Nth Degree recently sat down with con artist, er, freelance artist Robert Quill for a quick chat.
ND: How would you define yourself in the world of Fandom?
RQ: Well, I’m a published artist, but more than that I specialize in providing custom illustration directly to the members of Fandom… the fans themselves.
ND: Custom illustrations. How long have you been doing that?
RQ: Off and on since the late ’80s. I was always doing character sketches for my role-playing game pals. One day I decided to get a table at a local convention. I brought a portfolio and a sign that said, “Please Disturb the Artist.” It was a greater success than I’d expected, and I’ve been attending conventions to one degree or another ever since.
ND: A published artist—tell me more about the types of publications and the work.
RQ: I worked in the comic industry for about a year, on a very nice comic called Raven. I have contributed illustrations to many role-playing and card games, as well as magazines and graphic design in and out of fandom. It can be a tricky profession, because it’s so very, very fun and cool.
ND: How do you balance the “contract work” with the “ego work”? And I mean ego in a good way.
RQ: Well, good or bad, I certainly have one… just ask my wife (costumer Rae Bradbury) and family. But to answer your question—to me, it’s been a priority to make my way in the world with my art. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Lots of artists supplement their income with “day jobs” non-related to the art field. For me, that’s never worked. The good side of that is that I do what I love and make a fairly handsome living doing it. The bad side is that I don’t have the time, or maybe opportunity is a better word, to explore “ego art” as you call it.
ND: Tell me more about your day job.
RQ: Well, it varies. I do software interface work, Flash work, advanced web design. It varies with my clientele and their needs. That type of commercial or graphic design work constitutes about two-thirds of my income, while pure illustration makes up the remaining third. I expect the ratio to reverse over the next year or two so that the pure illustration work comprises the larger two-thirds.
ND: And that’s the work you find at conventions?
RQ: Yes. Some for individual fans/gamers/models, some for publishing interests, like we discussed before, some… well… in the adult industry.
ND: Gotcha. Moving on with our G-rated discussion… Let’s talk about cons. How many have you attended over the years?
RQ: Whoa… Anywhere from five to twenty a year over an approximately fifteen year period… So over 180 or so. Wow, that’s quite a lot, isn’t it?
ND: Yes, it is! Any cons that are absolute staples for you?
RQ: Arisia is a great, great con. Very consistent, well run, good location. Dragon*Con in Atlanta is wonderful because it’s so enormous, and the attendees are SO into what they’re doing. There’s a fantastic level of costuming and enthusiasm there. Beyond that, in my view, the quality of a given con will vary tremendously from year to year.
ND: What’s your most memorable con experience?
RQ: Well, for a G-rated interview I could tell how I met my wife: I was living in Virginia and I traveled about as far north as I ever traveled back then to attend Shore Leave at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore. Rae was living near Boston at the time, and had traveled as far south as she had ever gone to attend the same event. She walked by my table in a fairly alluring and mighty tight outfit. I didn’t leave her alone all con until I got to know her and, more importantly, got her address and phone number. We were living 600 miles apart, both in relationships—each with varying levels of commitment—and we had managed to share a grand total of six hours together at the event. Obviously, it was fate.
ND: Beautiful… it’s an inspiration to other con-goers.
RQ: Indeed, cons aren’t for fandom, they’re for true love!
ND: How about your worst con experience?
RQ: One time I drove to Atlanta for Dragon*Con and I pulled into town without enough money to get me home. I had to count on a successful event—or I’d have to move there.
ND: Financial issues are common to many Con-goers. How do you deal with it?
RQ: I went through a period where I was focused entirely on the financial side of what I was doing. Every aspect of my approach to custom illustration was focused on profitability and it can be an insidious trap for artists. It may sound corny, but if an artist doesn’t care, I mean really care, about what they’re doing, their talent will atrophy, and that will show in their work, believe me.
ND: Let’s talk about your illustration work. Do you have a style that you’re naturally inclined toward?
RQ: Well, the subject matter of what I do is dictated by the wishes of my clients, not my personal preferences. That is, incidentally, why so few artists do what I do, it requires that your subordinate your artistic preferences for your clients. I have developed a sort of “default” drawing style that I drop into in the absence of other direction. Certain facial and body types I tend to gravitate towards.
ND: What kind of demand does the personal illustration work put on your time?
RQ: A tremendous demand. I’m the chief bread-winner for my family. Every hour I spend working on something “off the clock” hurts the household cash flow. It’s a question of building a buffer of time, so I can invest that time into more of what I want to do, in order to give that a chance to take off, and thus become all that I do. Did that make any sense whatsoever?
ND: No, but who’s really reading this, anyway?
RQ: Good point.
ND: You mentioned that your wife Rae is a costumer. As a supportive husband, how does her work affect your time at home and at cons?
RQ: I once was asked to participate in a panel aimed at those who are married to or dating a costumer. It was actually quite an informative panel and surprisingly well attended. What came out of that panel really sums up the issues involved with having a costumer as a significant other: 1) At least one room of your home will be consumed and ever-after exclusively devoted to their costuming habit. 2) You will be involved in the creative process, whether you like it or not, and finally, 3) You WILL be on stage, probably within the year. Resign yourself to it. It’s much more fun that it sounds.
ND: You tend to “garb up” at Cons. Would you say that you wear a “costume” or are putting on a “personae”?
RQ: Well, that’s easily your most insightful question. It’s a complicated issue. I wear different garb at different events. I’ve found that wearing garb, or some sort of distinctive attire, is good business. But, while I don’t feel my personality changes in the slightest, in or out of garb, it is true that when I’m wearing garb I look very different than I do in regular, daily life… and that difference does have an impact on the way some people interact with me. Cons are an accepting environment, where a person is assured that 90% of the people around them have interests and hobbies just as strange as their own.
ND: Finally, how can people learn more about what you do?
RQ: Check me out online.