In this post, I’m going to dissect my performance at GuardianCon 2019.
Leading up to convention, I worked full and part time doing a few things. Mainly, as a Customer and Technical Support agent for an MMORPG. I finished (and in some cases, did not finish) commissions and worked on a few freelance designs. I spent all of my “free time” in the months of March, April, May, and June working on art for GuardianCon 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
I enlisted some help, but not enough. While piloting our transport to Orlando, I had to pull over for a full on medical emergency. I had put my body into shock on the side of the highway due to an overdose on caffeine pills and energy drinks/coffee- having consumed probably over 5000MG of caffeine (and only sleeping about 7 hours) across 48 hours leading up to and during the 850 mile journey from Washington, DC to central Florida.
On the other side of that, and in the end, the trip financed itself. To date, it is my most profitable art showing ever. As a vacation, it was an utter failure. As an event and a happening, it was one of the greatest weekends of my life.
And yet, there are some very personal parts of this story that I’m still not ready to share. In part and whole, even some of the successes. But I’ve been taking it apart in my head for months now and for whatever it’s worth, I want to output/share at least this much.
Creating Works Before the Convention
NIGHT SHIFT: My day job at the time was on a very odd schedule. I’m contract support for an always-on game during the night shift. I swapped my sleeping schedule back in January, and generally wake up around noon, though the schedule slides through the week. Early on, I only worked nights. 6PM — 2AM, Wednesday through Sunday.
GETTING STARTED: I started working on art for GuardianCon 2019 in March, after half taking over my dad’s basement. It took me a while to even get a space together that would allow me to work on paintings, let alone fifteen plus at the same time (to be finished as quickly as possible). That didn’t really start until April/early May. The phases were fairly rough, and I had to move storage units- first renting a smaller one, then discarding some things, and finally cramming as much as possible into the basement so I could work.
At first, work was slow going, finishing one painting that I started shortly after GuardianCon 2018 ended (which had ended up on hold). Whisper of the Worm. This one took a while by itself. I spent a lot of time tweaking it, and it clocks in at about “a month” on the timeline of ‘start to finish’. Next I did Thorn. This ended up being the second to last “large” Destiny painting I’d do (they’re just WAY too expensive to ship). As I was wrapping up Thorn, I was realizing that I had to stack up the production of the rest of the paintings.
PROCESS TIME: I took stock- measured twice, cut once, and got all of the materials I needed. I decided on my subjects- a number of weapons and helmets (which would only inflate and deflate a little over the coming weeks). Fifteen pieces, all planned out precisely. My studio space was ready to go.
The plan was to make paintings and prints, selling originals and self-produced prints of those paintings (and any other prints or paintings I had “in stock” that I could bring with me). I plotted out a few milestones- ‘finish paintings’, then ‘test printing’ and dutifully apportioned the time left until the week of the convention, leaving one final week for travel time (2 days) and setup (1 day) and the event itself (2 days). Then, traveling back. Which I could do at a leisurely pace, if necessary.
I worked between shifts, and nights until I fell asleep. I didn’t do much other than paint, show a fellow group of creatives my work, and help critique other pieces. I did this 7 days a week for three months straight, while working a job nearly 40 hours a week in there, too.
PROBLEMS: There was no slack in this plan for mistakes or problems. The “slack” was in how much I would accomplish in the time I had left, and with respect to the schedule I had created. For what it’s worth, 90% of what I was doing I had done before- for GuardianCon 2018, for art shows, for running an art studio/gallery/venue. Even the marketing, design, social media, and advertising work is something I’ve got experience in.
So I simply set about doing the work, and doing as much of it as I possibly could, on each day. Whatever I got done by July 1st was basically what I got done, and that would have to be that.
TRAVEL: If it filled up the van, it filled up the van. If I didn’t have enough new works, I’d fill it to the brim with old works, too. Anything that might sell to an interested audience. I honestly didn’t think I would fill the van… A charming, but aging 2000(ish?) Chevrolet Astro Van. Basically a minivan with no seats. Perfect for a modest amount of lumber, paintings, and luggage.
