Photograph of Shane Izykowski by Michael Cuffe

Artist Shane Izykowski knows his eerie oil portraits make some viewers uneasy. In fact he relishes that. But his hope is that once you’re drawn into the ghastly world he’s portrayed, you’ll find catharsis.

Shane embraces the shadow side as a way to bring light to the notion that suffering is an important part of the human experience. Through hardship we find our humanity and we grow.

This is clearly a time of hardship for many in the art community. Recognizing the great challenges many artists are experiencing due to the spread of the pandemic, from losing event spaces to being unable to pay rent, Shane saw an opportunity to spin the sense of hopelessness in the community into optimism. He rallied a team of fellow creatives to help him launch the Covid Creative Convention.

The digital convention gathers the work of over 350 artists working in almost every medium imaginable and presents it on a website so people can discover new art.

Shane is no stranger to uplifting his fellow working artists. He has been giving them advice on everything from digital marketing to how to reproduce art on his weekly podcast Drawing From Experience since late 2017. Having worked in many creative fields including photography, makeup and effects, sculptural and painting, his point of view is invaluable.

I reached out to Shane to find out more about what is at stake for working artists during this time. His generous spirit comes through in his replies to questions. And his message of resilience feel like the pep talk we all need right now.

You live in San Francisco. How has your daily life changed since the spread of Covid-19?

I’ve had to move my art supplies home so I can continue working. At first, things seemed like business as usual, but I quickly realized that nothing was as normal as it seemed.

Everyone’s lives shifted drastically to a virtual space, and while I live a lot of my life online, it’s been a tough pill to swallow.

So much of my art business relies on in-person events, whether that be gallery shows, street fairs or conventions, and all of my large mid-year events were cancelled or postponed. I was absolutely heart-broken, but I’m not someone who just gives up. So, I took this opportunity to reach out, on an even larger level, to my online community.

Although I am severely and negatively impacted financially, I took this opportunity to try to make as much of a difference as possible for those in a similar economic situation.

I know the best way to combat an uncontrollable situation is to do things that are within our control, so I’ve been busy working on building online resources and encouraging others to do the same.

The Killer of Men by Shane Izykowski

Has your creative process been affected during this time? Are you making art? If you are making art, what have you been working on?

My creative process has been impacted, but mainly because of my own doing. The Covid Creative Convention, which we launched publicly on April 13th, took up close to three solid weeks of my time, and countless hours from my team of volunteers in the Drawing From Experience Creative Community on Facebook.

I found it very difficult to create personal artwork during this time, because I really wanted to see this project through.

After the launch, I got right back to work on a piece for the Dark Art Emporium for a show called “Communion,” which is opening May 9th. The opening may happen virtually, but I guess only time will tell.

I’m used to not having to wait for inspiration to strike, because deadlines are such a huge part of my art life. So, regardless of how beaten down or defeated I feel, I will always find a way to create more work.

With that said, I think it’s important for artists to take a bit of breathing time if they need it right now, especially because of how difficult things have been. But, I try to always maintain a positive and hopeful outlook on things and push through the hard times.

Are you reflecting on current events in your creative work? And do you feel pressure to incorporate current events into your art at this time?

I typically do not incorporate much current event symbolism into my artwork, although I have thought about it.

I do think that it’s important for artists to document moments in history that could be skewed by news organizations, and to tell the truth from the artist’s perspective.

Most of the meaning I put into my work is about the human condition and how we deal with trauma, grief and suffering, which is definitely something that we’re dealing with on a completely different level right now.

Haunting of the One Who Never Was by Shane Izykowski

You are known for sinister portraits that dredge up the darkest aspects of humanity. What is the role of dark art when times are bleak? Is there space for grim and shadowy imagery against a real background of distress?

The importance of Dark Art in our society, and among our current events, is not only important right now, but maybe one of THE MOST important genres to document this part of human history.

A lot of Dark Art is a pure reflection of real human emotion, and what better way to work through some of that, than head on?

Some of the darkest parts of humanity are the aspects that we try to avoid, instead of dealing with, and for that reason, Dark Art will continue to play a major role in the documentation of this experience for all of us. It might not always be easy to discuss or view, but it’s also not easy to create. On the surface, a lot of my personal work may be difficult to look at, but a lot of the messages are surprisingly hopeful and truthful.

Artists are stereotypically highly sensitive. But they are above all else creative. Do you think creative people are better equipped to be more resilient when times get tough? Why or why not?

Artists are the self-proclaimed problem solvers, the ones who are used to “making it work,” regardless of their situation. This is no different on that front, with the exception that it’s happening on a global scale.

Resilience is key to the longevity of an artist’s career, through constant rejection and always trying to find the best way to make ends meet. Truth be told, we often find ourselves in uncomfortable situations that the common person wouldn’t dare tread! I’m not saying that all artists are in constant turmoil, but I feel like our coping mechanisms are well adept to being outside of our comfort zones.

The Conjuror of Earth Spell by Shane Isykowski, 2019

Have you explored any artistic techniques or mediums during this time that are new to you?

I have not, but I know a lot of artists have been making new work in different mediums, because they’ve shifted their work areas to a smaller home studio.

Are there any supplies or tools that you rely on or would like to have but are currently struggling to get?

There are some amazing local shops in San Francisco that have closed their doors and are only taking orders online. This is tough because I source certain materials locally because of the weight of these items (for example- resin for casting).

I also worry about the long term ramifications of these businesses having to close, and if they’ll still be around when this all blows over.

Your weekly podcast, Drawing from Experience, is about inspiring artists and helping them navigate the commercial side of their business. Are you able to continue doing episodes from self-quarantine? If you are do you plan to tailor the content of future episodes to address the current climate of the artworld?

