Jason Hong and Stephen Njota at Chromacon 2019.

I attended Chromacon and all I got were these amazing portraits

A free, well organised event in Auckland is something to cherish. When it falls on a long weekend? All the more reason to spend a few of those extra hours among people far more talented than you. Alice Webb-Liddall went to Chromacon to browse the art and check out some of New Zealand’s hottest portrait talent.

Chromacon, the brainchild of visual storyteller Allan Xia, is a biennial event bringing together some of the country’s most talented illustrators and designers for two days in Auckland’s Aotea Centre.

This year’s festival hosted over 200 creatives all shilling their wares, from pins to prints, comics, video games and tote bags. But among the tables stacked with books and figurines were a brave few artists willing to draw portraits, promising to only take 15 minutes and to charge no more than the price of an eggs benedict.

After a quick walk around the multi-storey venue, probably drooling on myself in shock at the TalEnT EVeRYwheRE, I clocked six stalls selling portraits. The first stall I visited belonged to Jason Hong. He had a super impressive setup, and was working on a large life drawing as I approached, with a piece of paper stuck to his back saying he was free for portraits, but “no children please.”

Just as I tried to get his attention and ask for him to recreate my face with pencils, a woman with two young children asked if he could draw them, and then got mad when he said no. I swooped in just before she left, happy that he didn’t ask to see my ID, sat down, and started my timer.

Me, by Jason Hong.

Time: 22 minutes.

What do you like about life drawing? I love that each time is a different challenge. I love the female form and there aren’t many times when you get to observe it like this.

Jason Hong spoke very quietly, so I tried to match his level and very quickly became embarrassed about having to repeat myself three times so I left after this measly question, first portrait in hand.

Me as I look IRL

Next, I went to visit the Voyager-award-winning artist Toby Morris. I was lucky enough to have been made into a cartoon by Toby before, so was sure I’d know what his impression of me would look like, but I could not have been more wrong.

He was offering only “food” or “monster” portraits which honestly threw me. I had expected to not have to think about anything all day, and once I’d settled on ‘food’, everything I had ever eaten disappeared from my mind.

“Hotdog?” suggested Toby, trying to inspire something, but as a vegetarian I felt that any meat product would be a fraudulent representation. There was only one vegetable I felt would truly capture my essence, one I regularly saw when I looked at my reflection in the mirror… ‘corn please.’

Me, as corn, by Toby Morris.

Time: 15 minutes.

Is there anything you have trouble drawing? Horses. I famously can’t draw horses, but it’s turned into a bit of a curse because now everyone wants me to draw them.

What’s your favourite piece of work on display today? I really like The Beths posters I’ve done. They’re a super fun group to work with, so I always enjoy doing those.

I ventured upstairs next, having noticed two portrait offerings in stalls right beside each other. The goal was to make it quick because I had already spent one and a half hours there. I put my name on the waiting list for a portrait by Stephen Njoto, who said he would text me when it was my turn, and then tried to do the same at his neighbour’s stall. Turns out his neighbour Minko, an anime-style watercolour artist, was insanely popular with Chromacon’s Sunday crowd, and the wait list was three hours long.

I walked around for about five minutes, tossing up whether to buy a pin that said “Fuck off you TERF”, before realising I left my phone at home, rendering Stephen Njoto’s text system useless, so I headed back to his stall to wait out my turn.

Luckily it was only about 10 minutes before I was in the chair, staring straight into the eyes of my third portrait artist of the day. Was this considered cheating? I wasn’t sure.

Stephen had a cool pencil-sketch style, accented with black ink, very different from both the lifelike portrait of Jason and the corn cob likeness by Toby.

Me, by Stephen Njoto.

Time: 18.5 minutes.

Is there anything you have trouble drawing? Probably hands, hands are always tricky.

What’s your favourite piece of work on display today? This one here…

 

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Post-lunchtime the lines were getting longer and the children were getting louder, and I still had two portraits to get, so I headed back downstairs to Duck D Lynn.

Lynn Choi was selling digital art, what looked like stills from stunning animations, and had set up a portrait booth next to these. She was the first I’d seen using colour in her portraits, and my bright orange tee was certainly ready for its time in the limelight.

Me, by Duck D Lynn.

Time: 17.5 minutes.

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Is there anything you have trouble drawing? Oh, definitely bodies in different positions. I always need a reference to do those well.

Where did you find your particular style? I really like Disney and I really like anime style so I combined the two and made it my own a bit.

It was 2:15pm when Lynn had finished my portrait, and I had about an hour to get home because my flatmate needed to use the communal car, so I headed to see if I could quickly book in a sketch with the last artist on my mental list.

On my way through the stalls a child dropped an egg sandwich on my shoe, and a detour to the bathroom to clean it off meant I was out of time. What was intended to be a quick stop in town to fulfil my narcissistic tendencies had turned into three and a half hours, but despite the extended itinerary, it was worth every second.


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