drives and drink stops, I found myself sketching and lavishly detailing pictures of the most gross and obscene trolls I could imagine.  It was very fun.

My last days in Iceland were marred by an inflamation of my left eye caused by a scratched cornea.  I couldn't see a thing out of it, and could barely stand sunlight.  That, plus the fact that it was Easter Sunday ruled out the Penis Museum, which I had desperately wanted to go to, but not at the expense of breaking their window and possibly getting glass in my other, working eye.  According to Cameron, we visited a mineral lake and a bevy of geothermal pools instead, but mostly I saw the inside of the rental car and the spout of my eyedrops.  I also ate another cinnamon bun.  You don't need eyes to taste heaven.

Nevertheless, on the trip home, I managed to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel on the little airplane TV.

For pictures, take a look at my wife's instagram and my instagram too, for photos.  We took some really good ones on a very expensive camera, but you don't get to see those.  Much too good for the internet.