QUALITY: Leading up to the convention, I finished 15 Destiny paintings, 14 of which were iconic weapons and armor from Destiny 1 and 2: Lumina, The Last Word, Hawkmoon (D1), Polaris Lance (Ikelos Field Tuning), Perfect Paradox, Jotunn, Crown of Tempests, Thorn, Whisper of the Worm (Between Breaths), Redrix’s Claymore, Celestial Nighthawk D2, Celestial Nighthawk (D1 Alt 1), Celestial Night Hawk (D1 Alt ), Celestial Nighthawk D2 (Alt 1).
I was insanely happy with how all of them turned out. They were well received on social media, and amongst other artists who all spent the time leading up to this shared event pumping each other up, critiquing, giving tips, and promoting each other.
COMMUNITY: I also started three separate print projects for a special gift for the community, but those didn’t get off the ground. I got about 40% of the way into a very clever fundraising idea that touches on a handful of aspects of the Destiny community (that will be fully live next year and will feature a few other Destiny Community Artists, hopefully). But the paintings were the main accomplishment.
QUANTITY: I did over 200 prints (some of them literally printed in the hotel room on evenings after the setup and convention). 13x19’s, 13x22’s, 13x13’s, all on heavy fine art paper. All digitally printed by yours truly. Along with some help, I also created a custom-printed box for the first 100 people who bought something at my booth, a 2 color design that was roughly registered with a custom-built cardboard jig.
LOGISTICS: The whole thing was presented on two 4x2’ booth panels, hand constructed with a “rustic” look in mind, which would allow me to hang paintings and prints for viewing at the convention. The booth layout was planned around a 6x10’ booth with a table, which I modified to allow viewers in as close to the art as possible, emulating a gallery space as much as I could with the space given. Instead of a barrier between the art and the audience, the table was a workspace and storage for prints and packing material.
All told, the materials needed to transport, store, pack, build and run a small art show and sale took up the entire van. Literally packed to the top, crates, objects, and suitcases packed in, Tetris-like, to maximize the space.
PREP TIME GO: Still a day out from leaving for the convention, I met up with my booth co-artist and operator, and we laid in the final work before leaving for the drive, planned for two phases - DC to Winston-Salem, NC; then Winston to Orlando, FL, at the hotel/convention center.
I didn’t know it, but I was already stumbling downhill, and in two days I would come to a sharp stop, just 45 minutes away from my goal.
Travel Time, Break Down, Hospital
LEAVING VA: We left DC for North Carolina on Tuesday, July 2nd. The plan was to drive the 6 or so hours to my mom’s house in NC as the first leg of the trip. We would stop for the night and then carry on to Florida on Wednesday morning, getting there in the late afternoon or early evening, just in time for check-in.
In 2018, for the same convention, I drove practically non-stop from DC to Gainesville, FL, where my brother lives. It was about 12 hours, and I left after packing my van myself and driving straight through the day and night. I drove to Tampa the next morning for the event, arriving and being one of the first artists setting up that morning. I did this alone, and it was boring, but easy. This year I thought it would be just as easy.
CONFLUENCE: A confluence of things made this journey difficult, and worse yet, terrible and dangerous. Here they are, in chronological order.
THE VAN: it began to break down just outside of Charlottesville, VA. Less than two hours into a 15+ hour journey. I was worried about this prior to the trip, and had even brought it up with my dad, a skilled diagnostician and mechanic, and he, doctor-like, cleared the vehicle for travel. I’m a careful (but sometimes fast) driver, and it did seem OK at the time.
After getting a free code reading at the closest auto parts shop, we came to the conclusion that the van would stop and go no further. The transmission was on the verge of a full and catastrophic breakdown. If I kept it in 3rd gear and only needed to go a few miles here and there, it would be fine. But a 1000+ mile trip, packed to the brim? Not safe, not logistically sound.