I will stop at nothing to continue doing the podcast. I think it’s even more important now, than ever before.

So many artists are tuning in to podcasts, audio books and online media to get new information, and my podcast has become a valuable resource for many!

I have already shifted some of the content and programming to reflect the current situation, with an episode specifically about the Covid Creative Convention, and I just released an episode entitled “The Time is Now,” with tips on how to make the best use of your time, how to continue selling online, and how to get your online presence up to par so you can push past this crisis.

Along with a team of volunteers from the Drawing from Experience Creative Community Facebook group, you’ve launched the Covid Creative Convention. This online only convention whose tagline is “Because pandemics suck but the art you own doesn’t have to” showcases the work of artists working in many different mediums from all over the world. What precipitated this project?

This was one of those ideas that was sparked in the middle of the night, with the question- “what if?” I reached out to my Creative Community, and very quickly had 15 volunteers to help.

I was a bit hesitant at first to even ask, but once I saw the response, I knew the idea had some solid ground to stand on.

The original idea was just to pool talent from around the world and allow them to post on a Facebook invite to an online convention. My team members convinced me that a website would be a more professional route, and the idea took off from there.

When you decided to begin work on the Covid Creative Convention you asked for 2 volunteers and for artist submissions. Were you surprised when 15 people volunteered and around 250 artists submitted work in just the first several days of planning? The creation of art is often a solitary pursuit. Is it your sense that people are looking for ways to be involved and where does that impulse come from?

I was absolutely floored by the response. To date, now that the convention has been launched, here’s the stats: 570 Artists filled out the online submission form, 369 Artists came through with their images of work they’re selling, 1,784 Images were categorized, titled, organized and uploaded onto the site. Since launching on Monday, April 13th we’ve had 4,231 Unique Visitors and 14.9k individual page views.

The response has been overwhelming. I absolutely think people want to be involved with any good-will venture right now, especially to help artists. It is my belief that if we rally together, we can achieve anything.

I’m not so sure I would describe it as an impulse, but more of an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than any one person.

You mentioned on your podcast that you feel the Covid Creative Convention will be successful even if only one artist benefits. What’s at stake for the creative community if people do not engage in projects like this?

Everything. EVERYTHING! And that might not look like global devastation in the art world. People may not see it so publicly, like a giant explosion. To me, I see it as an artist not being able to pay their studio rent, to buy groceries, to fund a meaningful project that they’ve spent years formulating.

To me, this comes in the form of an artist sending me a personal message and thanking me for the extra work put in, and letting me know they sold something from the site to a new collector that, otherwise, would not have found them.

I always think globally and universally when it comes to the scope of the idea, but the results are more person-to-person. It’s because the people who are impacted are my friends and neighbors, my fellow artists, the community that I’ve known my whole life.

I would encourage anyone on the fence about supporting artists, at this time, to really reflect on what life would be like without creativity.

Are there any plans to expand or extend the Covid Creative Convention beyond April? Are you going to reopen submissions from artists?

There’s obviously a need to, because we’ve gotten emails and messages everyday, as this continues to grow.

We are a team of voracious marketeers and social media-savvy creatives, so we’ve tapped as many resources as we can to create a buzz.

We would love to continue this project, but physically, we can’t right now.

We’ve discussed continuing only when the art world is in serious trouble, to basically re-emerge when the time is right. We’ve already outlined ideas for a second convention, and we’ll keep those ideas under our hat when and if we’re needed again.

I love the idea of being a team of art freedom fighters, or something of the sort, and now that I know how we can streamline our process, I would be happy to help again.

The difficulty this time around was that we had no financial means to back it up. We put money out of our own pockets to fund the convention, and we really can’t do that again.

Plus, the lost time on our personal artwork put a strain on our individual businesses, so we would really need to figure out a way to make this work next time without the financial loss.

She Hid it with Her Hair by Shane Izykowski

Do you have any ideas for art fans who want to support artists and the art community, but maybe don’t have the funds to do so financially at this time?

Please share our efforts! It’s free and only takes a second! Share the website link, go to the Facebook invite and respond that you’re attending and invite up to 500 Facebook friends!

You may not have the money, but someone on your friend’s list may. Also, a lot of artists take donations during live streams, have their online shops open and are keeping up on their social media. I would suggest going through the website and finding your favorite artists and following them!

What do you say to artists who are uncomfortable promoting their work at this time perhaps because they feel that art commerce should take a backseat to the greater turmoil?

I would say to them that the world needs their art, especially now! I would say that the greater turmoil will be easier for people to handle when they see more beauty in the world. And I would say that you will never know who you’ll reach, who you’ll inspire, unless you put your artwork out there!

What kind of art have you been consuming and why? Is this different than what you typically consume?

I have been so buried in the artwork of the Covid Creative Convention artists, that that’s all I’ve been seeing lately! Which, quite frankly, is more than enough! I’ve discovered so many new artists and I’m honored to have them be a part of such a wonderful and fulfilling project!

Did you have any planned showcases that have been postponed or cancelled? Or were there any shows that you were looking forward to attending?

The main show that devastated me was Monsterpalooza. When we got word that it was cancelled, I was absolutely heart-broken. I am such a monster fan, and this was going to be the first official Monsterpalooza event that I was going to have a booth at.

What can we do to support your work at this time?

Please visit my web shop online: I have originals, prints and sculptures for sale.

I also have a Patreon for my personal artwork and a Patreon for my podcast.

Helping me stay financially sound is imperative to my ability to keep pushing forward.

Thank you to Shane for taking the time to do this interview. I am especially moved by his message of resilience.

Be sure to check out the Covid Creative Convention online now through May 13.

To see more of Shane’s work you can also follow him on Instagram. And for practical advice about working as a professional artist, check out his podcast Drawing from Experience.