Epicurrence was the second big professional event I've attended in my career. Ever. The first one was AGIA's 2017 conference in Minneapolis, and I had zero game plan going in to that one. I found myself wandering around after workshops, rolling by merch tables, mentally wringing my hands thinking "oh god oh man am I making the most of this? Am I doing conferencing right? Should I be talking to a stranger right now trying to give them a business card? I don't want to. But should I?" That uncomfy-ness I felt was actually a big part of drew me to Epicurrence. I wanted less "am I doing this right?" anxiety, and more actually meeting people. I decided to document some of my before-thoughts, and committed to writing up an "afterwards", mostly for posterity, and also to determine if going was actually worthwhile.
Questions for before:
Questions for after:
The reason I got so excited to attend in the first place was that a lot of the folks I follow on twitter were also getting really psyched about it. There was a thread where Dan Petty (he founded and was the main organizer for Epicurrence) announced the early bird tickets were on sale, and reading through the thread I saw all these familiar creatives saying "can't wait!" The Epicurrence website promised intimate fireside chats and a laid back cozy atmosphere shared by maybe a hundred or so folks. This was a massive contrast to AGIA's annual conference.
It seemed like the kind of people who go to this conference are earnestly looking to connect with other creatives, meet up with internet friends (old and new), and do some light learning and laid back chatting. I mean, that's why I was going. Before Epicurrence I attended an AIGA DC event called "standing out" where our local board assembled a speaker panel to talk about building a personal brand online (specifically on twitter and instagram). One of the panelists, Freddie, had some great takes; and one of them in particular was that she saw a lot of "sameness" in DC's creative scene. "Not a lack of talent, actually, the opposite," she reassured us, but more like a fear to push the boundaries. Imagine the creative scene in Philadelphia, or New York City, or Chicago, or LA, and then compare those to DC. DC feels safer, more conservative (generally), and less adventurous, right? Hardworking, and good, but not... all that innovative, I guess? Like what we produce is mostly reactive? Reactive to each other? And that's where Freddie sees DC creatives getting into a sort of sameness-cycle. So Epicurrence, for me, was a way to try and step out of that space for a minute and shake up my creative perspective for two days.
I was afraid that it was going to feel like another fucking networking event. I was afraid I'd be too scared to meet folks and put myself out there. I was worried all these people would already know each other and I'd be in the corner, drinking alone, scrolling instagram, and no one was gonna want to interrupt my very obvious "too shy to function" moment. And none of that fear was specific to Epicurrence, honestly, those fears come up for every professional event I go to (big or small). However this conference seemed like it's doing everything to create an environment where all of those scary things became impossible, and that kind of gave me permission to feel more confident about going!
Absolutely. I felt no pressure at all to try and rub elbows with the big names that were there. There was no worrying about how I spoke about my career, my job, or anything. Everyone I made eye contact with, was standing near, or sitting by, was incredibly friendly. They'd introduce themselves, ask me the usual "whaddya do?" and we'd just keep going like that. And as I'm typing this at the airport, I'm feeling what I guess is a much more... mature(?) sense of inspiration. When I left AIGA's 2017 conference, I had all this eye candy swag and wild energy to be a better designer and "up my game," but no real path or plan to actually do that. Meg helped me answer some tough questions, and feel okay about the answers being temporary and simple. I didn't know who she was before Epicurrence announced her being a workshop host, and I'll be honest, I looked her up, watched some videos, and I just couldn't understand the zero-separation between work-stuff and life-stuff. I almost wanted to challenge her on it. But then, through the workshop, she explained it in a way that clicked: "If your career doesn't utilize all your real life skills and passions and ambitions, that's when you feel the need for work/life separation. If it does, though, then it's a good, happy fit."
The Hoodzpah sisters, oh my god, I ate up everything they said. Those women are some of the fiercest and most savvy people I've met. They knew all the ins and outs of the business end of design. They want money, and know how to get it doing shit they like doing with rock solid business strategy.
Aaron Draplin showed us—from scratch—his logo design process. He asked "Hey, who needs a logo?" and I was sitting up front and did a kind of half-hearted hand raise, and he asked "what's your name?" "Alice." And he started drafting in illustrator, showing us how he iterates on ideas, and how he shows that work to clients. It was the total opposite of how I approach logo design, and his is a brilliant new perspective I can bring to the next logo I make.
Yes, more than lived up to it. No one oversold or overpromised, but they did over deliver. Folks were genuinely excited to be there and meet people. Plain and simple.
The Hoodzpah sisters really got my gears turning. Amy walked us through how she makes fonts in a hands on workshop, and really emphasized how selling design assets is a fantastic way to be making passive income. I've always had an idea to make stuff just for fun and put it out there, but I never committed because it just didn't seem like something I could realistically do, I guess? Enamel pins, stickers, silly things like that. And Meg! Meg's FullTimeYou workshop was incredible. All these little bits of my personality and skills, and likes and dislikes that've been floating around got neatly lined up, connected, and more clear.
I really wanted to get my money's worth, especially considering I wasn't there on my own dime (thank you, Josh!). The first day was really packed, and I definitely rallied from 8am to 10pm. Day two was quieter. I always made sure to sit up front at a talk or workshop when I could. That's not something I do much of. That, and ask questions. The friendly vibes made it super easy to put my hand up, and I hope that sticks with me for future events (even the networky-bullshit ones).
I'd buy a little baby can of oxygen.
But besides the physical challenges of being at such a high altitude, I think I would've tried to stay a day longer. Not just to get to know other folks who were also hanging around for the weekend after, but to really soak in that inspired state of mind. I found it tough to immediately travel back right after everything ended. I would've loved to have started working on some of those passive-income ideas while they were fresh, but it's hard to do that during a quick layover, then getting home and diving into doing laundry and groceries for the week ahead, then getting caught back up to speed on office stuff come Monday.
So many people!
And generally, a lot of freelancers and small-studio folks like me.
Yes, but maybe not at a location 9,000 feet above sea level. It was beautiful to be up there, but honestly the altitude paired with jet lag, plus getting a lot of information and new people thrown at you is super exhausting. I actually skipped out the closing events on the second day because I was so dang beat. But yes, absolutely, I'd go again.