We proceeded to check every rental facility nearby. No luck. Charlottesville is a college town, and we arrived just in time for rental facilities, already picked bare of the right vehicles for this trip, to be closing for the day. Worried that ranging too far with the van (heading to the next city, etc) would be dangerous or costly, I called in a huge favor and my dad rented a van from a facility near our house, just south of DC. But he would have to stop his day, prepare for the trip and drive it the rest of the way- and we’d have to swap everything from one vehicle to the other. In the biggest commission of detail from this story, it ended up taking six hours total to get back on the road- and finally, at around 11PM, we were heading from Charlottesville to Winston-Salem, NC.
FIRST SIGNS OF OVERDOSE: There’s a part of the story here that I can’t tell in detail. I did not react well to this delay. I freaked out, to put it mildly. I lashed out at everyone around me, and at the time, it seemed and felt reasonable. It turns out that in retrospect, I was already heavily affected by the nastier side-effects of caffeine- extreme anxiety (which I would say I am also afflicted with an overabundance of this in general).
KEEP GOING, DAY ONE: But we got switched over and we carried on. The rest of the trip to NC was filled with stops. A gas station, then a 24 hour Wal-mart. Another gas station, then a rest area. I felt tired, and my body was threatening to shut down- but I was pushing it and pushing it. We got to my mom’s house at around 3AM. I slept fitfully, then rose at around 10AM. We had a short breakfast, and I had more caffeine. Then we carried on.
KEEP GOING, DAY TWO: The trip from NC to Florida was fraught. I was tired and agitated and dosing 300MG caffeine pills every hour, give or take. I was also drinking Red Bull or some equivalent, or “Nitro Infused” cold brew. Barely eating, and absolutely required to be 100% vigilant… We got close while trying to stop repeatedly. Probably 5 or 6 times. The final time, I ended up getting very sic in several parking lots in a row. We tried to get a hotel room, but after two unsuccessful attempts, we carried on (I’m sure I looked extremely sick and disheveled). I was already behaving erratically, and I’m sure I was carrying a smell.
OVERDOSE: My body started shutting down while we were about 2 hours away from Orlando. I still ignored it. With less than an hour to go, even after trying to stop and recuperate, we called for an ambulance from the roadside. As they arrived, my body began shuddering and sweating profusely. I was already in a vicious cycle of throwing up, guzzling water to replenish myself, and throwing up again. My skin was crawling. I felt too light, and the shuddering was nearly violent.
THAT CONFLUENCE I MENTIONED: So, I guess by this accounting, that would basically be three parts:
- Part 1 - my sleep schedule was not flipped out of my ‘night shift’ sleep schedule, and I was short on sleeps- only having 4-5ish hours on the days leading up to the trip, and 1-2 solid hours (at most) on the nights between travel day 1 and day 2.
- Part 2 - the van shutdown burned 6 hours of travel time- roughly the time it would have taken to arrive at our first stop. With the schedule (and van) packed so tight that nothing could budge any longer (after all, it was July 2nd at this point).
- Part 3 - the overdose was something I should have seen coming from a mile away. But I didn’t. I thought I could handle caffeine, and I thought it was the crutch that would carry me to Florida.
All of this slammed into my body, on the side of the road in Seminole County, about 45 minutes from the resort. I was despondent. I was terrified. I made my booth buddy take our rented van from the side of the highway where I’d stopped it (filled with art) to the hospital parking lot where I was deposited by ambulance.
ESCAPE! FROM! HOSPITAL! But it still doesn’t stop there. I slept fitfully at the hospital yet again. I was given IV fluids and some medications to resolve the overdose. I had blood drawn and tests run. Some of the results were apparently concerning enough to run more tests. In the morning, I was given a horrible breakfast that I couldn’t touch. I tried sleeping more and Tweeting to reassure my fellows that I would be making it to the convention.
The waiting at hospitals is terrifying. The wait at this hospital was driving me wild because I felt stuck. I felt good enough to leave, and I had a schedule to keep. I wanted to be seen as quickly as possible, or otherwise cleared. Time carried on.
EARLY DISCHARGE/NOT A MISTAKE (QUESTION MARK!?!?!)… Nearing noon, I requested that I be discharged. I knew I wasn’t 100%, but I also knew that no one else could do what I needed to do. And no one would do it for me. The plans were only in my head. No one was setting up my booth. No one was coming to move the van. It was now Thursday, and set up for the convention had already begun and I wasn’t even at the resort. I couldn’t make anyone else deal with my mistakes- there was just no way. Literally or figuratively.
