Unleash Your Inner Artist With the Gen Con Collective Art Project

Our Interview With Kathleen Hardy, Artist and Creator of the Gen Con Collective Art Project

The Collective Art Project started at Gen Con 50 in 2017. It was an experiment dreamed up by Kathleen Hardy for attendees to have some fun, relax from the hustle and bustle of the exhibit hall, and participate in the creation of a fantasy world! The murals are outlined on canvas, and Kathleen provides the supplies and know-how for attendees to join in and paint.

Check out this slideshow of pictures of previous years’ murals, then read below for our interview with Kathleen!

What is the Collective Art Project?

The Collective Art Project is a free event during Gen Con where attendees can participate in creating a large fantasy world on canvas with paint, with as much or as little instruction from the lead artist as you like!

Kat Hardy

Where did the idea to do a Collective Art Project at Gen Con come from?

After participating in the Art Show for 16 years, and creating art at my booth and answering questions and talking art with many attendees, I wanted to create an event space within Gen Con to allow people to relax and enjoy some art creation in a quiet space away from the noise and hustle and bustle of the Exhibit Hall.

I enjoy the therapeutic stress reduction art creation gives me, and the escapism of fantasy, so I thought it would be great to combine the two and teach people some art techniques along the way. It is child-friendly, so many parents have expressed that they like this event because it’s something younger children can do. 

Why do you think the project is so popular with Gen Con attendees?

I think people like having a chance to relax in a quiet space and contribute to what ends up being a fascinating whole world you can get lost in. People can walk by the following year and point to the spot they painted, and I think that’s fun. It can also be used as a great jumping-off point for storytelling, or game playing. In fact, I am trying to produce a playable RPG location with the 2019 mural — that should be some great fun for anyone who worked on the mural, but also any attendees when they see it and think, “Boy — I’d like to visit that place!”

Who can participate in the art project? Do you need to have artistic skills?

Anyone can participate; we’ve had young kids with their parents help all the way up to senior citizens. We do ask that kids under 13 keep a parent around for supervision, but other than that anyone can join as long as there’s space at the canvas. You do not need artistic skills, the lead artist and any artist assistants can help you as much as you need. We have some people with art skills that need minimal assistance (aside from us setting up the palette for them), and we have some people that have no idea what they’re doing and have never painted before but want to give it a try. I design the mural to give everyone a fun, successful experience. If you can color in a coloring book, you can participate in the Collective Art Project!

What is the theme/story behind this year’s design?

The first year, 2017, was an experiment to see how interested people were in this type of project, so that theme was Gen Con’s 50th anniversary, with as many fantasy tropes as I could throw in. The next year, 2018, featured a magical library in a deep forest with lots of dragon-like “bookwyrms,” where the trees were the library shelves, and books grow on trees! That year was serendipitous because one of the charity partners was the Public Library Association.

For 2019, I introduced the online social media poll, to give the attendees a chance to vote on their favorite of two designs, and the winner became the mural we worked on that year — that was the Fairy Boats of Sea-Sky. This is a magical port city of colorful buildings, like Galway, Ireland, nestled at the base of majestic mountains. Sea dragons guard the waters, and aerial dragons patrol the skies while the fairy boats come in to port. What kinds of magical things are these boats bringing to town? You tell me!

What do you hope to see with the 2020 design project?

I held the opinion poll for this year’s mural theme in February or March of this year, between The Great Summer Meadow Race and Tropical Rain Forest Fish, both featuring a bevy of magical creatures and a beautiful landscape. Tropical Rain Forest Fish won, with its mermaids, seahorses, turtles, tropical fish, all “swimming” through — not water, but a jungle! — with winged jaguars and gryphons. So that will be the mural we can paint when we can get together again in 2021.

For 2020, I designed a smaller coloring page that people can print out and color at home, and then share it with the Gen Con community by posting it with #gencononline on social media. I’m also hoping that people can bring their completed pages and we can display them near the Project. (I might also bring some coloring pages for the littlest kids, who might not be old enough to work with paint on the canvas, but still want to have fun.) I’m also hoping to gather input for Gen Con attendees to design a smaller painting project that I can create a time-lapse video of, incorporating the suggestions for colors and elements from the Gen Con community for this year’s online experience. 

Since we can’t meet in person to complete the mural together this year, we’re adapting the program for Gen Con Online with this original coloring page, featuring a magical abode for many forest-dwelling creatures. Fairies, pixies, and imps have made their home in this tree stump and the surrounding toadstools, and the local fauna are out to greet them!

Download the page, color it in, and post it on Instagram using #gencononline so we can see your creative take on it!

Jackie Miserany
Jackie Miserany

PR & Advertising Manager at Gen Con