So after another excruciating half an hour, I’m completely discharged and we are back on the road.
Less than an hour after that and we were finally there.
I’m sure I still looked a little beat up, but I was able to crack a few jokes when I saw friends and “co-workers” as we got checked in. We started unpacking and sorting and setting up our booth. The logistics of the convention proper had begun. Up until the drive home, everything else was perfectly normal.
Well, normal for a convention.
Convention, Art, $777 for St. Jude
THE DRILLMASTER & THE BOOTH: I built a booth! As noted above, it was rustic AF, and beautiful. The first thing people noticed when I showed up last year was me making a ton of noise. I did it again this year, but louder because of my stupidity, then also loudly because of power tools (again).
It was a much nicer space. I felt bad getting sawdust all up in there.
ART SALES? OH, MY: I sold more art in two days that I have sold in my entire creative career. My first paying art job was in 2000, to do a flyer. I got $100 (I think? probably more like 50). I sold out of many of the prints I made. I did a second printing during the first break in the convention while I was there.
It was awesome. I’m so humbled by the reception of my work. So happy that people like it. I hope I can keep it up. It’s very fun to work on this kind of art.
$777 FOR ST JUDE - BUNGIE’S NUMBER: I did two giveaways at the convention. Lumina and Thorn. Hope and Sorrow. It was perfect! The Lumina Quest had launched that week, and Thorn is an all-time favorite (or all-time hated) weapon in the game. Altogether, we raised $777 for St. Jude this year. That’s Bungie’s number! I’m not sure why, exactly, there are lore implications and just in-joke implications all over the place. But it’s a lucky number, and I was happy to kick in the extra 7$ or whatever I needed to make it round out to that.
We participated, as a group, and made something awesome. I know it helped people. As a whole group, the convention raised well over 4M dollars. It might be a drop in the bucket for the horrid conditions we find ourselves in on Earth these days, but it helps nonetheless.
Thoughts on Convention
THE PARTICIPANTS: These are some of the most talented artists I’ve ever met. I have never felt more connected to a group of creatives, despite the thousands (tens of thousands) of miles that separate us all.
Every day, I am humbled by my fellow Guardians in the Destiny Community who create Destiny and gaming fanarts and their own original works. In mediums ranging from papercraft to wood to traditional illustration to Lego, it’s all there, and it’s all beautiful.
THE VOLUNTEERS: Once again, Raredrop and the Destiny Community came together to make sure something truly special was available to THOUSANDS of players. The real gem in all this were the volunteers. They made this biz sparkle. I saw some returning volunteers and was warmly greeted by some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the privilege to work with- even for only 4 days over the past two years.
It truly would not have been possible without them. Full stop.
THE PLAYERS: This is what we were all there for. And the players did not disappoint. The audience was massive. Their excitement was palpable. Their consideration for their fellows was off the charts (see above- over 4M dollars). I think the total admittance was something like 8,000+ people over the two days of the convention. It was brilliant.
People shared stories and listed their achievements. They predicted how much they would love Shadowkeep (and they do! they totally do!). New light was being blasted into the ether, and we were gearing up to go to the Haunted spaces on the Moon.
GCX 2020: I’m excited to see more inclusion in 2020. Switching from GuardianCon to Gaming Community Expo is a great move. The move to involve other games and studios last year was also an excellent step. It’s at the same location, which is a wonderful place (a bit expensive and fancy for my taste, but still incredible).
And it will be for the same cause. We’ll raise money for St. Jude again. I think this is incredibly important. I believe that all medical care should be completely free, and for children, there should be no question that their care should not be a cost that falls as a burden to anyone. We can all shoulder that responsibility so that they won’t have to.
Even if GuardianCon/GCX can only keep the hospital running for 2 days on what we raise, it’s worth it. For the kids.
If you got this far, thanks for reading. This is a weird document. It’s not really for anyone except me. But if I stumble upon something helpful in what I’ve relayed, for even one other person, I guess it’s best to make it public.